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5 powerful tips for perfect spoken English! Share this with every English student you know!
In this video, you’re going to get my top 5 tips for perfect vowel sounds in American English. Vowel sounds are critical to making your accent sound more like a native English speaker. The tips here build on each other and, in just a few step-by-step minutes, you’ll be sounding more smooth and natural in the way you speak American English.
Tip #1: know how the vowels compare to those in your own native language. You might not be familiar with the phonetics of your own language, most people aren’t. I wasn’t familiar with the phonetics of American English until I started teaching it. I suggest you to go Wikipedia and look up all of the vowel and diphthong sounds like this.
I’ll put a link to this page in the video description. In the vowels section, you’ll see all the vowels and diphthongs of American English and many of these are clickable. So when you click on a sound, it will take you to the page for that sound and what you can do here is click on occurence. This will take you down to a table where you’ll see everytime the sound occurs in a language in the world. So scroll, look for your own language and see if the vowel sound is also in your language and if so, what is that keyword?
Do this for all the vowels and diphthong sounds in American English. The vowels are IH as in Sit, EE as in She, UH as in Push, OO as in Boo, the AY as in Say diphthong, the schwa, UH, the OH as in No diphthong, the EH as in Bed vowel, the UR as in Bird vowel, the UH as in Butter vowel, the AW as in Law vowel, the AA as in Bat vowel, the AH as in Father vowel, and the diphthongs AI as in Buy, OY as in Boy, and OW as in Now. I also refer to the JU as in Few diphthong in my materials.
Do this for all the vowels and diphthongs and note the ones that are in your language, and the ones that aren’t. This will change the way you study them. For the sounds that are not in your language, learn exactly what the positions should be in my Vowel and Diphthong playlist. These videos go over each of the vowel sounds and diphthong sounds in American English. There are illustrations, there is up close, slow motion footage. They will definitely help you understand the positions so check them out if you haven’t already. Click here, or find the link in the video description.
Tip #2: vowels vs. diphthongs. What is a diphthong? It’s a combination of two vowel sounds within the same syllable. Because there are two different sounds, that means we have to have a movement. For vowels, it’s one position: aaaaaaa. Nothing moves. But for diphthongs, something has to move. AI, aiii– the jaw goes from being more dropped to less dropped, ai. It’s also important to note: some resources will call diphthongs a ‘long vowel’ like the AI diphthong might be called the ‘long I’ vowel. It’s the same thing.
Tip #3: beware of placement. What is placement? It’s one of the hardest things for me teach and for my students to get. It has to do with where in the body the voice is resonating. And placement greatly affects if you sound American or not. I’m going to say the AH as in FATHER vowel with different placements. I am sure you will notice that they sound different. Ah, ah, ah. One was really nasal.
American placement is really low, and I find that most students that I work with, aahh, place them too high. ah, ah. ah, ah. ah, ah. And that does change the way the vowel sounds even if the sounds are otherwise good. So keep this in mind when you’re working on tip #1. Even sounds that you have in your own language might need adjusting, you might need to find a lower placement for them.= to truly sound American.
I’m still trying to find the best way to teach placement. I’ve put together a playlist of some of the videos that I’ve made on this topic that I think will help you. Click here, or in the video description.
Tip #4: Minimal pairs. Lots of my students have word pairs that sound the same to them or that are confusing. For example, bitch – beach, or bat – bet. Hot – hut. A minimal pair is a pair of words where only one sound is different. In these cases, it was the vowel. What do you do when they sound the same to you? I’ve worked with lots of students on this. I always tell them, don’t panic, there is absolutely a way to master these sounds even though you can’t hear the difference. They start off with listening practice. Put no pressure on yourself other than listening. Listen for a week. Listen to what? Well, I can’t recommend my Academy highly enough, because I’ve done all the work for you. I’ve put together audio files of every minimal pair. Each word is said with the same intonation: Bad, bed. Make sure you don’t listen to audio where the intonation is different: bad, bed. Then it’s not really a minimal pair anymore because the intonation is different too. My students download these files and listen to them a couple of times a day for a week or so. Then they start to hear the difference.
Here’s a look inside the Academy and the kinds of audio that you could work with here. This soundboard compares AH as in Father or AW as in Law with the UH as in Butter sound. Bunk, bunk. As you listen to audio like this over and over, you will start to hear the difference. Pop, pop. Student are also able to download longer audio files of all of the minimal pairs together to listen to at times when you’re on the go like commuting.
Isn’t that amazing? They couldn’t hear the difference, and then they start to just by repetitious listening, just by exposure. When they do this they get to know the sounds so well that they end up sounding native. They learned from native audio. After you hear the difference in the minimal pairs, you repeat out loud. You do this over and over to break your habits, and you come out on the other side of all of this work sounding fabulous and avoiding misunderstandings. Working with minimal pairs is a key to clarifying your American English vowel and diphthong sounds to sound natural.
And tip #5: the color vowel chart. What is that? I didn’t make it up, it was created by other teachers, and they have come up with a color and a noun for each vowel or diphthong. When you learn words, you think about what vowel or diphthong sound is in the stressed syllable, and you categorize it that way in your mind. Maybe you even visualize the color. Why not? Bring in another part of the brain. Every time you learn a new word you can learn the pronunciation and assign it a color. This will help it stick in your head. I’ll put a link to some color vowel chart resources in the video description.
If you work with these tips you truly will improve your ability to say the vowel and diphthong sounds of American English naturally. And that will help you speak with confidence.
Again, be sure to check out my playlist that goes over the details of how to pronounce each vowel and diphthong sound in American English. You can do this.
Please let me know in the Comments which of these 5 tips was most important for you. What did you learn? How will you make the changes that you need to make? Writing to me in the Comments helps me understand your process and helps me continue to improve as a teacher! Thanks in advance for leaving me a note.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.