RULE 2: YOU CAN´T MATCH LETTERS TO SOUNDS
Let´s go back to Spanish, Japanese and other syllable-based languages. We talked about speaking and listening, but READING is also important. Of course, every language has certain spelling rules and many national alphabets contain a few “strange letters”. In Spanish we pronounce “j” more or less like English “h”, but in Swedish “j” is similar to English “y”. We have all seen Spanish “ñ” and German “ö”.
English, of course, is much much worse. With consonants, ok, you can remember what “sh” or “w” are, but with vowels remember the name of this chapter – English vowels do not equal the vowels in the alphabet. The “a” in “bat” is not the “a” you know, the “i” in “bit” is not “your” “i” and so on.
You must remember that in linguistics letters and sounds are two different things. The alphabet that we use is something made simpler than the reality. Linguists themselves use something which you might know from dictionaries – strange symbols such as “æ” or “ŋ”. In this alphabet, the so-called phonetic alphabet, English “bang”, for instance, is spelled “bæŋ”, while a typical Spanish student pronounces it as “bаnk”. English words “bang” and “bank” are not pronounced in the same way.
The easiest way to start understanding these differences is to sing the Engilsh “ABC song”: “ey, bee, see, dee…”. How are the vowels pronounced there?
In the Alphabet Song…
…the letter “a” is pronounced “ey” in “hey”.
…the letter “e” is pronounced “ee” in “bee”.
…the letter “i” is pronounced the pronoun “I”.
…the letter “o” is pronounced “ou”, like in “oh no”.
…the letter “u” is pronounced “you”.
The letter “a” is often pronounced “ey” in “hey”.
The letter “e” is often pronounced “ee” in “bee”.
The letter “i” is often pronounced the pronoun “I”.
Don´t confuse the diphthongs from exercises 12 and 14 (like my boyfriend).
The letter “o” is often pronounced “ou”, like in “oh no”.
The letter “u” is sometimes pronounced “you”.
tuna the EU
As you can see, the vowels are OFTEN pronounced like in the ABC song, but not always. So how do we know when to pronounce them this way? Let´s have a look at some pairs:
Asia – Adam
athlete – let
vital – bit
local – lock
tube – tub
pure – purr
The rules seems to be that if (in writing) a vowel is followed by a consonant and then another vowel, its pronunciation is like in the Alphabet Song. If a vowel is the only vowel in a short word, its pronunciation is often similar to the “normal/international/Spanish” pronunciation of that letter.
A vowel is followed by a consonant and then another vowel (followed by them in writing – the final “e”. for example”, is usually not pronounced)
Asia a + s + i
athlete e + t + e
local o + c + a
tube u + b + e
pure u + r + e
Is this enough? Unfortunately, not. Just look at the “a” in “Asia”, “Adam”, “father”, “many” and “total” – that´s five different pronunciations, not just two! And the sound in “but”, isn´t it an “a”, too? Also, we have just said that if a vowel is the only vowel in a short word, its pronunciation is often similar to the “normal/international/Spanish” pronunciation of that letter, but it´s not true for the “u” in “tub” or “purr” in Exercise 17.
This problem can be solved by looking not at letters, but at sounds. In English there are more vowel sounds that in many other languages. What are they? Here are the most difficult ones.
First, let´s analyse the ways in which the letter “a” is pronounced in “Asia”, “Adam”, “father”, “many”,“total” and “but”. The sound in “baby” is the sound from the Alphabet Song: “ey”. The sound in “many” is a surprise, an exception – is just the “normal” “e”. The sound in “total” we have already discussed – we try to “eat” it. This leaves us with three more sounds.
ENGLISH A-SOUND NUMBER 1 – THE RELAXED SOUND
Imagine the sound you make when you stretch in your bed in the morning: it´s something between “a” and “e”, it´s quite long and the muscles in your mouth are relaxed: “Aaaaah”. A similar sound, but much louder, is made when someone is falling out of a window: “Aaaaaaaaaa!” Bum. Of course, it´s not that dramatic when used in words, but long it is, and it might seem funny to you to pronounce it for a longer time than your “normal” “a”. Anyway, don´t worry about the pronunciation that much – the most important thing is to HEAR the difference.
English a-sound number 1 – the relaxed sound:
ENGLISH A-SOUND NUMBER 2 – THE HICCUPS
Simply the sound we associate with hiccups – a very short “a” with the muscles in your mouth tense: “a… a… a… a… a…”. It´s usually spelled with the letter “u”… or (to our surprise) “o”.
English a-sound number 2 – the hiccups:
cut come London worry
untidy son wonder mother
but won front some
hum money oven blood
run onion cover ultra
buck love cousin stomach
tub month tough sponge
ENGLISH A-SOUND NUMBER 3 – THE QUEEN´S LONG “A”
Imagine you are a queen and someone is explaining something to you. When you finally understand the explanation, you make a sound like a long, dignified “aaa”. Or maybe you are a sleepy queen who is yawning: “aaa”. (For some people it helps to imagine a man dressed up as a queen). The sound is often represented by the letters “ar”.
English a-sound number 3 – the queen´s long “a”:
father plant staff calm
dance bath laughed almond
France class heart half
past banana aunt Derby
last garage answer clerk
basket moustache graph Margaret
mask example trans star
Why is it more important to hear the difference than to pronounce the difference between all those different sounds? People will understand you from the context, but you might not guess what THEY are saying. Compare the trios and pairs:
The three English a-sounds:
cat – cut – cart bat – but – Bart some – Sam – psalm
ham – hum – harm back – buck – bark ran – ran
stuff – stuff come – calm hat – hut – heart
ant – aunt pub – path sun, son – sang
Ok, so in English we have three different a-sounds, but we don´t have the “normal” (that is, for example, Spanish) “a”. We also have two different o-sounds (“port” vs. “pot”) and two different u-sounds (“fool” vs. “full”), but personally I think we can ignore them at this level. In this way, the remaining pair are the two i-sounds (I mean, “i” as pronounced in Spanish, German or Polish). Below you can see some of the examples with the “long i” (spelled “e”) from Exercise 13. contrasted with the “short i”:
“Long i” versus “short i”:
bilingual – Bill vital – bit
microwave – Mick fragile – Gill
How do we know which one to use? That usually follows our rule described under Exercise 18. But be careful! First, the difference between the two i-sounds is not only that one is long and the other one short. Also, the “short i” is not “your” “i”, the Spanish/German/Polish “i”.
ENGLISH “LONG I” – THE SMILING SOUND
This “i” (usually spelled “e”, “ee” or “ea”) is not only ridiculously long – it´s also pronounced with a crazy smile 🙂 You need to feel that your tongue is pushing downwards.
English “long i” – the smiling sound:
eat receipt Egypt
feel seat Tunisia
bean leek Swedish
leave heap vehicle
machine feet athlete
ENGLISH “SHORT I” – THE VOMITING SOUND
This “i” (usually spelled “i”) is a bit like a short version of the sound we make when we are vomiting or dying in a film at the age of 90. Try to pronounce the three i-sounds: with the long one you should be smiling and pushing downwards, the “normal” “i” is neutral and “in the middle” of your mouth, the “short i” has the highest position in the mouth and is more”at the front” of the mouth, as if you were trying to push something out of your mouth, as if you were trying to vomit.
English “short i” – the vomiting sound:
it resit Iggy
fill sit Venice
bin lick widow
live hip Vicky
chin fit lit
wanted pretty busy
kitchen believe refuse
English women perfect
poet private college
lettuce build Monday
The two English i-sounds:
it – eat resit – receipt Iggy – Egypt
fill – feel sit – seat Venice – Tunisia
bin – bean lick – leek widow – Swedish
live – leave hip – heap Vicky – vehicle
chin – machine fit – feet lit – athlete
Two great online places to practice such minimal differences are: http://www.shiporsheep.com/ (with all the contrasting pairs possible), and any talking e-card, for example a talking cat:
http://www.americangreetings.com/ecards/happy-birthday/cat-talk-talking-card/pn/3265901 (enter the two words you want to contrast with a comma between them, then click “preview” – you can choose different voices and accents). If you prefer old-fashioned lists, google the book “How now brown cow”.
What about “e”, you ask? Yes, there is a pair, too.
ENGLISH SHORT “E” – THE “CALLING THE WAITER” SOUND
This “e” (usually spelled “e”, wow) is the sound you might hear in Spain when people want to draw the attention of a waiter (or their English teacher) – it´s a “normal”, short “e” pronounced with a wide smile of a frog.
English short “e” – spelling exceptions:
weather death leisure
head says said
Thames many friend
Leonard ate bury
ENGLISH LONG “E” – THE “FRENCH” ONE
This “e” sounds to me very French – you lips need to be rounded. The spelling includes a vowel (except “e”) or a pair of vowels PLUS R: “ur”, “ir”, “or”, “ear” and “eur”.
English long “e” – the “French” one:
surf urban purpose
word world bird
further turn hurt
girl work worse
turtle circle journey
earn earth amateur
Finally, an easy rule and we have finished the vowels.
English “au” is pronounced like a long “o” (in fact, we could call it the queen´s long “o” – see Exercise 20. to compare it with the queen´s long “a”):
automatic Austria Paul Laura
taught caught autumn athor
To sum up…
A little revision:
*these words don´t exactly follow the pattern but contain the adequate sound