178: "Feeling" the vibration of vowel sounds

Learn the feel the 'long e' /i/, 'short a' /æ/, and 'short o' /ɑ/.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 178th episode.

Vowel sound are especially difficult pronounce really well. With consonant sounds, we can often feel what the vocal tract is doing to create a sound. You can feel your lips come together during an m sound, or the tip your the tongue touch the tooth ridge during the d sound or t sound, or the back of your tongue touch the soft palate during the g or k sounds. But the part of the tongue that's responsible for creating a sound doesn't touch anything during a vowel sound, so it is harder to feel what's going on inside your mouth. That is, it's harder to feel, but not impossible.

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How do we learn to feel--as well as hear--vowel sounds? We're going to practice today with a triangle of sounds: the long e, short a, and short o sounds. We're going to feel those sounds in two ways: first, where the sides of the tongue touch the teeth, and then which part of the tongue vibrates during the sound.

The long e, short a, and short o are sort of a triangle of sounds, occurring in the top front, bottom front, and bottom, back of the mouth. If you can learn to feel them, you can learn to feel the more subtle differences between other sounds. Let me explain what I mean.

The long e sound like (long e). Most languages have a sound that's equivalent to this sound in English, so it's a good place to start. Say that sound out loud (long e, long e). Notice that the front of your tongue is high and that you can feel your top side teeth when you are creating this sound (long e). Notice that, when you say the long e sound, your tongue vibrates, or tickles, in the area between where the sides of your tongue touch your teeth. Say the long e sound again (long e). Let's say a few long e words, and see if you can feel where your tongue is vibrating during a word:


Now let's move on to short a, the low, front vowel. The short a sounds like (short a), and it's a much harder sound for non-native speakers to create. However, if you've learned to feel the long e sound, then you can also learn to feel she short a sound because the same part of your tongue vibrates for both sounds. Try saying the long e, then the short a, and feel the similarity where the tongue vibrates (long e, short a, log e, short a).

The difference between long e and short a is that jaw is lowered and the tongue is low for the short a sound. Remember how you could feel your top side teeth during the long e sound? Well, for the short a sound you'll feel your bottom teeth along the front and tip of your tongue. Your tongue pushes into your bottom front teeth a little bit. You might feel your top teeth just a tiny bit during the short a, but if you're really noticing that your tongue is touching your top teeth a lot, your jaw probably isn't low enough. Say the short a sound again (short a). Notice all the ways you can feel where this sound is: (short a, short a).

Let's say a few short a words, and see if you can continue to feel where your tongue is during the short a sound:


Let's move now from the short a, a low, front vowel, to short o, a low, back vowel. The short a sounds like (short a) and the short o sounds like (short o). To create the short a (short a) you had to lower your jaw and let you tongue sink down into your bottom teeth while pressing forward, lightly into your bottom front teeth. To create the short o, your jaw also lowers and your tongue also sinks down into your bottom teeth, but you don't push your tongue forward. Instead, you'll drop your tongue down between your back, bottom teeth. The place that your tongue vibrates during the short o moves back as well. Say the short o sound (short o). Feel everything that's happening during this sound: the jaw lowers and the tongue drops. You can feel your bottom back teeth, but not your bottom front teeth. Also, the back of your tongue vibrates during the sound. Say the short o again (short o).

Let's practice a few short o words:


Now let's practice all three sounds together, so you can feel these three extremes of vowel sounds with the long e being the high, front vowel, the short a being the low, front vowel, and the short o being the low, back vowel: (long e, short a, short o).

Let's practice some minimal pairs with these sounds. I'll leave time for you to repeat after me:

heat, hat, hot
beach, batch, botch
creak, crack, crock
leak, lack, lock
peak, pack, pock

If you want to learn more about vowel sound with a teacher who specializes in pronunciation, send an email to us at Seattle Learning Academy and one of our teachers will contact you right away. We can teach in person in the Seattle area, and via Skype to the rest of the world. You can email us at info@seattlelearning.com.

Also, Pronuncian.com subscribers can learn more about the short a and short o sounds by watching our new short vowels videos. Plus, our long vowels videos will be released in a couple of weeks! You can keep up with all of our updates such as when we release new content by following @Pronuncian on Twitter or by liking EnglishAssembly on Facebook. EnglishAssembly is one word. You can also see our free videos by subscribing to our SeattleLearning YouTube channel. There are links to all of these from www.pronuncian.com. That's p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.com.

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening!