7: Pronouncing /w/ and /y/

Learn how to create semi-vowels (glides), the /w/ and /y/ and how they exist in words.

PRACTICE"Will you watch TV quietly while I'm working?"


Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation Podcast. This is podcast number 7, and my name is Mandy. We have just finished up three shows dedicated to the r sounds and l sound, and we had some pretty difficult practice sentences associated with those shows. Do you remember, "On Thursday, Thelma threw three red rocks," and "I would really like a little red wagon like Laura's" and finally, last week's really hard sentence, "Learning early in the morning can be fairly hard work."

Let's talk a bit about last week's practice. Remember, I told you that the practice sentence has all four r-controlled vowels. The schwa+r is in the words, learning, early, and work. The or sound is in the word morning. The ar sound is in the word hard, and the air sound is in the word fairly. Did you get that? I hope so.

Today's sentence is going to be, "Will you watch TV quietly while I'm working?" because we are going to learn about the y sound and w sound.

The y sound and w sound are in the linguistic category of semi-vowels. They are also known as glides. Semi-vowel means that they are not quite vowels, and not quite consonants. They are similar to vowels in the way the sound travels through our mouth, but dissimilar in how they affect syllables.

Vowel sounds have two important attributes. First, there is little constriction in our mouth for these sounds. Vowel sounds don't create friction like the th sounds, or r sound in some languages. Vowels don't stop air like the t sound or d sound, or touch the tongue directly to another part of the mouth like an l sound. Vowels are subtle sounds with our vocal tract left quite open. Another thing vowels do, is cause syllables. Sometimes the consonant of the word can take over the vowel sound, like was saw last week with r-controlled vowels and the schwa+r sound. Many times, the schwa sound (or unstressed vowel sound) can be barely heard. That was all pretty technical, and I'll link on the pronuncian website to wikipedia articles that also explain these concepts.

The w sound and y sound are like vowels in the way we create the sound. (w sound) (y sound). This is very important to keep in mind if you are from India or Germany or any other country that says a sound more similar to an English v sound than w sound. Our v sound is said with friction caused when we touch our bottom lip to our upper teeth (v sound). In English, the w sound is created by making a small circle with our lips, then sticking them out enough so they don't touch our teeth and cause friction. Then we voice the sound. (w sound). Try saying the word wow, w-o-w. Wow. Notice the way your lips start in a small circle, then open, then end with the small circle again. Wow. For those of you with w sound / v sound issues, here are a few minimal pairs to repeat. Vest, west; vine, wine; verse, worse.

The y sound is created by lifting the middle of our tongue so that it almost touches the roof of our mouth, then voicing the sound. (y sound) The y sound is very similar to another sound we will study when we study long vowels next week, the long e sound. The long e sound is the middle sound in the word keep and the first sound in the word ear. Let's compare two very similar words, y-e-a-r and e-a-r. See if you can tell which one I'm saying. Year. That was year, with a y sound. Listen again. Year. Now, try this, ear. That was e-a-r. Ear. Say both of those words: year, ear.

Something most English teachers never teach is how we need to include these sounds in the middle of words even when we don't see them written there. This is a big part of having fluid speech, and it happens between words as well as within words.

Let's look at an example of where we need to add a y sound into a word that has no y written, the word quiet.

Many of my students aren't understood when they say the word quiet. Let me tell you why. Quiet is a 2-syllable word with two vowel sounds next to each other in the word. The first syllable is qui, and the second syllable is -et. It is difficult to join the final sound of the first syllable, (long i) to the first sound of the second syllable (short e). The way to join them is to add a little y sound between the syllables. Now we have quiet. Do you hear that y sound? Quiet. The same thing is true of the word idea. IdeYa.

But it isn't always a y sound that gets added. It can also be a w sound, like in the word fluent. Do you hear the w sound? Fluent. It is also in the word evaluate. Repeat that word. Evaluate.

How do you know which sound to add, the w sound or the y sound? Well, it's pretty easy because it will sound horrible if you use the wrong one. Here is the word quiet with an accidental w sound added instead of the correct y sound quiWet. Hear the difference? Quiet, quiWet.

As we get into the specifics of vowels in the next few weeks, this will begin to make more sense. For now, start to notice these sounds happening around you.

I'm sure you are all anxious to get to today's practice sentence. "Will you watch TV quietly while I'm working?" I'll say it in two parts: "Will you watch TV / quietly while I'm working?" Again. "Will you watch TV quietly while I'm working?"

That's all we're going to cover of the w sound and y sound for now, but both of these semi-vowels will keep coming back in the next few weeks of vowel practice. If you want to practice more of these sounds, go to www.pronuncian.com.

Good luck everyone. And remember, you can email suggestions to me at podcast@pronuncian.com. I'd love to hear from you!