8: The American English long vowel sounds: /eɪ, i, ɑɪ, oʊ, yu/

Learn which sounds are long vowels and how to correctly pronounce them.

PRACTICE: long vowel key words: "cake, keep, bike, home, cute"


Hi again everyone, it's me, Mandy. Welcome to Seattle Learning Academy's eighth American English Pronunciation Podcast. I hope you're enjoying the shows. Today we are going to begin a difficult set of shows about vowel sounds. Actually, today's show isn't that hard, but the next couple of weeks will have harder topics. We talked a little about vowels last week when I introduced the semi-vowels, the w sound and y sound. Speaking of the w sound and y sound, do you remember our practice sentence from that show? "Will you watch TV quietly while I'm working?"

How about the r-controlled vowel practice from the week before? "Learning early in the morning can be fairly hard work."

And before that we had my favorite practice sentence, "I would really like a little red wagon like Laura's." That sentence is also great for practicing the w sound. Just because those episodes are in the past, don't forget about them; it will be very helpful for you to go back to them and practice them once in a while. And, you'll be surprised when they have suddenly become easier.

So, vowels. Our alphabet has five vowels, a, e, i, o, and u. But we have 15 vowel sounds. There are many reasons that vowels are so hard, both to teach about and to learn about. One reason is terminology, vocabulary. I don't teach pronunciation using the International Phonetic Alphabet or symbols of any kind. I do this because dictionaries do not have one standard symbol library that they all use, and because you can't see the symbol I would be talking about. Although, even when teaching in person I use names instead of symbols. Once you know the name of the sound, you know exactly what I am talking about when I say that name. However, just as dictionaries don't use standard symbols, linguists don't use standard names. Can you see the problems arising already?

So the names I have chosen to use for our 15 different vowel sounds come from two places; one is the elementary schools of the United States, and the other is from their spelling. Today I'm only going to talk about one set of vowel sounds: the long vowels. Next week, you guessed it; I'll talk about short vowels.

This vocabulary "long vowel" or "short vowel" comes from elementary school and teaching kids how to read. Those teachers also need to name their sounds, and so the very, very, VERY old terminology of long and short vowels lives on. When I say old, I mean centuries old. The terminology is so old that they no longer correctly describe the sounds. Yet, in all the wisdom of our public schools this terminology is still used very frequently. Basically, 2 to 5 hundred years ago, long vowels sounded differently than they do now. Then a phenomenon called "The Great Vowel Shift" happened, and the pronunciation of each vowel changed. But the vocabulary didn't. So don't let the name of the sound confuse you! Long vowel does NOT mean that it is said for more time! Although, some long vowels are pronounced for longer than their short vowel counterparts.

So, what sounds am I talking about when I say "long vowel"? Well, when we teach kids how to read, we tell them that a long vowel sound says its name, a, e, i, o, or u. So, the long a sound sounds like (long a), as in the word cake c-a-k-e. For our vowel sounds, in addition to having some practice sentences, we will have key words. A key word is the word I will always refer back to when I want to compare sounds. The key word for the long a sound is the word cake. The word cake has three sounds, (k sound, long a, k sound), even though it has four letters. Don't confuse letters with sounds. Do you hear the long a? (long a) cake. If I wanted to get technical with this sound, I would mention that the end of the long a has a very brief y sound attached. Can you hear it? (long a) Cake. Letter sounds that end in a y sound or w sound are diphthongs, or two-sound vowels. American English uses different diphthongs than British English. I'm just going to teach you the American ones.

Long e sounds like (long e), just like the name of the letter. Our key word for long e is keep. (k sound, long e, p sound). Do you hear the long e sound? Keep.

Now, in staying with the pattern, the long i sounds like (long i) and is the middle sound of the word bike. (b sound, long i, k sound). The long i is also a 2-sound vowel that end in a brief y sound. Listen again. (long i, bike).

Long o (long o) is the middle sound of the word home. (h sound, long o, m sound). The long o sound ends in a brief w sound. Listen again. (long o) home. Many of my students don't say this sound with the w sound at the end, and it can cause miscommunication.

The long u is the middle sound of the word cute. (k sound, long u, t sound). Notice that the long u sound (long u) begins with a very distinct y sound. Without that y sound, we only have (oo sound), which is a different sound that we will study later. Can you hear the different middle sounds in the words cute and rule. Cute is said with (long u) rule is said with the (oo sound) sound.

If you and look at the transcripts for this episode at pronuncian.com you will see these words written out by their sounds. Seeing that will help you understand the more about sounds in words, and I encourage you to do that.

Let's practice our long vowel key words: cake, keep, bike, home, cute. See if you can remember the whole sequence: cake, keep, bike, home, cute.

Now I'm going to say a word, and you decide if the word has a long vowel or not. The first word is cat. Do you hear a, e, i, o, or u in the word cat? (pause) No, the middle sound is (short a) which is not a long vowel sound. How about the word few? Few. Yes, few has a long vowel, the long u. (f sound, long u) Let's try another. Run. Run. Nope, that is the (short u) sound in run, not a long vowel. Let's do two more. Eight. Eight. (pause) Yes, that word begins with the long a sound. (long a) eight. And the last word today, dream. Dream. I hope you could hear the long e sound in the word dream. (long e) dream.

I'm going to say five words for each long vowel sound, and I want you to repeat after me. I know, if you're on the bus or in a public place, that is harder to do, but if you can, repeat after me.

long a: faith, aim, play, grade, safe, may
long e: each, eat, team, deep, free
long i: ice, bright, smile, shy, fly
long o: own, both, drove, glow, throw
long u: youth, huge, pure, few, view

Good, I hope you talked along with me.

For this week, I'd really like you to memorize the long vowel key words for your practice. For most people, these are the easiest vowel sounds to say and hear, and I want you to have a really good vowel base before we start the short vowels next week. Can you remember the word set from earlier? Probably not. We didn't actually practice it very much. So here it is again: cake, keep, bike, home, cute. Let's say it one more time to put it to memory: cake, keep, bike, home, cute.

Along with the transcripts to this episode, word lists for all of these sounds and all the sounds we study are available at www.pronuncian.com.

Another reason I like using the old terminology of long and short vowels, even though it does not describe the sound, it only names it, is because it is still so widely used that you can do a search on the internet with the words long vowel or short vowel and you'll find results. It is much easier than searching for a symbol that represents a sound.

That's all for today. I would love to know if you are enjoying this podcast or if you have any suggestions to make it better. Email me at podcast@p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.com. Or, tell everyone what you think with a review on iTunes.

Thanks for listening, everyone.