Welcome to Seattle Learning Academy's video pronunciation series.

Of the 26 letters of the alphabet, 5 letters--a, e, i, o, and u--are considered vowels. Those 5 letters (a, e, i, o, and u--plus the letters w, y, and gh) are used in the spelling of the 15 vowel sounds of English.

To make the 15 vowel sounds easier to learn, we break them into the categories of

When talking about the sounds of English, I'll use a name (such as long a or short a), and the International Phonetic Alphabet symbol.

We're including the names for sounds because non-native English speakers often can't hear the difference between sounds. For instance, (long e) and (short i)--that was the long e sound and the short i sound--or (short e) and (short u)--the short e and short u sound--are easily confused. So we use the sound's name, long e, short i, short e, and short u, and not just the sound itself (long e, short i, short e, short u).

We include the symbols because that's what pronunciation dictionaries use, and those specialized dictionaries can be very helpful when talking about pronunciation.

Today, we're going to talk about the 5 short vowel sounds and the most common spelling pattern of those sounds.

Before we begin, let me clarify that short vowel sounds aren't said for less time than long vowel sounds, though it certainly would be convenient if that were the case. These are just names historically given to these sounds.

The 5 short vowel sounds are:

  1. short a: /æ/ cat
  2. short e/ɛ/ bed
  3. short i/ɪ/ sit
  4. short o/ɑ/ top
  5. short u/ʌ/ sun

We begin the study of vowel sound pronunciation by using key words. The five words I just used as examples are key words for the short vowel sounds. All 5 of our short vowel key words--cat, bed, sit, top, and sun--follow the most common phonetic pattern for short vowel sounds.

Phonetics is the connection between letters and sounds. It's the relationship between a word's spelling and its pronunciation. Our short vowel key words follow the consonant-vowel-consonant phonetic pattern. When a vowel occurs alone between two consonants we can expect a short vowel sound.

In the word 'cat,' c-a-t, the vowel letter a is between two consonants, the 'c' and the 't.' It isn't surprising, then, that the word 'cat' is pronounced with a /æ/ sound (/æ/).

If a word begins with a vowel letter that's followed by one or more consonants, we can still expect a short vowel sound pronunciation. If I take the 'c' off of the word 'cat,' I get the word 'at,' still pronounced with a short vowel sound.

If there's only one consonant after the vowel, and that consonant is followed by the letter 'e,' the formula changes, and we can expect a long vowel sound instead. For instance, if I take the word 'hat' h-a-t, and add the letter e I'll get the word 'hate' instead. The change in pronunciation from the word 'hat' to the word 'hate' is caused by the addition of the letter 'e.'

While common phonetic patterns like consonant-vowel-consonant (as in the word 'hat') and vowel-consonant-e (as in the word 'hate') and can help learners understand the pronunciation of English words, individual spelling patterns often exist for each sound.

There are also words that aren't pronounced in a way that we'd expect based on their spelling. We call these non-phonetic words. Common phonetic patterns and non-phonetic words are covered in each sound's individual video lesson.

Now that you know what the five short vowel sounds are, and their common phonetic pattern, it's worth studying each sound individually.

Thank you for watching this Seattle Learning Academy video lesson.

EXIT: (short a, short e, short i, short o, short u) cat, bed, sit, top, sun.