201: Why is 'symptom' pronounced that way?

Learn the many variations of the letter 'o' pronunciation.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation Podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 201st podcast.

I recently received a quick little email from a person named Sara who said:

Hey, I have a question about a word. The pronunciation book says that "consonant-o-consonant" should always sound the short "o" sound, but the word 'symptom' (----tom) sounds different. I hope you can answer my question. Thank you.

Sara's question talks about the pronunciation book, but I want all you listeners to know that the same information she's referring to is available on the website: www.pronuncian.com. I'll link to the lessons I talk about here on this episode's transcript page.

Sara's question actually brings up a lot of things. First, be careful with thinking that anything should always be pronounced a certain way in English. English just has very few instances of something always be pronounced only one way. Because of this, there a few areas of the book and website to help with this problem. Both the book and the website cover all of the sounds of English, and, along with listing common spellings for each sound, it also lists pronunciations that are also possible for that spelling.

So, if I look at the short o lesson I see one common spelling, the consonant-o-consonant spelling. This means that if a single letter 'o' is between two consonants, or even is the first letter of the word, it might be pronounced as a short o. The examples in the lesson are the words 'odd,' 'box,' and 'shock.'

Then the next column of the spelling table lists other pronunciations for each spelling. For the consonant-o-consonant spelling, it lists both the long o sound and the aw sound. An example of the 'o' spelling being pronounced as a long o is the word 'most,' and an example of it being pronounced as the aw sound is the word 'dog.'

Now that I've told you all that confusing stuff about the consonant-o-consonant spelling, let me tell you that the letter 'o' in the word 'symptom' is none of those pronunciations. Yay!

Before you get too frustrated with this, though, know that there is still a reason that the 'o' in the word 'symptom' is not pronounced with the long o, short o, or aw sound. The reason is syllable stress and schwa. The word 'symptom' is a two-syllable noun. The two-syllable noun stress pattern tells us that two-syllable nouns tend to be stressed on the first syllable, and the word 'symptom' does follow this pattern. Yay again!

This leads us to schwa, that nasty little sound that also happens to be the most common vowel sound in English. Schwa sounds like (uh) and it usually occurs on syllables adjacent to a stressed syllable in a word. Schwa is also nearly easiest to hear when it is spelled 'o' because it is so different from the other typical pronunciations for the letter 'o' when it's on a stressed syllable.

Listed for the (uh) in 'symptom.' Symptom.

Other examples of the letter o pronounced as schwa are following words:

occur
condition
wisdom
common
recommend

Now that you know the three common pronunciations for the letter 'o' on a stressed syllable, and the fact that it is usually pronounced as schwa, or (uh) on if it falls on an unstressed syllable next to a stressed syllable, there is still one last thing to know about, and those are non-phonetic words. Non-phonetic words just don't follow a pattern. You can think of them as exceptions to the patterns.

The book and the website address non-phonetic words for each sound and in the non-phonetic words sections you'll find that sometimes there is still a letter 'o' between two consonants that still doesn't follow the patterns I told you about just a bit ago. For instance, the words 'from' and 'mother' and 'brother' are all pronounced with a short u sound.

My point of getting into so much detail with the word 'symptom' is so you really can see how you have to take all the phonetic patterns and the whole word into account when using spelling to help you with pronunciation.

Thanks for the question, Sara, and thanks to all of you for listening to this Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn. Thanks for listening.

Bye-bye.

199: Would you like some coffee or tea?

Practice intonation patterns of choice questions.

Transcript

Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 199th episode.

Most of you know that intonation, or the up and down, or rise and fall of pitch can signal that a speaker has just asked a question. But question intonation patterns are not as straightforward as you might think. First, there are all those different kinds of questions, such as:

  • Yes/no questions
  • Wh- questions
  • Choice questions
  • Declarative questions
  • Tag questions (and more)

Today I'm going to talk about choice questions. This is from a lesson in our Rhythm and Intonation book, which covers the intonation patterns of all of the question types I just listed. Choice questions are questions that include a list of options. It can be as few as two options, such as:

Could I get you a cup of coffee (up) or tea (down)?

Or many options:

Could I get you some juice, water, coffee, tea (all up), or maybe some hot chocolate (down)?

For now, let's keep it simple and look at how we use intonation in choice questions when only two options are listed; this was the "Could I get you a cup of coffee or tea," question. I'm going to repeat that question using two different intonation patterns. See if you can hear the difference between them. Listen specifically to the words "coffee" and "tea."

Could I get you a cup of coffee (up) or tea (down)?
Could I get you a cup of coffee (neutral) or tea (up)?

In the first example, I raised my pitch on the word "coffee" and dropped it on "tea." I'll say it again:

Could I get you a cup of coffee (up) or tea (down)?

In the second example, I didn't change the pitch on the word coffee, and then I used a rising pitch on the word "tea." Here it is to listen to again:

Could I get you a cup of coffee (neutral) or tea (up)?

Why would I do that? More specifically, what am I telling you, my listener, when I do that?

The difference is that in the first example, I'm offering only the choices of coffee or tea. I note that by raising my pitch on the first option (coffee), and letting it fall after the final option (tea). That's called a closed-choice question. You choices are only A) coffee, or, B) tea.

In the second example, "Could I get you a cup of coffee (neutral) or tea (up)?" I'm offering a drink, and coffee and tea are examples of what you could have. They're examples, but not the entire set of options. That's an open-choice question because I'm not limiting your choices to coffee or tea. I tell you that by not changing my pitch on the first option (the coffee), and then by rising it after the final option (the tea). Again, it was: "Could I get you a cup of coffee (neutral) or tea (up)?"

Now let's look at the longer example sentence. I'll say it two ways as well:

Could I get you some juice, water, coffee, tea (all up), or maybe some hot chocolate (down)?
Could I get you some juice, water, coffee, tea (all neutral), or maybe some hot chocolate (up)?

Which of those was the open-choice question? Or to think of it another way, which was giving examples of things to drink, but not limiting the choices to just only examples? I'll say them both again:

Could I get you some juice, water, coffee, tea (all up), or maybe some hot chocolate (down)?
Could I get you some juice, water, coffee, tea (all neutral), or maybe some hot chocolate (up)?

I hope you said that the second example was the open-choice question. That rising pitch at the end helps give it away. The first example, the example where my pitch fell on "hot chocolate" was more like a server at a restaurant telling you what's available. The second example is more like you're at someone's house and they're giving suggestions, and your host might have something else to offer as well, but they might not be able to think of what it is. If you suggest it, though, maybe they do have it. Maybe what you really want is a glass of wine.

Like I said at the beginning, this topic is included in our Rhythm and Intonation book, which you can order on Pronuncian.com as a physical book, which we'll ship to you, or as a PDF ebook, which you can download immediately. Both options come with MP3 audio. For the physical book, we'll send you an MP3 CD, and for the ebook the audio downloads right alongside the book. Our best--and most popular option--is to purchase the bundle of the Rhythm and Intonation and Pronunciation Pages ebooks together. Then you get all the content on rhythm, plus all the sounds lessons and exercises as well as the sound drills. The sound drills are those long lists of words for you to listen to and repeat for specific sound practice. So if you're having lots of trouble with the short i sound, voiced th, and unvoiced th sounds, you'd get all that practice included.

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. Bye-bye.

198: Pronouncing 'clothes,' 'close' (verb), and 'close' (adjective)

Make these difficult words easier to say!

Transcript

Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 198th episode.

Before I get into today's topic, I want to tell you about my recent guest appearance on the All Ears English Podcast. We were featured in their episode #128. I'll add their iTunes podcast link in this episode's transcript page. Or, just go into iTunes and search "All Ears English." Their podcasts cover a wide range of topics for English learners and you should definitely check them out! Thanks again to Lindsay and Gabby for giving me the opportunity to chat with your audience about English pronunciation!

Today I want to talk about the word "clothes." No, I'm not talking about the verb close, c-l-o-s-e, but the noun clothes, c-l-o-t-h-e-s, as in She wants new clothes. You heard that right, though, I pronounced both of those words the same. "Clothes" c-l-o-t-h-e-s is a rather frequent word in American English; it's number 1,458 in the frequency dictionary, meaning there are only 1,457 words that are used more often in American English. Just like many of our highest-frequency words, native English speakers don't really think about its pronunciation.

So you can compare pronunciations, I'll say the word c-l-o-t-h-e-s without and with the th sound. I'll use the more commonly-used version, that is the version without the th sound first, then the version with the th sound:

clothes (no th) clothes (including th)

I'll say those again:

clothes (no th) clothes (including th)

It's not just me who says that c-l-o-t-h-e-s and the verb c-l-o-s-e are homophones; Longman Pronunciation Dictionary agrees. Actually, when I checked Longman Pronunciation Dictionary on this, I was surprised at one small detail. One of the things I love the about the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary is that it lists both main pronunciations and alternative acceptable pronunciations for both British English and American English. I expected the LPD to list the version of the word clothes with a voiced th sound as the main pronunciation, and the version without the th sound as an alternative. But for American English, the non-th sound version was listed first, meaning it's more common here! The British, however, seem to have opposite preferences.

The word clothes is a plural noun, and it's an odd word in that is has no singular form. Sure, we have the word cloth but that's a different thing. Cloth is fabric, it's what clothes are made from. The word clothes is not the plural of cloth, yet clothes is a plural noun. I hope you followed all of that. My point here is to think about that s at the end of the word clothes. For those people who are extremely articulate and do say the th sound in clothes, a voiced th sound (voiced th) is the th sound to use. Since the th is voiced, the letter 's' after it would also be voiced and would be pronounced as a z sound. This is the standard -s ending pattern.

This small detail is why c-l-o-t-h-e-s is a homophone of the verb close and not the adjective which shares the same spelling, close. If you didn't know that c-l-o-s-e is a heteronym, you do now!

What? You need a review of what a heteronym is? Sure.

A heteronym is two words that are spelled the same, but have different pronunciations. Episode #33, about the -ate suffix, and episode #188, about the word l-e-a-d being pronounced as lead and lead cover this topic in more detail. I'll put links to that podcast from this episode's transcript page. For now, your bonus lesson in this podcast is that you should be pronouncing the verb c-l-o-s-e with a z sound, close: Please close the door. You should be pronouncing the adjective c-l-o-s-e with an s sound, close: Keep close to your mother.

Let's practice these words a bit. I'm going to say the word and leave time for you to repeat it, then say the word in a sentence and again leave time for you to repeat it.

First, the noun, c-l-o-t-h-e-s: clothes. She wants new clothes.
The verb, c-l-o-s-e: close. Please close the door.
The adjective, c-l-o-s-e: close. Keep close to your mother.

Very good.

Now, if you're a purist and want dictionary-like pronunciation, you can stick with trying to include the th sound in the word clothes.. There's nothing wrong with that. My point is that it'll probably be easier, and you'll sound more like an American native English speaker if you drop it. The choice is always yours.

I mentioned a bit ago that I'll like to those other heteronym podcast pages from this episode's transcript page. You can find that by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast and clicking the link for this episode, which is episode 198. Or, you can go into the archives and go straight to numbers 33 or 188. We keep all of the audio from our old episodes up on iTunes, as well, so you can always go back and download older episodes whenever you want. Also, don't forget to check out Lindsay and Gabby's All Ears English Podcast.

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. Bye-bye.

197: Linking vowels to sound fluent!

Some before and after student audio to illustrate linking.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and today is our 197th episode.

We recently released our new ebook about linking words, and to celebrate, I asked a few students of mine to participate in a little before-and-after audio.

Linking is one of the key skills to sounding fluent in English. It allows you to speak in complete thoughts without sounding "choppy" or "broken." Some English teachers also call this "blending," or even "using liaisons" when speaking. I'm not a big fan of using the term "blending" because some of linking--for examply, linking vowels--isn't created by blending sounds.

Today we'll listen to Kumiko linking vowels into other vowels. Kumiko is a native Japanese speaker and she was doing what many non-native English speakers do: she was often using a glottal stop between vowel sounds. A glottal stop is that break in sound you hear when you say "uh-oh."

Now, English does use glottal stops, even when linking sounds, and even when linking vowels from time to time. The difference is when and how they're used. For instance, it's very common to use a glottal stop for the /t/ in the word "can't," as in:

I can't go.

and

I can't think about it.

With vowels, breaking words apart by using a glottal stop is a way to add emphasis to a word. If I want to link "you" into "only" nice and smoothly, I'll say "you only." That was, "you only."

But if I want to add stress to the word "only," I can break it from "you" with a glottal stop:

You only live once.
You only live once.

Let's get back into linking without using the glottal stop, though. You see, there's a trick to that nice fluent link in "you only." What is that trick? I added a tiny w sound between the words "you" and "only": you-(w)-only. Try it: "you only."

Adding a w sound doesn't work for all vowel links, though. Some links need a y sound added instead. An example of this is the phrase "very old." I'll say that again, more slowly: very old.

How do you know if you should add a w sound or a y sound between words? Well, you really can't add the wrong one. Seriously. If you're thinking about the wrong sound, it will sound so terrible that you won't even be tempted to try it.

For example, here I am, correctly linking "very old" with a y sound, and "so old" with a w sound: very old, so old. If I tried it opposite, I'd get "very-(w)old" and "so-(y)old." It just doesn't work!

Now, let's listen to that before-and-after audio from Kumiko. First I'm going to tell you the part to listen for, then I'm going to play her audio using the glottal stop, then play her again with using the more fluent-sounding linking. We'll start with examples where she needed to add a w sound.

Again, I'll tell you where to listen, then play the non-linked audio example, then the more fluent, linked example:

so‿old:

My car is so old.

know‿if:

I don't know‿if she's coming.

allow‿individuals:

Assisted living homes allow‿individuals to live independently for longer.

Now let's listen to some examples where Kumiko first used a glottal stop, then correctly linked more fluently using a y sound:

may‿affect:

Nutrition may‿affect development in ways scientists haven't discovered, yet.

we‿expect:

We‿expect Mark to show up around dinner time.

fly‿over:

They're going to fly‿over the disaster sight in the morning.

only‿apply‿after:

Those rules only‿apply‿after 6:00 pm.

I hope you can hear the difference between those.

I want to send a big thank you out to Kumiko for allowing me to use her audio as examples today. I think they illustrate the power of linking very nicely!

We're going to do some practice with you repeating after me, but before we do, I want to mention that these sentences are also in our new Linking ebook, which you can find by clicking the "products" link on Pronuncian.com. The ebook comes with MP3 audio, so you can have as much listen-and-repeat practice as you want. Also, some of these sentences are in the free linking vowels lesson that I'll link to from this episode's transcript page, and some of these examples are from the subscribers' exercises, which you can find at the bottom of the lessons. So, there are two ways to access all of this practice: download the ebook, or subscribe to Pronuncian.com.

And one last thing--we're running a promotion during the month of April 2014 for our one-on-one Skype and in-person classes with our teachers right now! Use the coupon code TeachMe (that's all one word: t-e-a-c-h-m-e) for 10% off our 10-hour or 18-hour one-on-one classes. See class details at www.seattlelearning.com or email info@seattlelearning.com for more information!

Now, here are some practice sentences for you to try right now. We'll first practice linking using the y sound.

day‿off: John's taking the day‿off:
worry‿about: Don't worry‿about it.
shy‿at: She's shy‿at first.
he‿asked: At least he‿asked for permission.
day‿after: Rachel's interview is the day‿after tomorrow.

Now let's practice using the w sound:

grow‿up: Kids grow‿up so quickly.
few‿ideas: Jared had quite a few‿ideas about it.
go‿over, tomorrow‿afternoon: Let's go‿over the documents tomorrow‿afternoon.
argue‿about: Those two will argue‿about anything.
know‿if: I don't know‿if she's coming.

If you'd like to see the transcripts for this episode and the link to the free related lesson on Pronuncian, go to www.pronuncian.com/podcast and click episode 197.

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, bye-bye.

196: Do you say 'people' as 'peopo'?

Common problems with words that end in '-le.'

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 196th episode.

I received an email from someone named Chao a few weeks ago. Chao is a native Chinese speaker who is having trouble with words that end in -le and asked me to do a podcast about it. Like many other Chinese speakers, Chao is substituting a long o sound for the l sound at the end of words. After nearly 200 episodes, I was sure I'd covered this topic before. But after some digging, I realized I hadn't exactly covered it. The closest I've come is talking about the syllabic l in episode 142. While the syllabic l is related to this problem, this is a little more specific.

When I got the email from Chao, it really struck a chord because Queenie, an in-person Chinese student of mine, is having the exact same problem. Chao mentioned the following specific words, which I'll say first, then you'll hear Queenie say in her natural Chinese accent.

people (peopo)
table (tabo)
bottle (botto)
cuddle (cuddo)
struggle (struggo)

Even if your native language is not Chinese, it's really easy to accidentally do the same thing that Chao and Queenie are doing. While we think of the /l/ being created by careful tongue placement, this specific issue is caused much more by what the lips are doing. You see, even if your tongue is in the right place, if your lips are brought into circle, your listeners will hear the long o instead.

When I was working with Queenie, I could see that when a word ended in the l sound, the corners of her lips came inward, making her lips rounded. This tiny movement was all that was needed to make more of a long o than l sound. When Queenie was trying to say the l sound, she did have the tip of her tongue in the correct l sound place. It was just that the roundness of her lips were covering up the sound. Once her lips remained relaxed, the l sound came through. If you're working through this problem, you don't need to overly stretch the corners of the lips; you just need to relax them.

Lucky for all of us, Queenie is here with me to help you hear the difference between these words. She's going to give us a little before-and-after audio to demonstrate how much difference this change makes. She'll say her naturally accented way first, then the new way she's been practicing:

people
table
bottle
cuddle
struggle

Isn't that incredible? Thanks Queenie. How did you get so good at words like this?

Queenie: I improved them by listening to the MP3 and keep repeating them.

That's great. Now to give you all a chance to practice repeating words like this, let's have a little practice session right now. I'll say a list of words, then I'll leave you time to repeat after me.

people
table
bottle
cuddle
struggle
middle
able
uncle
little
simple

If you're wondering what the MP3 files were that Queenie was talking about using for her practice, those are the audio files that go with the book, "Pronunciation Pages 2." That book includes focused practice for every sound of English in the beginning, middle, and end of a word. It's great, for instance, you have trouble with the l sound, but just at the end of a word. If you buy the downloadable ebook version, the audio downloads along with the PDF. If you buy the physical book, the MP3 audio files come on a CD. You can find details by clicking the "products" link on Pronuncian.com.

Chao, if you're listening, Queenie was very impressed by your email and that you were able to pick this issue out for yourself! Well, I'll let her say it in her own words:

Queenie: I think Chao is very brilliant to notice this!

If you have a podcast topic you'd like to hear, watch for our upcoming contest on Facebook and Twitter regarding our 200th episode. We want to know what you'd like that episode to be about. If we choose your topic you'll win a free ebook! Our Facebook page is www.facebook.com/englishassembly, and our Twitter page is @pronuncian.

That's all for today, everyone. Thanks for listening to this SLA digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Bye-bye, (Queenie: and good luck)!

195: Dropping the /k/ in 'asked' (HIMYM)

YES, you can pronounce it as 'ast'!

How I Met Your Mother audio samples:

Marshall: I need you to do this no questions asked, as as we both know, you owe me a no questions asked.
Ted: Hey, listen, I need you to do something for me no questions asked, okay?
Ted: No questions asked.
Marshal: You owe me a no-questions-asked.
Barney: Marshall asked me to do something for him, no questions asked. 
Marshall: And I need you to do it no questions asked, and as you recall, you owe me a no-questions-asked.
Barney: No questions asked.
Barney: I said no questions asked.
Marshall: You owe me a no questions asked.
Ted: No questions asked. You owe me a no questions asked.
Ted: No questions asked.
Ted: I called in a no-questions-asked with Lilly.

Transcript

no-questions-asked.jpg

Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 195th episode.

I think this episode is kind of special. It's a fun one that shows that unexpected things about pronunciation are always happening, and there will always be more to learn.

Way back last July, a question popped up on the English Assembly forums that led to a really interesting discussion. A user named Tony asked how to pronounce the words "asked" and "asks." He also mentioned that he was having more trouble with "asked" than "asks." Fellow user, Ngoc, said that he noticed that sometimes it seems like some people don't say the k sound in asked, pronouncing it as "ast" instead. I had honestly never noticed it before Ngoc mentioned it, but once it was brought to my attention, I did notice it happening from time to time.

Many months passed. Then, a few weeks ago I was watching an episode of the TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother. This particular episode had the theme of a group of friends calling each other when they needed help with something, but they didn't want the friend to ask why it needed to be done. We have a phrase for this in English, and that phrase is "no questions asked." The idea behind "no questions asked" is, "I need you to do this, but you can't ask why." Among this group of friends, this came up so often that they began using the phrase as a noun that means something similar to a favor. So instead of saying, "You owe me a favor," they would say, "You owe me a no-questions-asked." During this episode, the phrase was repeated again and again and again! That amount of repetition was a sort of dream come true for me for studying the pronunciation of the word "asked" by a bunch of different people. Certainly, the majority of the time, they did as Ngoc said, and dropped the k sound. Only a few times was the /k/ left in. Even more surprising to me was that the /k/ was dropped even if the word "asked" was being stressed in a sentence.

Since I know you'll all want to hear this, I went through and dug out all of the times they said the phrase "no questions asked." I've included the transcripts for the TV show clip as well, so you can read along with it if they're speaking too quickly or background sound of the show makes it hard to hear.

First is Marshall, dropping the /k/ twice: I need you to do this no questions asked, as as we both know, you owe me a no questions asked.

Then Ted, keeping the /k/: Hey, listen, I need you to do something for me no questions asked, okay?

And Ted again, in a loud whisper, dropping the /k/: No question asked.

Marshal again, dropping the /k/: You owe me a no-questions-asked.

Barney, dropping the /k/: Marshall asked me to do something for him, no questions asked.

I'm going to play that one again, because we have the word asked at the beginning of the sentence, too, when Barney says, "Marshall asked me to do something for him." Only in this case, even the -ed ending is dropped when it's linked into the word "me" and the phrase turned into "assme." Listen closely, I'll play it again twice in a row.

Marshall asked me to do something for him, no questions asked. Marshall asked me to do something for him, no questions asked.

Now Marshall, in an almost exact repeat of the first time we hear him, dropping the /k/ twice: And I need you to do it no questions asked, and as you recall, you owe me a no-questions-asked.

Barney, again dropping the /k/: No questions asked.

Barney again, stressing the word "asked," but still dropping the /k/: I said no questions asked.

Marshall, again with no /k/: You owe me a no questions asked.

Back to Ted, who once again does say the /k/ in both of these instances, though the second time is very small: No questions asked. You owe me a no questions asked.

Ted again: stressing the phrase, and with a very tiny /k/: No questions asked.

And one last clip from Ted which I listened to over and over because it's a tough one. Ted tends to say the /k/, but very as a very small sound. In this phrase, he's also linking the the word "asked" into the word "Lilly," so the /t/ is also very tiny. He'll say "I called in a no-questions-asked with Lilly." Since it's so hard to hear, I'll play the clip twice: I called in a no-questions-asked with Lilly. I called in a no-questions-asked with Lilly.

So, the questions this makes me ask are: What does this mean and what is the patten behind it? Well, first, it means that if it's difficult for you to say all of the sounds of the word "asked," you should feel very comfortable dropping the /k/ and saying "ast" instead. As far as a pattern behind it, I don't know one. I couldn't find anything about it in John Wells's Phonetic Blog or anywhere else. It really just seems to be a personal choice. In How I Met Your Mother, the actor who plays Ted clearly prefers to keep the /k/, while everyone else drops it regularly. If you come across any more instances of this on TV or anywhere else, please add a note of where it was to the English Assembly forum string. I'll add a link to that post from this episode's transcript page. I'll also add a separate audio file on that page so you can listen to just the audio clips without listening to the whole podcast again.

You can find the transcripts by going to www.pronuncian.com and clicking episode 195. If, by the time you listen to this, it's an older show, just click the "Archive" link and you'll find all of the older episodes.

Now, just for fun, here are all of the clips again.

Marshall: I need you to do this no questions asked, as as we both know, you owe me a no questions asked.
Ted: Hey, listen, I need you to do something for me no questions asked, okay?
Ted: No questions asked.
Marshal: You owe me a no-questions-asked.
Barney: Marshall asked me to do something for him, no questions asked.
Marshall: And I need you to do it no questions asked, and as you recall, you owe me a no-questions-asked.
Barney: No questions asked.
Barney: I said no questions asked.
Marshall: You owe me a no questions asked.
Ted: No questions asked. You owe me a no questions asked.
Ted: No questions asked.
Ted: I called in a no-questions-asked with Lilly.

Thanks Tony and Ngoc for bringing this to my attention. I don't think I would have noticed it if you hadn't been talking about it on the forums. Since working on this podcast I've noticed myself saying it both ways. I think I tend to add the /k/ when it's the stressed word and drop it when it's not, but that's far from a scientific study. I encourage you to pronounce it however is the most comfortable for you.

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. Bye-bye.

194: 'faux pas, chauffeur, fiance,' and more

Loanwords from French into English.

Transcript

Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 194th episode.

Sorry this episode is late; I have been very sick for a number of weeks now! With any luck, I am now past this year's cold and this year's flu. My voice has returned, and I'm back!

I was talking to my friend Steve from Proesl.com last week and he was kind enough to share a list of loanwords that he practices with his pronunciation students.

Loanwords are words from other languages that have made their way into everyday English. They often keep a spelling that reflects their pronunciation in their first language, but their pronunciation is also somewhat anglicized according to the rules and patterns and sounds of English. The fact that they're both "foreign" and "English" can make the pronunciation of loanwords very uncertain to non-native English speakers.

To begin with, let's take some words that come from French, the language that has one of the largest numbers of loanwords into English. I'm going to say the word as it's pronounced in English, but to make it easier for you, I'm also going to add the International Phonetic spelling to the transcript for this show. You can find the transcripts by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. Then click episode 194.

I'll use a transcription based on what's in the second edition of the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary.

Here are 15 loanwords from French, and some pronunciation tips for each word to help you with it's English pronunciation.

1. amateur
Stress the first syllable, and notice that there's a ch sound in the middle of this word: amateur

2. bouquet
The vowel in the first syllable is an oo sound, and the t on the end is silent: bouquet

3. debris
The vowel sound in the second syllable is a long e, and the s is silent: debris

4. 'debut
The vowel sound of the first syllable is a long a and the vowel in the second syllable is a long u. The t at the end is silent: debut

5. faux pas
The vowel sound in the first word is a long o and the x is silent. The vowel sound in the second word is a short o, and the s is silent: faux pas

6. fiance
Listen to this one as I say it slowly. Fi-an-ce: those vowels, in order, were (long e, short o, long a): fiance. That was a long e, short o, then long a.

7. genre
The word genre is interesting because it's the only word in English that begins with a zh sound (zh sound). Then the vowel of the first syllable is a short o, and the word ends in schwa: genre

8: liaison
That i-a-i spelling at the beginning of this word is really odd to see, and is pronounced (long e, long a) liaison. The s in the middle is pronounced as a z sound, then we have schwa in the final syllable: liaison

9: motif
The vowel in the first syllable of motif is a long o, and the second syllable is a long e. We don't drop the final consonant sound off this word, though, so keep that f sound: motif

10: resume
The vowel sound of the first syllable of resume is a short e sound, and it's stressed. Then there's a z sound, then schwa, then the final syllable is pronounced may, with a long a: resume

11. sabotage
Notice the short a sound in the first syllable and the zh sound at the end of this word: sabotage

12. silhouette
The first syllable of silhouette has a short i sound, and the last syllable sounds like "wet": silhouette

13. venue
Venue isn't too hard. The first syllable is a short e and the second is a long u: venue

14. encore
The tricky part of encore is that the first syllable sounds like "on," despite being spelled e-n: encore

15 (and finally) chauffeur
Chauffeur begins with an sh sound; the first syllable sounds like show (like s-h-o-w) and the second syllable sounds like fur, as in f-u-r. Put the two syllables together, and you get chauffeur. Nope, it isn't at all like it looks like it would be pronounced. But that's the nature of loanwords; they can really surprise you.

Let's go through all 15 of these words again. I'll say the word, then leave time for you to repeat after me. Ready?

amateur /ˈæm ə ʧʊr/
bouquet /bu ˈkeɪ/ (or /boʊ ˈkeɪ/)
debris /də ˈbri/
debut /ˈdeɪb ju/
faux pas /ˌfoʊ ˈpɑ/
fiance /ˌfi ɑn ˈseɪ/
genre /ˈʒɑn rə/
liaison /li ˈeɪz ən/ *
motif /moʊ ˈtif/
resume /ˈrɛz ə meɪ/
sabotage /ˈsæb ə tɑʒ/
silhouette /ˌsɪl u ˈɛt/
venue /ˈvɛn ju/
encore /ˈɑn kɔr/
chauffeur /ʃoʊ ˈfɚ/

Thanks again to Steve at proESL.com for sharing his list of loanwords with me!

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

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.

*This is closer to the British transcription, but it's how I say it, so I took the liberty of using this transcription here.

Wells, J. C. Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. 2nd ed. Harlow: Longman, 1990. Print.

Image attribution: by Alexande Jaborska, via Wikimedia Commons

193: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

In this Christmas special, learn where to find free ebooks and audio books online!

Transcript

Hi everyone, and welcome to to Seattle Learning Academy's special holiday podcast! I've got a treat for you today. We're going to listen to the short audiobook, 'Twas the Night before Christmas by Clement C. Moore. This well-known children's book, originally titled A Visit from St. Nicholas, was published in 1823 and is now in the public domain. That means that the copyright for the book has expired and anyone can freely use the text. A website called Project Gutenberg, which you can find at www.gutenberg.org, has digitized these public domain books and made them downloadable for free. Then it gets even better. There are very kind people who have voluntarily made audio recordings of these books and given that audio to the public domain as well. Another website, called Librivox, collect these public domain audio files. Now you can get the Librivox audio directly from Gutenberg.org.

So today we'll listen to a free Librivox audio of the book I downloaded for free through Project Gutenberg. The text of the book is all included in the transcripts for this episode, which you can find by clicking the "Podcast" link on the right-hand side of Pronuncian.com. I'll even add a few of Jessie Willcox Smith's old illustrations to the transcripts, too, since they're kind of fun to see. If you want to find more books and audios like this, I'll also include links directly to Project Gutenberg and Librivox on this episode's transcript page.

And now, Twas the Night before Christmas or A Visit from St. Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap--

When out on the lawn there rose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter,
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon, on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blitzen--
To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall!
Now, dash away, dash away, dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So, up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With a sleigh full of toys--and St. Nicholas too.
And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof,
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack;
His eyes how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump--a right jolly old elf;
And I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye, and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle;
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

192: Special holiday words

Mistletoe, tree farms, Scrooges, and more...

Transcript

Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy and this is our 192nd episode.

It's that time of year when things seem to be hectic. No matter what your religion or culture is, it's a busy, busy time! The holidays can also be hard because they come with their own special vocabulary that many non-native speakers don't really get to in interact with enough to learn very well. So in this and the next episode, I'm going to try to fix that.

The schedule is a little messed up because I'm a few days behind on posting this episode and then I intend to post the next episode early so you can hear it before Christmas. After New Year's, I'll be back on schedule.

Today I'm going to go over some common holiday vocabulary that can be difficult for non-native speakers to pronounce. Then, next week I'm going to play an audio recording of Twas the Night Before Christmas, which was originally known as A Visit from St. Nicholas. I'll also be giving you some tips for finding your own free audio recordings to help you with pronunciation.

Getting back to vocabulary, we've obviously got the words Merry Christmas. I did a whole podcast about this (oh) a year or two ago that I'll link to from this episode's transcript page so it's easier to find if you want to learn more. The words merry (m-e-r-r-y), marry (m-a-r-r-y), and the name Mary (m-a-r-y) are all pronounced the same in most of the United States. Use the air sound (air sound) and you'll be fine. Then, don't try to add a t sound into Christmas. It's not there. The two syllables are Christ-mas. Repeat after me: Merry Christmas.

Speaking of a silent t, there's also one in the word mistletoe, spelled m-i-s-t-l-e-t-o-e. If you haven't ever heard of mistletoe before, be careful. It's a little green plant that people hang from the ceiling. If you stand under it, anyone can come up to you and give you a kiss! If you want to see it, there was recently a picture of it on our Facebook page. The word again was mistletoe. Repeat it after me: mistletoe.

Of course, Santa Clause has become a big part of Christmas, so we should talk about how to say his name. In the name Santa, we've got a letter t that follows an n sound and comes before a vowel sound. If you've been studying your t sound allophones, you might recognize that this is a place that the t sound can be dropped. Therefore, you'll often hear Santa called 'Sanna Clause.' 'Sanna' is a perfectly acceptable pronunciation. (I've got it written as s-a-n-n-a to demonstrate the pronunciation. I've never actually seen it spelled that way). The vowel sound in Santa's last name, Clause, is pronounced with the aw sound. C-l-a-u-s-e and c-l-a-w-s (like a cat has) are homophones and are pronounced exactly the same.

In the story you'll listen to next week, Santa Clause will be called St. Nicholas, which is another name he goes by in different parts of the word. In the US, you're much more likely to hear Santa, but St. Nicholas does sneak in from time to time. Both are referring to the same person.

In the traditional stories, Santa flies around the world in his sleigh which is pulled by flying reindeer. The words sleigh and reindeer both have a long a sound (long a). The word sleigh (s-l-e-i-g-h) does actually have a pronunciation we can predict because words spelled e-i-g-h are usually pronounced with a long a. Other examples are the number eight and the word weigh, spelled w-e-i-g-h. The word reindeer, however, is not phonetic. It's one of those words you just need to know how to pronounce. So listen closely: reindeer. Now repeat after me: sleigh, reindeer.

Santa and his reindeer traditionally land on your roof and Santa comes into your house by sliding down the chimney. Never mind that most houses don't have chimneys anymore. Parents always seem to find some explanation to give their kids for how Santa gets into the house to put presents under the Christmas tree. Christmas trees used to always be real trees that people went into the woods and found or bought from a Christmas tree farm. I think it's funny that they're called tree farms. Usually it's just rows and rows of trees, but I like to picture there also being cows or sheep or something. However, a lot of people now buy fake trees made of plastic. Another word for a fake tree is an artificial tree. So the phrases fake tree and artificial tree are synonyms. Personally, I prefer real trees from the tree farm.

Of course, there are some people out there who really don't like Christmas. We call these people Scrooges. The term came from the Charles Dickens novel called A Christmas Carol written in 1843. In A Christmas Carol, the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, was grumpy and mean and didn't care about people and he didn't celebrate Christmas. The book has been made into plays and movies that have had every interpretation possible. Since it's such a popular holiday story, everyone knows the term Scrooge.

Another term for the same type of person is Grinch, based on the Dr. Seuss book, The Grinch who Stole Christmas. Not surprisingly, it's also about a character who hates Christmas. So, in general, the terms Scrooge and Grinch are synonyms. Both of these terms are so engrained in popular culture that they're actually pretty important for you to know.

So, let's review all of these terms again. I'll say each of them and leave time for you to repeat. Ready?

Merry Christmas
mistletoe
Santa Clause/St. Nicholas
reindeer
sleigh
Christmas tree
fake tree/artificial tree
tree farm
Scrooge
Grinch

By the way, you'll also see Christmas written as the letter X, hyphen, m-a-s, or even just X-m-a-s. Some people find this really annoying and even disrespectful of the holiday, so I wouldn't recommend writing it that way unless you know the person who will read it.

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. Bye-bye.

Original image by Infamusmobb00.

191: The difference between 'my car' and 'Mike are'

Aspiration, of course.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 191st episode.

You might think that I've said all there is to say about the importance of understanding stop sounds and how the differences of their aspiration are especially important for linking; but no, I'm not done yet. These linking techniques contain a lot of advanced levels of detail, and we can get pretty deep into these topics.

So far, I've talked about linking the same stops, voiced and unvoiced pairs of stops, and different stops into each other. Today I'm going to explain linking vowels and stops. When thinking about inking vowels and consonants, it's easy to think that we just blend the sounds, and somewhat, we do. But, because of differences in aspiration--or the puff of air that occurs when we release stops--we can describe very tiny details that can help you achieve native-like English pronunciation and have an accent that is more easily understood.

We're getting to know quite a bit about types of sounds called stops. Let's review what we know:

1) We have 6 stops sounds
2) Stop sounds are the sounds where we completely block the air using our tongue or lips, hold the air for a tiny amount of time, then released it. The release of air is called aspiration.
3) the /t/, /p/, and /k/ sounds are unvoiced stop sounds
4) the /d/, /b/, and /g/ sounds are voiced stop sounds
5) Stop sounds have more aspiration (that's the "puff") when they are the first sound of a word than when they are mid-word or at the end
6) Unvoiced stops--/t, p, k/--have a bigger aspiration than voiced stops /d, b, g/

If you go to the transcript for this episode, you'll see a graphic that shows the difference in linking the words "my" and "car" (my car) and "Mike" and "are" ("Mike are"). These sets of words contain the same sounds and the normal transcription that we would see in a dictionary for these sets of words would match! The typically used transcription system is called "broad transcription." Broad transcription doesn't show details like a sound being held for extra time, or a stop sound having no audible release, or if the sound is fully aspirated. We need to use a special, more precise transcription system called "narrow transcription" to show these differences in pronunciation. Relevant to this episode, we can show a tiny, raised h after the fully aspirated sound when we use narrow transcription. You can see this if you go to the transcripts page for this episode. The graphics there show both broad and narrow transcription for the phrases "my car" and "Mike are."

Given the information I reviewed a bit ago, which k sound will have a bigger aspiration: the k sound in the name "Mike" or the k sound in the word "car"?

I hope you said the k sound in "car" because, according to detail #5 above, stops that begin a word (like the k sound in "car") have bigger aspirations than stops at the end of a word (like the k sound in "Mike"). So the difference between "my car" and "Mike are" is that the puff of the /k/ in the phrase with "car" is bigger. Other than that, the vowels on both sides of the k sound are blended to and from the /k/.

Let's put those phrases in sentences, so they make a bit more sense.

my + car: My car is over there.
Mike + are: Sharon and Mike are over there.

Let's do another comparison of aspiration, this time linking from a vowel into a word beginning with a voiced stop and from a vowel into a word beginning with an unvoiced stop. Which one will have a bigger puff of air? According to #6 above, the unvoiced stop will have the bigger puff.

Let's compare "my pack" to "my back." If you put a few fingers in front of your mouth when saying those phrases, you should feel more air hit your fingers on "my pack," with a p sound, than "my back" with a b sound.

Let's put these into sentences:

my + pack: I fell on my pack.
my + back: I fell on my back.

And let's do one final comparison to show differences in aspiration. Let's play with the phrase "keep off." The word "keep" has two stops, a k sound and a p sound. Which one will have a bigger aspiration? I hope you said the /k/. Why? Because the /k/ is the first sound of the word and stops at the beginning of a word have more aspiration than stops at the end of a word.

Repeat the phrase after me:

keep off

All right, keeping all of those details of aspiration in mind, let's practice. First, let's link vowels into stops. I'll say a phrase and give you time to repeat it, then I'll say a sentence and, again, leave you time to repeat it. Feel free to keep your fingers right in front of your mouth so you can feel how much puff of air is hitting your fingers with these stop sounds.

Ready?

  1. try‿giving: Beth should try‿giving John a call.
  2. also‿benefit: You might also‿benefit from taking vitamins.
  3. they‿brought: They‿brought their daughter along.
  4. early‿bus: Catch the early‿bus and you'll have plenty of time.
  5. agree‿to: Will they agree‿to those guidelines?

Now I'll do the same thing with phrases that link a stop sound into a vowel.

  1. good‿evening: Are you having a good‿evening?
  2. bad‿impression: Unfortunately, he left a bad‿impression.
  3. seemed‿impossible: It seemed‿impossible to meet the deadline.
  4. rid‿of: I'd really like to get rid‿of this old phone.
  5. made‿up: Kevin already made‿up his mind.

You can practice these sentences, and more, by going to the free Pronuncian lesson associated with this topic. I'll like to it from this episode's transcript page. As with all the linking lessons, Pronuncian subscribers get twice as much practice because every free lesson has an accompanying exercise for more practice. Go to www.pronuncian.com/join for subscriber information.

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

190: From 'wait time' to 'snack time'

Linking different stops is a bit harder than linking same and similar stops.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 190th episode.

In our last episode, I talked about linking same and similar stops. I'm going to stay on the topic of linking stops today and talk about how to link combinations of stops that is a bit harder. If you don't know what I'm talking about, please go back and listen to episode 189. If you haven't heard that podcast yet, this one might not make a lot of sense to you.

So, it's not terribly difficult to link from a t sound into another t sound, as in the phrase "wait time." My vocal tract doesn't need to move at all to go from one word to the next. Similarly, my tongue also doesn't move if I'm going from a g sound into a k sound, as in the phrase "dog catcher." I'm just transitioning from a voiced g sound into an unvoiced k sound.

However, if I want to link a k sound into a t sound, as in the phrase "snack time," my tongue needs to move quite a bit. Put the phrase "snack time" into your mind and hold it there for a bit while we talk about what happens during this phrase. For the k sound at the end of the word "snack," the back of the tongue is high and the tip is low. Then, for the t sound at the beginning of the word "time," the back of the tongue drops as the front of the tongue lifts. And It needs to be done while making the k sound very small.

How do I make the k sound very small? I make it small by not aspirating it very much. That is, the puff of air that leaves the mouth at the end of the k sound should be minimal. That's because it's at the end of the word. Then my tongue moved into the t sound, stopped the air normally, and released it with a full unvoiced sound aspiration. Why does it get a full aspiration? Because it's the the first sound of the the word. All that movement and careful aspiration needs to happen very quickly.

All links between different stop sounds are created this way: the release of the final sound of the first word is very small and the release of the first sound of the second word is bigger. If the first sound of the second word is an unvoiced stop, it will be biggest of all.

All of this information is available, with a nice graphic, if that's how you learn, on the Pronuncian website. I'll link to that free lesson from this episode's transcript page. Pronuncian subscribers have an additional practice exercise for twice the muscle-memory-building fun.

To get you started, let's practice now. I'm going to say a phrase that links different stops, then I'll give you time to repeat it, then I'll say the phrase in a sentence and then, again, give you time to repeat it.

Ready?

  1. snack‿time: Snack‿time is at 3:45.
  2. should‿be: Tim should‿be here any minute.
  3. old‿building: It's a beautiful, old‿building.
  4. stop‿crying: The baby won't stop‿crying.
  5. big‿deal: It's not such a big‿deal.
  6. like‿to: I'd like‿to go along, too.
  7. work‿together: It takes time to learn to work‿together.
  8. awake‿during: How do nurses stay awake‿during night shifts?

Those sentences and a couple more are on the free lesson, so if you'd like to practice specific sentences again and again, you can. (And) don't forget, you can help support Pronuncian and get extra practice by signing up for a Pronuncian subscription. Just go to www.pronuncian.com/join.

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. Bye-bye.

189: Linking magic!

Linking same and similar stop sounds increases spoken fluency.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 189th episode.

I'm excited to say that I'm nearly finished with a brand new ebook on the topic of linking! At it's very simplest, linking is how we move from one word into the next when we're speaking.

Unfortunately, linking is a pronunciation skill that is too often overlooked by pronunciation teachers. It might even be the least sexy topic when it comes to pronunciation. Hopefully, that's going to change. Linking is kind of a magic skill. When I've got students who are really struggling with the rhythm of English, often it helps tremendously to practice simple linking, practice it often, and practice it in different contexts.

The context I'm going to talk about today is linking to and from the same stop sound and linking to and from voiced and unvoiced pairs of stops.

To understand how to link same and similar stops, you have to understand a couple of things. First, you have to know that stops are created when we use the vocal tract to briefly, completely block the air; second, you have to know that the release of the blocked air is called "aspiration;" and third, you have to know that stops occur in voiced and unvoiced pairs.

English has 6 stop sounds: /t/ and /d/, /p/ and /b/, and /k/ and /g/. I just listed them in their unvoiced and voiced pairs. An unvoiced sound is created without engaging the vocal cords, whereas the vocal cords do vibrate during a voiced sound. When it comes to linking, the most important aspect of unvoiced and voiced sounds is that when an unvoiced sound is released, the puff of air that comes out of our mouth is bigger than the puff of air that comes out when we release the voiced counterpart.

So, to review:

  • a t sound is unvoiced and a d sound is its voiced counterpart; the /t/ will have a bigger puff of air (t sound, d sound)
  • a p sound is unvoiced and a b sound is its voiced counterpart; the /p/ will have a bigger puff of air (p sound, b sound)
  • a k sound is unvoiced and a g sound is its voiced counterpart; the /k/ sound will have the bigger puff of air (k sound, g sound)

It makes sense to think that if you have the same sound twice in a row that you'd need to say that sound two times, but you don't. But you also don't say the sound exactly once, either. What? If you don't say that sound once, and you don't say it twice, how do you say the sound? Well, kind of one and a half times… Let me explain, and you'll see that it's not so hard.

If I'm linking the word "wait" into "time," I'll be linking a /t/ into a /t/: "wait time." I had only one puff there, not a separate puff for each t sound. However, I didn't say a normal, single t sound either. Instead, I held the stopped portion of the t sound for extra time. So my tongue went into the position of the t and blocked the air from leaving my mouth. Then it held it for a bit longer than normal, then I released the sound with the normal t sound puff. I'll say the linked words a few more times:

wait time
wait time
wait time

Here are some more examples of linking to and from the same stop sound:

k sound: antique clocks
p sound: hope people
d sound: hundred dollars
g sound: big gift

If I'm linking between a voiced/unvoiced pair (like /d/ into /t/), or an unvoiced/voiced pair (like /t/ into /d/), I need to pay extra careful attention to the aspiration. I'm still only going to aspirate the linked sounds once, and I'm going to give the linked sounds the amount of puff of the second sound. So if I'm linking from a /t/ into a /d/, I'll use the smaller d sound aspiration. But if I'm linking from a /d/ into a /t/, I'll use the bigger t sound aspiration. You have to remember that unvoiced stops are aspirated more than voiced stops.

Here are some examples of linking between pairs of similar stops:

First, unvoiced into voiced:

/p/ into /b/: help button
/t/ into /d/: date do
/k/ into /g/: majestic gardens

Next, voiced into unvoiced:

/g/ into /k/: dog catcher
/b/ into /p/: job postings

Let's practice these some more, this time putting the linked words into sentences:

t sound: wait time: The wait‿time for getting a seat is 35 minutes.
k sound: antique clocks: Nellie repairs antique‿clocks.
p sound: hope people: We hope‿people aren't late today.
d sound and g sound: hundred dollars/big gift: A hundred‿dollars is a big‿gift.

Now let's practice some pairs of stops:

/p/ into /b/: help button: Press the red help‿button to ask for assistance.
/t/ into /d/: date do: What date‿do you want the report submitted by?
/k/ into /g/: majestic gardens: Many castles have majestic‿gardens.
/g/ into /k/: dog catcher: The dog‿catcher got bit on the ankle.
/b/ into /p/: job postings: You can find a lot of job‿postings on the Internet.

If you'd like to practice these sentences and more, I'll link to the free Pronuncian.com lesson on this topic from this episode's transcript page. You can find the transcript by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast and clicking episode 189. If you want even more practice, consider subscribing to the site. All of the new linking lessons have additional exercises available to subscribers so you'll get more than twice as much linking practice. Your site subscriptions are what allow us to keep producing these podcasts for free, and so we appreciate your support.

Also, watch our Facebook page for more linking tips and examples. It's www.facebook.com/englishassembly.

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. Bye-bye.

188: Heteronyms: 'Lead' rhymes with 'read'

AND 'lead' rhymes with 'read'!

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 188th episode.

Sometimes inspiration appears and it just must be followed. At least that's how I feel about this episode. I had a different episode planned, but then I was working on finalizing an upcoming presentation in which I had decided to add a bit of content about heteronyms. Then, around the same time, I came across a picture on the Grammarly Facebook page of a confused looking man in a crowd. The caption read: "Lead rhymes with read. Lead rhymes with read." Or it could have been: "Lead rhymes with read. Lead rhymes with read."

Ah, there's our friend, the heteronym. A heteronym is a set of words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently, like l-e-a-d being pronounced as lead--long e--when it's being used as a verb, and lead--short e--when it's being used as a noun, or r-e-a-d being pronounced as read--long e--when it's being used in the present tense and read--short e--when it's being used in the past tense.

Lead and lead and read and read don't follow any convenient pronunciation pattern, you just need to know those words. But some heteronyms do follow a pattern. Which ones? The 2-syllable nouns, adjectives and verbs and the -ate suffix both have very handy patterns.

Today, we're going to talk about 2-syllable nouns, adjectives, and verbs, and 2-syllable heteronyms.

The general syllable stress pattern for 2-syllable nouns and adjectives is that they're usually stressed on the first syllable. 2-syllable verbs are usually stressed on the second syllable. Lot's of words fit in this pattern.

Some 2-syllable nouns are:

people
woman
problem
system
number

As expected, all of those words are stressed on the first syllable.

Some 2-syllable adjectives, also stressed on the first syllable, are:

other
public
human
local
better

The following 2-syllable verbs are all stressed on the second syllable, just as we'd expect:

become
provide
create
require
explain

So we have our basic pattern of 2-syllable nouns and adjectives usually being stressed on the first syllable, and 2-syllable verbs usually being stressed on the second syllable.

What happens with the word spelled r-e-c-o-r-d? Well, without context to tell us whether the word is a noun or a verb, we don't know if it's 'record or re'cord. Same with the word spelled o-b-j-e-c-t. Is it 'object or ob'ject? Unless we know the part of speech, we can't know the pronunciation.

Like many parts of English pronunciation, words that are heteronyms must be memorized. Don't worry, though, we're here to help! The free 2-syllable word stress lesson on Pronuncian.com has a link to exercises that subscribers can access that list the most-frequently used 2-syllable nouns, adjective, verbs, adverbs, and heteronyms! I'll link to that free lesson from this episode's transcript page. Or you can also search 'heteronym' in the search box on Pronuncian to find it as well.

The exercises I mentioned also list how frequently the words are used in each part of speech. That helps you to know just how important a particular word is. These exercises are really beneficial for helping you learn English pronunciation, and your subscription, which gives you access to all this extra content, helps keep Pronuncian.com alive and growing.

Okay. Are you ready to practice and memorize some 2-syllable heteronyms?

I'll say the noun/adjective word first, with the first syllable stressed, then the verb, with the second syllable stressed. Let's go!

record
increase
present
object
survey
permit
suspect
finance
protest

To find this episode's transcript page, go to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. Then click "episode 188." I'll include the lead/lead, read/read image there, too, so you can see it. It's really pretty cute.

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. Bye-bye.

187: 'Fall' and 'autumn'

In the US, it's 'fall;' in the UK, it's 'autumn.'

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 187th episode.

Before I begin, let me remind you that you can find the transcripts for this, and all of our episodes by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. Also, I'll link to the free aw sound lesson as well as other free lessons associated with this episode from this episode's transcript page.

I really wanted to do a podcast about the word autumn, since the days have just turned cool and damp here in Seattle, Washington. We can learn a lot from the word autumn, like the aw sound spelled au and the alveolar tap (which probably sounds like a quick d sound to most of you and the silent n in words that end in the letters -mn. All that is is the word autumn and is great stuff. Except a quick bit of research convinced me that most Americans don't use the term autumn for the season that follows summer. Instead, most Americans use the term fall. Well, what to do, what to do?

First, discussing the word fall opens up a place to discuss the a-l-l pronunciation, which is also worth mentioning. Then, we can still learn about the word autumn, since all the topics around that word work for other words as well.

Ready? Let's begin with the pronunciation of the vowel sound in the word fall. That vowel sound is the aw sound (which is also the sound in the word dog). The aw sound is pronounced (aw sound). Can you hear it in the word fall, (aw sound, fall)? Our aw sound lesson lists quite a few possible spellings for the aw sound, including:

  • a-w as in law
  • the letter o as in dog
  • a-u as in author
  • a-u-g-h as in daughter
  • o-u-g-h when it's followed by t, as in brought
  • and the letter a when it follows w, as in the word want

The word fall, however, doesn't fit any of those spelling patterns.

I began wondering how common the aw sound is in words like fall, so I got out my frequency dictionary to see if there was a pattern that I missed. I checked for any word that includes the a-l-l spelling, and I found quite a few words in the top 5000 most-frequent words in American English. The biggest chunk of words used the a-l-l spelling as part of the -ally suffix pattern or were located in an unstressed syllable of a word, and so the letter a was reduced to schwa.

When I looked at only stressed syllables or single-syllable words, two different pronunciations stood out: the aw sound and the short a sound. The short a sound was in the words allegation, alley, ally, ballot, rally, and valley. The rest of the words were all the aw sound, including: all, ball, call, fall, hall, install, mall, recall, small, tall, and wall. There were also compound words that built off of those words in the list as well.

What does this mean? Well, it means that I might add a+ll as a common spelling for the aw sound, with a note that some words that have this spelling are pronounced with a short a sound. What do you think? Should I add this spelling, or are the 6 spellings that currently exist in the lesson enough and adding a seventh would be just too much information?

Now, in case you favor the word autumn over fall, let's touch on that pronunciation as well. First, if you were paying attention a bit ago, you heard a-u as a common spelling for the aw sound. The word autumn fits in perfectly, and is also pronounced with the aw sound. Then, if you're speaking in an American accent, that t in the middle of the word will be pronounced as an alveolar tap and will sound like a quick d sound because the /t/ is between vowel sounds. Then we have that rather uncommon -mn ending on the word. In words that end in -mn, the n is silent and we only have only the m sound. Other words ending in -mn are column, condemn, the curse word damn and the words hymn (h-y-m-n), and solemn. So you can see that there aren't a lot of high-frequency words with this spelling.

If you're interested in more than the free lessons I'll link to from this episode's transcript page, you can also purchase the book, Pronunciation Pages 2, which includes that lesson with all of the aw sound spellings and the word lists that you can use for building your own muscle memory. The book, whether you buy it in physical form or as a download, includes MP3 audio so you can compare your speech to a native speaker's. Find information at www.pronuncian.com/products.

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. Bye-bye.

 

Resources: Davies, Mark, and Dee Gardner. A Frequency Dictionary of Contemporary American English: Word Sketches, Collocates, and Thematic Lists. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.

Illustration by Juliejohn1 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

186: Fake it 'til you make it!

Are you uncomfortable speaking really well?

Transcript

Hi, and welcome to out 186th podcast. Today's episode is going to be different from every podcast I've ever done before. Today I'm not going to teach a physical skill. I'm not going to talk about the vocal tract or listening skills or ways to practice pronunciation. Instead, I'm going to touch on an emotional aspect that comes when working on changing the way you speak, and that's the natural feeling of vulnerability.

The cause of the feeling of vulnerability that I'm going to talk about is very different than the fear of making a grammar mistake or of embarrassing yourself by using the wrong word at the wrong time. This is the vulnerability that accompanies feeling fake, or feeling like you're acting or pretending when you change your pronunciation.

I can't even count the number of times I've heard a student struggle with a pronunciation skill, and then finally, like magic say something absolutely perfectly. Then, just as I congratulate him or her on how great it sounded, that person replies that it felt or sounded "weird." It didn't really sound like it was he or she who spoke. To that person, it sounded like they were acting like something they're not. The person felt like he or she was "pretending" to be a native English speaker, and somehow that made the speech sound less authentic or less genuine.

It's interesting that this happens so often. Let me tell you a few things about this. First, sorry, but native speakers usually don't notice when something was said really nicely, really clearly, or more like a native speaker. It's a little unfortunate--and maybe even unfair--because so much of the hard work of the student does, goes unnoticed until something was said in a way that causes confusion again. Changes in pronunciation happen slowly over time. Like trying to watch a baby grow, the daily changes are small. It's not until you look back that the change can be seen or heard. Of course, unless you record yourself, it's hard to look back at speech.

Second, and I tell all of my students this, if you want to sound more like a native speaker and have fewer miscommunications, you just have to get over that feeling of being fake. Let it go. You have to become comfortable "acting" like a native speaker. Don't worry, it's really, really difficult to lose so much accent that speakers will think you are actually native speaker of English. Instead, they'll know that you're a non-native speaker who is easy to understand, easy to listen to, and easy to have a conversation with. That's the ultimate goal and the best prize in the journey of learning a language.

I've been working with a lot of students on linking lately, and a lot of our upcoming podcasts will be on this topic. For some reason, it's when practicing linking that people seem to feel the most vulnerable. It's no coincidence, then, that it's during linking practice that a lot of people have such an increase in how fluent they sound. Linking seems to be the magic that brings a lot of different skills together all at the same time.

So, once we get into this beautiful linking practice, don't fear sounding fake. Understand that what you're feeling is normal and that many, many other people feel that way. Also understand that the fear of pretending will hold you back. Let it go. There's a saying in English, "Fake it 'til you make it." It's about any skill, especially a life skill. If you want to be more generous, pretend that you're comfortable giving things away. If you want to be less shy, pretend to be outgoing. Pretend to do it until it doesn't feel like pretending anymore. At that point, you've made it.

So fake it 'til you make it.

I'm interested to hear what you have to say about this topic, so I'm going to post to our Facebook page and Twitter feed. I hope you'll let me know your experience with feeling like a fake and with pretending to be comfortable even when you aren't. Do you have a saying like "Fake it 'til you make it" in your language. Go to Facebook.com/englishassembly or follow @pronuncian on Twitter and join the conversation. I'm genuinely curious what you've got to say.

Thanks for listening to this Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Bye-bye.

185: From /ʒ/ to /ʤ/ ('zh' to 'j')

A natural progression through consonant sounds.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 185th episode.

Before I begin, let me remind you that you can find the transcripts for this, and all of our episodes by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. Also, I'll link to the free lesson associated with this episode from this episode's transcript page.

Two episodes ago, I talked about the sh sound, then in our last episode I told you how the sh sound relates to the zh sound. Today I'm going to continue down this line of related sounds by moving on to the j sound. The j sound is pronounced (j sound) and is the beginning sound of the word jump.

Just like the sh sound and zh sound, the j sound is the same in an American accent or British accent.

I hope you remember that the sh sound and zh sound were fricatives. That means they are created by causing friction in the vocal tract. Also, they're continuous sounds that can be held for a long time. I also explained that the sh sound is unvoiced, meaning the vocal cords don't vibrate during the sound, and the zh sound is voiced, meaning that the vocal cords do vibrate during the sound.

Let's review the zh sound. The zh sound is created with the front of the tongue somewhat flat toward the back of the tooth ridge. The air passes in a flat stream between the front of the tongue and the back of the tooth ridge. It sounds like (zh sound). Say that sound after me: (zh sound). Since the zh sound is a continuous consonant, I can hold it for a long time (held zh sound).

The j sound is similar to the zh sound except that, at the beginning of the sound, my tongue presses against my tooth ridge, completely blocking the air for a short amount of time. Then, when the tongue is released, or is let go from the tooth ridge, the front of the tongue stays really close to the tooth ridge. This causes friction just like the the zh sound. Listen to the j sound (j sound): jump, joy, judge.

When I'm working with students, there are three different problems I hear with people trying to produce a j sound in an American accent.

The error I hear most frequently when producing a j sound is not stopping the air completely at the beginning of the sound. So if we have the word jump, I hear (zh)ump instead. Can you hear the difference: jump, (zh)ump? Again, that was jump, (zh)ump.

For some people, the j sound is easier to pronounce when it's spelled d-g-e, as in the word judge. This is because they see the letter d, which also stops the air, causing a very nice j sound. The part that can be a little confusing is that there is not actually a d sound in the d-g-e spelling; it's only a j sound.

The second problem I hear with the j sound is adding a vowel sound to the end of a word that ends in a j sound. So the word judge gets pronounced judge-y. Sorry native Korean speakers, I'm talking about you. Be especially careful with the j sound at the end of a word.

And finally, the third problem I hear is unvoicing the j sound. Remember how the sh sound and zh sound are an unvoiced/voiced pair? Well, we also have an unvoiced version of the j sound: the ch sound.

Listen to the difference between the j sound, which is voiced, and the ch sound, which is not voiced (j sound, ch sound; j sound ch sound).

Here are a few j sound/ch sound minimal pairs to help you practice the difference. I'll say the pair and leave time for you to practice by repeating after me.

badge, batch
junk, chunk
edge, etch
ridge, rich
lunge, lunch

And, before I end today, here are a few words that are pronounced with the j sound. Again, I'll leave time for you to repeat.

jump
juice
bridge
giant
age
logic
eject
agenda

Let me remind you that if you like this kind of listen-and-repeat activity, you can purchase the lists for all of the sounds of English from Pronuncian.com. If you buy the book or ebook, Pronunciation Pages 2, you'll get both the practice word lists and the lessons for each sound's spelling. Or you can just purchase the practice lists which you'll download as a PDF file/MP3 audio combination. This kind of practice is really helpful for achieving a fluent, American accent because it allows you to rebuild that muscle memory.

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. Bye-bye.

184: Pronouncing /ʒ/ the 'zh sound'

If you can say sh, you can say zh!

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 184th episode.

In our last episode, I talked about the difference between the sh sound and s sound. I hope you remember, and I hope you've been practicing, because today I'm going to move on to the zh sound, and the zh sound is closely related to the sh sound.

The s sound and sh sound in our last episode were both unvoiced sounds. Neither sound required our vocal cords to vibrate in order to produce the sound correctly. Both of these sounds have voiced counterparts, however. Those counterparts are the z sound and the zh sound.

Although the difference between voicing or not seems so small that you could think that nobody would notice if you're using voicing correctly or not, believe me, it is noticeable. So let's practice it.

First, let's review the sh sound. The sh sound is created with the front of the tongue somewhat flat toward the back of the tooth ridge. The air passes in a flat stream between the front of the tongue and the back of the tooth ridge. It sounds like (sh sound). Say that sound after me: (sh sound), she, shine, mesh.

Now I want you to say just the sh sound, and while you're saying it, place two fingers on the front of your throat. Do it with me: (sh sound). Notice that you don't feel a vibration against you fingers when you say that sound.

Now let's turn the sh sound into a zh sound by activating our vocal cords deep in our throat. It sounds like (zh sound). The difference between (sh sound) and (zh sound) is the vibration of the vocal cords. Put your fingers back on the front of your throat and say the zh sound with me: (zh sound). Feel the vibration: (zh sound).

The zh sound is a much less common sound than the sh sound. It doesn't occur as the first sound of a word (except for the word genre, g-e-n-r-e), and it seldom occurs at the end of a word. It does frequently occur in the -sion suffix.

Let's practice it now. Make sure you're voicing the sound and not just using the easier sh sound in it's place. That's not a good habit to get into and it'll make you sound less fluent.

So repeat after me, using good, voiced zh sounds:

vision
version
confusion
decision
explosion
precision

Just so you don't think that the zh sound can only be spelled -sion, let's practice a few other patterns that also use this pronunciation, the -sual and -sure endings. Again, repeat after me.

leisure
pleasure
exposure
casual
usual
visual

If you like this kind of listen-and-repeat activity, you can purchase the lists for all of the sounds of English from Pronuncian.com. If you buy the book or ebook, Pronunciation Pages 2, you'll get both the practice lists and the lessons for each sound's spelling. Or you can just purchase the practice lists which you'll download as a PDF file/MP3 audio combination. This kind of practice is really helpful for achieving an American accent by allowing you to rebuild that muscle memory, and I don't know any other resource that includes as many words as we do for each sound.

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. Bye-bye.

183: expected and unexpected /s/ and /ʃ/ minimal pairs

Pairs like 'sock' and 'shock' are obvious; 'sour' and 'shower' might not be.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 183rd episode.

The s sound and sh sound are both unvoiced fricatives that often cause problems for non-native English speakers. It's the similarity between these sounds that causes the trouble, both in a British accent and an American accent. A little practice and muscle memory building can go a long way toward helping you create both of these sounds clearly and accurately.

To practice comparing individual sounds, minimal pairs are very helpful. Minimal pairs are two words that have the same pronunciation except for one sound. For instance, sock and shock are minimal pairs. The only difference between the sounds is the first sound: an s sound in sock and an sh sound in shock.

Before we practice minimal pairs, though, let's talk about how to create these sounds. Both sounds are created by forcing air between the front section of the tongue and the tooth ridge. The tooth ridge is that bony area behind your top front teeth.

The s sound is created with the tongue farther forward, and the tip of the tongue is closer to the top front teeth. A narrow stream of air passes over the tip of the tongue through a front-to-back groove along the front of the tongue. It sounds like (s sound). Say that sound after me: (s sound), see, sign, mess.

The sh sound is created with the tongue back slightly farther in the mouth. The tongue is flatter, causing the air to pass in a flat stream between the front of the tongue (not the tip of the tongue as for the s sound) and the back of the tooth ridge. It sounds like (sh sound). Say that sound after me: (sh sound), she, shine, mesh.

When you're comparing the s sound to the sh sound, think of the air passing over the tongue in the shape of a string for the s sound: the flow of air is rounded, or circular. The air passing over the tongue during the sh sound is shaped more like a ribbon. That is, it's flat.

Let's practice using some minimal pairs. Sometimes minimal pairs are easier to compare when the spelling of the words is similar, so let's start with some words where the only difference is only the letter s or the letters sh in the spelling. Repeat the following words after me:

sock, shock
sift, shift
sake, shake
self, shelf
same, shame

Now let's practice some words whose spellings are more different, but are still pronounced the same except for the s sound or sh sound:

sour, shower
said, shed
furnace, furnish
rust, rushed
parcel, partial

Because I really want you to understand the idea that words can have very different spellings and still have quite similar pronunciations, let's repeat that second set of words again.

sour, shower
said, shed
furnace, furnish
rust, rushed
parcel, partial

A more complete set of minimal pairs to practice exists as an exercise in our textbook, Pronunciation Pages 2, which you can purchase as a physical book on Amazon.com or as a physical or digital ebook from Pronuncian.com. Both the physical version and downloadable version come with MP3 audio so you can listen and repeat as much as you like. Every time you repeat words correctly, you're rebuilding the muscle memory necessary to make permanent improvements to your speech.

Good luck!

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. Bye-bye.

182: 'on' and 'off': /ɑn/ and /ɔf/

The 'cot/caught' merger and short o/aw sound revisited.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 182nd episode.

This episode is sponsored by Pauline Midwinter of Midwinter Tuition. You can download her Android app, listen to her Elocution Podcast, or contact her for online lessons at midwintertuition.co.uk.

As always, I'll link to the related, free pronunciation lessons that are associated with this episode from this episode's transcript page. Just go to www.pronuncian.com/podcast, and click episode 182.

On and off: these two tiny little words have been a part of English since the days of Old English. They are both very high frequency words, and they happen to be nice examples of comparing the short o /ɑ/ sound and the aw sound /ɔ/ (short o /ɑ/) and (aw sound /ɔ/).

Do you hear the difference between the vowel sounds in the words on and off? On, off.

Because the American accent I use is not from an area of the country that has merged the short o /ɑ/ sound and aw sound /ɔ/ into a single sound, I do say these vowels differently. However, some parts of the United States have gone through a process called the 'cot/caught merger' by linguists. People from those places do not say these vowel sounds differently. Those individuals usually use the short o /ɑ/ sound for both sounds.

Currently, about 60% of Americans still do say the sounds differently, and so I teach my students to hear and produce the difference between the sounds so they can choose for themselves whether they would prefer to use one or both sounds in their own speech. It really is your own choice. There isn't a right or wrong answer to this one.

The short o /ɑ/ sound is pronounced as (short o /ɑ/). It is a low, back vowel. This means that the back of the tongue is kept low. You'll feel your bottom, back teeth along the sides of your tongue. In order for the tongue to remain low enough, the jaw has to drop a little bit. Because the jaw drops, the shape of the lips becomes rounded. You don't need to force your lips into a round shape for the short o /ɑ/ sound in an American accent; the lips stay relaxed, and they naturally round as the chin lowers. The sound is (short o /ɑ/).

Repeat that sound after me (short o /ɑ/).

Again, (short o /ɑ/).

Feel all of it. Feel the tension of pushing your tongue low. Feel your side, back teeth. Feel your jaw lower. Feel you lips naturally change into a rounded shape.

Say the word on, on.

Now let's move on to the aw sound /ɔ/. This sound is the optional sound of the two. If you've learned British English pronunciation, this is possibly the sound you're more comfortable with and using this sound in place of the short o /ɑ/ sound will give your speech a British flair.

The biggest difference between the sounds is the tension in the lips and even the cheeks. To create the aw sound /ɔ/ sound, we're again going to set the back of the tongue low and the jaw still drops. Now, however, you are going to actively make the lips round. The sides of the lips are brought in and the lips might stick out a little bit. When the sides of the lips are brought in, you might feel tension in your cheeks, since you're using those muscles to move the sides of your lips. The sound is (aw sound /ɔ/).

Repeat the sound after me (aw sound /ɔ/).

Again, (aw sound /ɔ/).

Let's really feel the aw sound /ɔ/. Feel the tongue pushing low as the jaw drops. Feel your back side teeth. Feel the tension in your cheeks and lips as your lips are actively made into an open circle. You may also feel your lips stick out a little bit during this sound.

Repeat the aw sound /ɔ/ after me again (aw sound /ɔ/).

Say the word off, off.

Let's practice the words on and off side-by side, and then practice a few phrases using these words.

on
off
on
off

Turn it on.
Be on time.
Hold on to it.
It's on Friday.

Turn it off.
Take a day off.
Take off your shoes.
Cut off the extra.

I hope that little practice make both of these sounds a little bit clearer for you, and a little easier to produce.

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. Bye-bye.