110: Troublesome /v/ and /f/

Be careful with the /b/, /p/ and /w/ when working with the /f/ and /v/.


Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 110th episode.

Listen to the end of today's show to hear about another novel I love, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I'm going to encourage you to read and listen to it as a great study aid for the TOEFL, or GRE vocabulary prep, or just for your own entertainment. At the end of this show I'll tell you how you can, and why you should, get a free audiobook copy of The Great Gatsby from Audible.com.

Like many of my podcast topics, I chose this week's topic based on a few good forum questions. The forums are free for anyone to use and post questions to. Just go to www.pronuncian.com/forums.

Forum user myword from India was having some trouble linking from the f sound and v sound. Issues with the v sound and f sound are very common, not only for people from India, but also native Spanish, Korean, Japanese, German, Czech, and Russian speakers (and those are just the languages I regularly come across)! It is a little odd to have such unrelated languages struggling with the same problem, but f and v problems seem to span the globe!

I find a lot of students who think they are correctly creating the f sound and v sound, but actually aren't. As a somewhat separate issue, I also hear a lot of non-native speakers accidentally creating these sounds when they don't mean to.

Let's begin by exploring these sounds in more detail.

The v sound and f sound are a voiced/unvoiced pair. The v sound uses the vocal cords, and the f sound does not. For ESL/ELL students, the v sound seems to cause greater trouble than the f sound. For that reason, I'm going to focus on the v sound for this episode. Remember though, that pronunciation techniques for a voiced sound are usually also true for an unvoiced sound.

These sounds are also fricatives (just like the s sound, z sound, sh sound, and zh sound from our last episode). I seem to keep coming back to this term fricative again and again. Fricatives are smooth sounds that we can hold for a few seconds. Fricative sounds are created by forcing air out our mouth through a small opening.

For a bit of comparison between a fricative, which can be held for a few seconds, and a stop sound, which can only occur for a tiny bit of time, I'm going to compare the v sound, which is a fricative, to a b sound, which is a stop. The v sound I can hold, the b sound I can't; the b sound can only happen quickly, and then it's done:

v sound (v sound)
b sound (b sound)

Here they are again:

v sound (v sound)
b sound (b sound)

I can hold the v sound because I never fully stop the air from leaving my mouth. The v sound is created by using continuous friction.

Many non-native speakers make a rather large range of sounds that get interpreted by native English speakers as a v sound or an f sound, even though the speaker didn't intend to be creating those sounds. This is a different kind of issue than I normally talk about. Today I'm telling you when you might be accidentally creating a sound.

This difference in interpretation between native and non-native speakers occurs because even a slight vibration between the bottom lip and the top front teeth can sound like a v sound or f sound to us, even if it is much more slight than your normal v sound or f sound. I've heard this happen most often when Spanish, Korean or Japanese speakers are intending to make a b sound or p sound.

So how do you fix this potential miscommunication?

As I said earlier, the p sound and b sound are stops. All of the air gets stopped when the lips come together for these sounds. When the air is released, it is released equally from the top and bottom lip. If the release occurs unevenly, with more of the upper lip letting go than the bottom, the bottom lip still has the opportunity to vibrate against the top teeth during the release. That combination b sound/v sound can get interpreted as either of those sounds by native English speakers.

Now let's talk about what native speakers from India and German, Czech, and Russian speakers do; create a w sound instead of a v sound. With the w sound, make absolutely certain that the vibration of that sound is, first, softer than a v sound, and second, created equally between the top and bottom lip.

A w sound is not a fricative; it's a glide. The important difference between a fricative and an glide is that the turbulence of air leaving the mouth is softer for an glide than it is for a fricative. Think of a w sound as a soft vibration occurring equally between both lips.

The word "soft" and the phrase "equally between the lips" are the keys to the w sound. This is because any vibration between the bottom lip and top teeth might get interpreted as a v sound, even if it is very slight. That said, if it is the v sound that you cannot say correctly, and it always seems to come out as a w sound, remember that only a slight vibration between the bottom lip and top front teeth is necessary for the v sound.

In fact, overdoing a v sound, though it may be a very clear sound, causes a lot of trouble in connected speech. It's really difficult to link to and from an over-produced v sound. I'll talk more about that in episode 111.

For now, let practice noticing the difference in sound between a v sound and b sound and between a v sound and w sound.

Here are some v sound/b sound minimal pairs. I'll say both words as a pair, with the v sound first. I'll give you time to repeat after me.

vest, best
vase, base
vanish, banish
vent, bent
curve, curb

And here are v sound/ w sound pairs. I'll say the v sound first, and again leave time for you to repeat.

vest, west
verse, worse
vet, wet
vine, wine
veil, whale

A new lesson for both the v sound and f sound has been created on Pronuncian, and I'll link to those lessons from this week's transcripts. You can find those transcripts by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast.

Now I'm going to take the opportunity to tell you about the fantastic book, The Great Gatsby. The Great Gatsy is known as a Great American Novel, meaning it does a good job of representing the United Stated at the time it was written. F Scott Fitzgerald wrote the book in 1925, which is known as the Roaring Twenties because of the expanding US economy after World War I.

I like using this book with my more advanced students not only for its cultural significance, but because of its more demanding vocabulary. The other books I've talked about so far are suitable for a high-intermediate student, the of level anyone who can listen to and understand this podcast, but may also rely on the transcripts for a full comprehension. The Great Gatsby is an advanced book. If you want to expand your English from a book, this is the book to choose. The vocabulary is rich and beautiful, and the story is great. I'd recommend listening to and reading this book at the same time to assure comprehension.

Audible has this book with a choice of three different readers. A great thing about Audible is that you can listen to a sample of the reading before downloading a book. I recommend the Alec Sand version for his clear voice and understandable reading.

Remember, you can try Audible for free by going to www.audiblepodcast.com/pronuncian. When you sign up, you get to choose any audio book to download for free. Then you can keep your account and continue buying books, or you can cancel your account. If you cancel before the free trial ends, you can keep your free book, and you are charged nothing.

That's all for today, everyone. Remember, I'll continue the topic of the v sound/f sound next week by explaining how to link to and from these sounds.

This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.