Practice this difficult sound in context.
Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 170th episode.
Let's talk about schwa+r. The schwa+r sound is an r-controlled vowel. I haven't talked about r-controlled vowels for a while, so let's review a little bit. In North American English, the r sound is pronounced when it follows a vowel. This is different from British English and Received Pronunciation which have a non-rhotic accent. People who speak with non-rhotic accents don't pronounce the r sound when the r sound follows a vowel sound unless the r is followed by another vowel sound. In American English, we say the r sound no matter what sounds are before and after the r.
The schwa+r sound is a special r-controlled vowel because rather than the r just following the vowel sound, it takes over the vowel sound. You see, schwa+r is essentially the same sound as a regular r sound. The difference between a regular r sound and schwa+r is that schwa+r replaces the vowel sound of a word and creates a syllable. Listen closely: we don't hear any real vowel sound in the words her, girl, burn, learn, or work. Nor do we hear a vowel sound in the final syllable of the word doctor.
Let's explore those six words a little bit to notice the long list spelling patterns associated with schwa+r. We have: e-r (her), i-r (girl), u-r (burn), e-a-r (learn), w+o-r (work), and o-r on an unstressed syllable (doctor).
Luckily, although schwa+r has those complex spelling patterns, it's not so difficult to pronounce--as long as you can pronounce the regular r sound.
When I'm teaching, I tell my students to create the r sound--and schwa+r--using the "molar r" method. The molar r is created in the area at the back of the mouth, near your back teeth. Your back teeth are called "molars," hence the name. Most of my students find the molar r to be the easiest method of creating an r sound.
To create the molar r, raise the back of your tongue so that the sides of your tongue press into your upper back teeth. The center of the back of the tongue is lower, allowing air to pass through a groove to create the sound. When you're creating this sound, your tongue is actually pressed into your top back teeth. If you were to hit your chin upward, you would bite the sides of your tongue. I don't recommend actually biting your tongue, but tapping your chin is a way to feel where exactly your tongue is.
On Pronuncian.com, you can practice the word lists for schwa+r to help build muscle memory. Muscle memory is what helps your muscles go where you want them to go, even when you're not thinking about it. This is how you learn to play a sport or an instrument... or practice pronunciation. However, it's also good to practice sounds in words within sentences and paragraphs. This is what we're going to do today. The exercise we're going to here do is also available to Pronuncian subscribers, along with paragraphs for the other three r-controlled vowels. You can learn about subscription options by going to www.pronuncian.com/join.
Our paragraph today will include the following words that are pronounced with schwa+r. I'll say the words and leave time for you to repeat them after me:
Now let's hear those words in sentences. I'll read the whole paragraph first. Then I'll reread each sentence, in parts if necessary, leaving time for you to repeat after me:
My sister is a nurse in the emergency room of a hospital. Yesterday, a girl with serious burns came in and needed to have surgery. After surgery, the girl's mother and father thanked the emergency room staff for saving the girl's life. My sister is proud of herself as well as the doctors and other nurses that she works with.
Here it is again, sentence by sentence:
My sister is a nurse in the emergency room of a hospital.
Yesterday, a girl with serious burns came in (pause) and needed to have surgery.
After the surgery, the girl's mother and father (pause) thanked the emergency room staff for saving the girl's life.
My sister is proud of herself (pause) as well as the doctors and the other nurses that she works with.
As always, you can see the transcripts for this episode by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast and clicking episode 170. That might make it a little easier to read along with me.
In addition to all the practice available on Pronuncian.com, I also hope you can join us on Twitter (www.twitter.com/pronuncian) and Facebook (www.fabebook.com/englishassembly) for more details about schwa+r and more learning opportunities involving this sound. Schwa+r will be the focus in the upcoming week.
That's all for today, everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world come to learn.
Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.