9: The American English short vowel sounds /æ, ɛ, ɪ, ɑ, ʌ/

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

PRACTICE: Short vowel key words: "cat, bed, sit, top, sun"


Hi everyone! Welcome to episode 9 of Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation Podcast. If you are a regular listener, you know we are in the middle of learning about vowel sounds. If this is your first time listening to this podcast, I'd like to say hello. My name is Mandy. As always, the transcript for this show is available at www.pronuncian.com. You will also find a link on Pronuncian for buying the book, "Pronunciation Pages: Sounds of American English" published by Seattle Learning Academy. The book is available as an ebook download, or as a physical copy to be shipped to you. Along with your book purchase, you get 6 months full access to the pronuncian website.

Let's get back to vowels. Last week we started talking about vowels and learned the five key words for our long vowels. Do you remember them? If not, they were: cake, keep, bike, home, cute. Long vowels are easy to remember because they sound like their name, a, e, i, o, and u. Today we will talk about short vowels, which are way more difficult to say and to hear. Like long vowels, I have key words for short vowels.

Since short vowels will take longer to get through, I'm going to jump right into them today. The short a sounds like (short a), (short a). The key word for short a is cat. To create the short a sound we need to lift the middle of the tongue and push it forward and into our bottom teeth a little bit. short a is a pretty forceful sound; we use a lot of muscle in our mouth to create it. Try saying the sound alone. (short a). Now say our key word, cat: (short a, cat).

The short e sounds like (short e). There is very little muscle involved to create this sound, just raise the middle of your tongue a tiny bit toward the roof of the mouth. The sides of your tongue may lightly touch your upper teeth. The key word for short e is bed. Do you hear the (short e) sound in bed? (b sound, short e, d sound). So, so far we've had short a and short e. (short a, short e). You want to be able to hear the difference between the sounds.

The short i sounds like (short i), (short i). It is the middle sound of the key word sit. The middle of your tongue is a little higher for the short i sound than it is for the short e sound. Listen to both sounds side by side. (short e, short i), (short e, short i), (bed, sit) Try saying those sounds: (short e, short i). Now say the key words: bed, sit.

To create the short o sound (short o), we need to open our mouth a lot. Our jaw actually needs to open to get this sound out nice and clear. At the same time as we open our mouth, our tongue bunches up some in the back of our mouth. (short o) The key word for short o is top. Top. (t sound, short o, p sound).

Do you remember the four key words so far? They were cat, bed, sit, and top.

Our last short vowel sound is the short u, and it sounds like (short u). The short u sound is created by pressing the back of our tongue down, and our mouth does not need to be open in the same way that it does for the short o. The short u key word is sun. Listen to the difference in the middle sound in the words top and sun: Top, sun. (short o, short u).

So we have the key words: cat, bed, sit, top, sun. Your job is to memorize those words. We'll come back to them again after practicing some short word lists, like we did last week for the long vowels.

short a (short a): add, after, bath, plan, crash
short e (short e): end, enter, bend, yes, dress
short i (short i): it, ill, gift, since, drip
short o (short o): odd, on, box, lot, rock
short u (short u): up, us, jump, luck, fun

Now let's practice with some listening for a bit. I'm going to say a word, and I want you to decide which short vowel sound is in the word. I am intentionally going to pick words that may confuse you because of their spelling. Keep listening for the comparison to the key words to help you. Start to learn to use those key words. Trust me, memorizing them will help you!

1. myth, m-y-t-h, Does it sound like cat, bed, sit, top, or sun? Myth. It is the short i (short i) like in sit.

2. said, s-a-i-d, said. Compare it to cat, bed, sit, top, sun. Said. I hope you said it is the short e. Please, do not say the word said with a long a, like sayed, or people will think you are saying s-a-y-e-d, which isn't a word, but an expected way to incorrectly conjugate the word say.

3. done, d-o-n-e, done. Compare it to cat, bed, sit, top, sun. Did you say it is the short u? If you did, very good; you didn't let the spelling mess you up.

4. lot, l-o-t, lot. Does it sound like cat, bed, sit, top, or sun? That one should have been easy. Lot is the short o, like the word top.

5. fast, f-a-s-t, fast. This one is also easy, it is the short a, like cat.

6. blood, b-l-o-o-d, blood. Can you get that one? The spelling is unusual for the sound, but it is the short u, as in sun. Listen and compare. Blood, sun. It is the same sound.

7. This is the last one today, bread, b-r-e-a-d, bread. Compare the sound in the word bread to the key words. Did you sat it is the short e sound? I hope so, because you would be correct.

Maybe you are starting to notice the sounds that are a bit harder for you. I cannot stress the importance of listening practice enough, and I really recommend that you go to the pronuncian website and practice some sets of minimal pairs. You can find minimal pairs practice for most of these sounds just below the word lists for each individual sound. You can click the sounds tab and find sounds that way, and the show notes from each show link directly to sound lists for the sounds we practice during each episode.

Thanks for listening everyone. This podcast covered the most number of difficult sounds in one show of all the shows so far. I know I go through it quickly, but that's why I give you so much free content on Pronuncian. That way you can practice what is more important to you. If you find this podcast valuable in your everyday life, please write an iTunes review. Don't worry about imperfect English. Even native speakers don't have great grammar, and I make mistakes all the time.

Have a wonderful day everyone. Bye-bye.