181: The troublesome 'thr' /θr/ combination

Practice words like 'three, through, throw, thread,' and 'threaten.'

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 181st episode.

One sound combination that seems to be difficult for native speakers of nearly every language is the thr- combination. This combination requires flowing smoothly from one difficult sound into another difficult sound. When these sounds occur side-by-side, they definitely require some special attention. So today, we'll give it some of that loving practice that makes it possible to become fluent with this combination.

First, you need to understand that the th sound in all thr- /θr/ combinations is the unvoiced th sound /θ/. It's the th sound /θ/ in the word think, not the th sound in the word them /ð/. I'll say both of these sounds side-by-side, so you can hear the difference.

unvoiced th /θ/ (unvoiced th) think
voiced th /ð/ (voiced th) them

If you put your finders against the front of your throat, you shouldn't feel any vibration for the unvoiced th sound, but you will for the voiced th sound. That vibration of the vocal folds is the difference between these sounds.

The trick to creating the th sounds is to put the tip of your tongue behind your top front teeth and force the air out of your mouth through the tiny space between the tip of your tongue and your top front teeth. Most of my students have had a teacher previously tell them to put the tip of their tongue between the front teeth and blow. While that method will also work, and it's easy to say all by itself, the problem is that it makes it very hard to link that sound with sounds before and after it. The tongue has to move too far, which then causes learners to not even try it, which leads substituting the t sound /t/, d sound /d/, s sound /s/, or z sound /z/ in place of the unvoiced or voiced th sounds. It's just easier to keep the tip of your tongue inside your mouth.

For an illustration of where the tip of the tongue should be for these sounds, go to the voiced and unvoiced th sound lesson, which I'll link to from this episode's transcript page.

Say the unvoiced th sound /θ/ with me: (unvoiced th), think

Now, let your vocal folds vibrate and say the voiced th sound /ð/: (voiced th), them

Before we practice adding the r sound /r/ onto the unvoiced th sound /θ/, let's practice the r sound /r/ alone. This is another sound that can be made easier than what a lot of teachers teach. The trick to a nice, clean r sound /r/ is to use the back of your tongue to create the sound. This is called the "molar r," and although it sounds complicated when I describe it, the sound that most non-native English speakers produce when saying it this way is clearer and sounds closer to the sound native English speakers create. Here's how to do it:

  1. Lift the back of the tongue so that the sides of the back of the tongue press into the upper back teeth
  2. Keep the centerline of the tongue low
  3. Let the air pass over the centerline

It doesn't matter too much what the tip of your tongue is doing during this sound, as long as it doesn't touch anything or curl backward. If you want to see an illustration of this, I'll also link to the lesson that shows this sound from this episode's transcript page.

Let's practice the r sound a little bit. Repeat after me:

(r sound)
red
right
rich

Got it? Good. Because now we're going to make it harder and put the r sound /r/ after the unvoiced th sound /θ/. The goal is to produce the unvoiced th /θ/ and not a t sound /t/ or s sound /s/, and then transition into the r sound /r/ without tapping the tip of the tongue to the tooth ridge in the process.

Let's say just the thr- /θr/ combination to begin with: (unvoiced th+r sound) /θr/, (unvoiced th+r sound) /θr/, (unvoiced th+r sound) /θr/

Now let's say some words that begin with this difficult combination:

three
through/threw
throw
thread
threaten

Did you tap your r sound /r/ during any of those words? A tapped r sound /r/ would sound like: (tapped three, three). That's the sound you don't want.

Let's practice those words again. They should sound like:

three
through/threw
throw
thread
threaten

The thr- combination is not the only initial sound combination that includes an r sound. There are lots of others, and I'll link to the lesson that includes all of those from this episodes transcript page as well. You can find that page by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast and clicking "episode 181."

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.

180: 'because'→'cuz': stressed, unstressed, informal

How to know which form of this high-frequency word to use.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 180th episode.

This is another intermediate to advanced lesson. I'm going to include International Phonetic Alphabet symbols in the transcript for this episode to help provide extra clarity, so if you want to see those, just go to www.pronuncian.com/podcast and click episode 180.

The word because is one of those words that we use all the time. In fact, because is in the top 100 most frequently-used words of English. Like many high-frequency words, its pronunciation can change based on the word being stressed in a sentence or not. The word because is extra-complicated because there are three forms:

1) the stressed pronunciation (because) /bɪˈkɔz/
2) the more common, unstressed pronunciation (because) /bɪˈkʌz/
3) the informal form of ('cuz) usually written as 'c-u-z /kʌz/

So, after all of that, what exactly is the difference between these pronunciations and why do they matter for speaking in an American accent?

First, let's talk about what's true for both the stressed and unstressed form. The first syllable is pronounced /bɪ/ with a short i sound, not /bi/ with a long e sound. This shouldn't be surprising, since the second syllable of the word is stressed. If the second syllable is stressed, the first syllable will be reduced and a reduced letter 'e' is often reduced to a short i sound.

Now, let's talk about the changes to the word based on the it being the stressed word in a sentence or not. The word because is a simple conjunction, so it's not usually given extra emphasis. As a conjunction, it joins ideas. The ideas, not the joining words are usually stressed.

If I want to give it extra emphasis, though, I can. To stress because the second syllable is pronounced with the aw sound /ɔ/: because. Can you hear the aw sound /ɔ/ in because? Many dictionaries show this pronunciation first in their transcription, even though it isn't a common as the reduced form.

Here's a stressed example of the word in use:

Why did she stay home today?
Because she was sick.

That was the less commonly-used stressed form. How do you pronounce the reduced form? It's simple. To say the reduced form, the second syllable is reduced to a short u sound /ʌ/, because. The vowel of the first syllable is still a short i /ɪ/, and the vowel of the second syllable is a short u /ʌ/, because.

She stayed home because she was sick.

Don't think of this reduced form as informal. There's no reason to stay away from it during regular conversation. It doesn't sound informal; it sounds natural and fluent.

The informal version of because is the single-syllable 'cuz. This is simply because with the first syllable removed. You'll sometimes see it spelled as 'c-u-z.

She stayed home 'cuz she was sick.

This is the version you can use with your friends, but not with your business acquaintances or during formal presentations for work.

Now, if you're thinking that it's safest to only use the formal, stressed version of because, I want you to realize that there is a cost to doing that when you're speaking with native English speakers. Using formal speech in an informal situation makes you sound less fluent. Being able to speak informally will help you sound more relaxed.

Let's practice all three versions, so you can be aware of the differences and use the form that is best for any given situation.

First, the stressed pronunciation that uses the aw sound: because /bɪˈkɔz/
Next, the unstressed, more-common version that uses the short u sound: because /bɪˈkʌz/
And finally, the informal, single-syllable form: 'cuz /kʌz/

Again, stressed: because /bɪˈkɔz/
Unstressed: because /bɪˈkʌz/
Informal: 'cuz /kʌz/

Try using these in conversation, and let us know how it goes. Leave us a common on our Facebook page: Facebook.com/EnglishAssembly. If you want to learn more about these concepts with a teacher who specializes in pronunciation training, send an email to info@seattlelearning.com and one of our teachers will contact you right away. We teach in-person in the Seattle area, or via Skype to the rest of the world.

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.

179: The silent /p/ in 'pneumatic' and 'psychology'

A listener request for an explanation of less-common patterns.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 179th episode.

We recently received a request from Michel in Montreal to talk about the silent p in words like pneumatic and psychology. These words are part of bigger pn- and ps- spelling and pronunciation patterns that apply to both the American English accent as well as the British accent.

There will be some long and possibly unfamiliar words in this episode, so don't forget that you can read the transcript by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast.

Let's begin with the pn- pattern. The word pneumatic begins with the prefix pneumo-, p-n-e-u-m-o, which relates to air or the lungs, and is pronounced with a silent p. In fact, almost all of the words that begin with the letters pn- use the pneumo- prefix. The most common pn- words are pneumatic and pneumonia.

You can also expect a silent p in words that begin with the letters ps-. Along with Michel's example of psychology, there are the related words psychological and psychologist and a number of other words that look mostly the same, but have a different suffix. There are also silent p's in psychiatry and it's cousin psychiatric as well as the word psychic.

The prefix pseudo-, p-s-e-u-d-o, which means fake or misleading, also has a silent p. A pseudonym is a fake name, often used by authors. Pseudoscience is a word that's used when someone believes something is scientifically proven, but isn't.

After hearing these examples, you might be surprised that we don't include these patterns in the website as common spelling patterns. This is because, of all of the words I used as examples today, only three are in the top 5000 most frequently used words of English. Those words are psychological, psychologist, and psychology. So, in fact, you're not very likely to come across these words or their patterns in daily speech, unless, of course, you're studying or working in a field that uses any of these words.

However, if you do come across any word that begins with pn- or ps-, now you can be quite confident that you don't need to include a p sound at the beginning of that word!

Thanks, Michel, for the question. If anyone else has a podcast topic you'd like us to cover, just email us at podcast@p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.com, or post to our Twitter page, Twitter.com/pronuncian, or write on our Facebook wall: Facebook.com/EnglishAssembly. We really do love hearing from our listeners!

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.

178: "Feeling" the vibration of vowel sounds

Learn the feel the 'long e' /i/, 'short a' /æ/, and 'short o' /ɑ/.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 178th episode.

Vowel sound are especially difficult pronounce really well. With consonant sounds, we can often feel what the vocal tract is doing to create a sound. You can feel your lips come together during an m sound, or the tip your the tongue touch the tooth ridge during the d sound or t sound, or the back of your tongue touch the soft palate during the g or k sounds. But the part of the tongue that's responsible for creating a sound doesn't touch anything during a vowel sound, so it is harder to feel what's going on inside your mouth. That is, it's harder to feel, but not impossible.

Before I tell you how to feel sounds, let me introduce you to MyEnglishTeacher.eu. MyEnglishTeacher.eu has native English speaking teachers ready to teach you English. They offer general English and business English, and you can try them out for just 1€ for your first 45 minute lesson. Go to MyEnglishTeacher.eu for details!

How do we learn to feel--as well as hear--vowel sounds? We're going to practice today with a triangle of sounds: the long e, short a, and short o sounds. We're going to feel those sounds in two ways: first, where the sides of the tongue touch the teeth, and then which part of the tongue vibrates during the sound.

The long e, short a, and short o are sort of a triangle of sounds, occurring in the top front, bottom front, and bottom, back of the mouth. If you can learn to feel them, you can learn to feel the more subtle differences between other sounds. Let me explain what I mean.

The long e sound like (long e). Most languages have a sound that's equivalent to this sound in English, so it's a good place to start. Say that sound out loud (long e, long e). Notice that the front of your tongue is high and that you can feel your top side teeth when you are creating this sound (long e). Notice that, when you say the long e sound, your tongue vibrates, or tickles, in the area between where the sides of your tongue touch your teeth. Say the long e sound again (long e). Let's say a few long e words, and see if you can feel where your tongue is vibrating during a word:

me
leave
peace
feet
seem

Now let's move on to short a, the low, front vowel. The short a sounds like (short a), and it's a much harder sound for non-native speakers to create. However, if you've learned to feel the long e sound, then you can also learn to feel she short a sound because the same part of your tongue vibrates for both sounds. Try saying the long e, then the short a, and feel the similarity where the tongue vibrates (long e, short a, log e, short a).

The difference between long e and short a is that jaw is lowered and the tongue is low for the short a sound. Remember how you could feel your top side teeth during the long e sound? Well, for the short a sound you'll feel your bottom teeth along the front and tip of your tongue. Your tongue pushes into your bottom front teeth a little bit. You might feel your top teeth just a tiny bit during the short a, but if you're really noticing that your tongue is touching your top teeth a lot, your jaw probably isn't low enough. Say the short a sound again (short a). Notice all the ways you can feel where this sound is: (short a, short a).

Let's say a few short a words, and see if you can continue to feel where your tongue is during the short a sound:

ask
cat
fast
plan
stand

Let's move now from the short a, a low, front vowel, to short o, a low, back vowel. The short a sounds like (short a) and the short o sounds like (short o). To create the short a (short a) you had to lower your jaw and let you tongue sink down into your bottom teeth while pressing forward, lightly into your bottom front teeth. To create the short o, your jaw also lowers and your tongue also sinks down into your bottom teeth, but you don't push your tongue forward. Instead, you'll drop your tongue down between your back, bottom teeth. The place that your tongue vibrates during the short o moves back as well. Say the short o sound (short o). Feel everything that's happening during this sound: the jaw lowers and the tongue drops. You can feel your bottom back teeth, but not your bottom front teeth. Also, the back of your tongue vibrates during the sound. Say the short o again (short o).

Let's practice a few short o words:

option
top
got
shop
follow

Now let's practice all three sounds together, so you can feel these three extremes of vowel sounds with the long e being the high, front vowel, the short a being the low, front vowel, and the short o being the low, back vowel: (long e, short a, short o).

Let's practice some minimal pairs with these sounds. I'll leave time for you to repeat after me:

heat, hat, hot
beach, batch, botch
creak, crack, crock
leak, lack, lock
peak, pack, pock

If you want to learn more about vowel sound with a teacher who specializes in pronunciation, send an email to us at Seattle Learning Academy and one of our teachers will contact you right away. We can teach in person in the Seattle area, and via Skype to the rest of the world. You can email us at info@seattlelearning.com.

Also, Pronuncian.com subscribers can learn more about the short a and short o sounds by watching our new short vowels videos. Plus, our long vowels videos will be released in a couple of weeks! You can keep up with all of our updates such as when we release new content by following @Pronuncian on Twitter or by liking EnglishAssembly on Facebook. EnglishAssembly is one word. You can also see our free videos by subscribing to our SeattleLearning YouTube channel. There are links to all of these from www.pronuncian.com. That's p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.com.

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.

177: -ate suffix revisited--advanced lesson

Highly fluent speakers understand this suffix.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 177th episode.

Last week, we released our short i video to YouTube. You can see that video by going to the SeattleLearning YouTube channel or by clicking the Videos tab on Pronuncian.com. There's a section in the short i video that explains which suffixes are pronounced with a short i sound. If you want to skip straight to the suffixes part of the video, there's a link at the beginning of the YouTube channel version that allows you to jump straight to the suffixes section. In that section, I mention the -ate suffix.

The -ate suffix is, I think, a real chameleon of a suffix. A chameleon is a type of lizard that changes itself according to its situation, and -ate suffix pronunciation changes in a lot of ways.

Becoming highly fluent in an American English accent means understanding this suffix and being able to manipulate it accordingly. This can be easier to accomplish with a teacher. And so if, in addition to learning from podcasts, you'd also like to get American accent and pronunciation training from a Seattle Learning Academy teacher, just send an email to info@seattlelearning.com and let us know that you'd like us to contact you. One of our teachers will get back to you right away! We teach in person and via Skype. You can find tuition rates and more details on the Seattle Learning Academy webpage: www.seattlelearning.com.

Let's get back to the -ate suffix. I've talked before about this complex suffix and the fact that it's pronounced with two different vowel sounds: the short i and the long a. This change is based on which part of speech the word containing the -ate suffix is being used. If the word is a noun (such as the word certificate) or an adjective (such as the word accurate), the -ate is pronounced as /ɪt/ with a short i vowel sound. If it's a verb, as in the word celebrate, the -ate is pronounced as /eɪt/, with the long a sound.

Again, the -ate words pronounced /ɪt/ were the noun, certificate, and and adjective, accurate. The -ate verb was the word celebrate, pronounced /eɪt/.

The vowel change is just one part of how this suffix's pronunciation changes, though. The t sound of the -ate suffix can also change. Don't get too frustrated with this; we'll just take it slow.

I've mentioned in previous podcasts that the t sound pronunciation changes based on the sounds before and after it. These changes are called allophones of the t sound, and they're very common. For instance, if you can hear a quick d sound /t̬/ in the middle of the word city, c-i-t-y, you're noticing a t sound allophone. Can you hear that quick d sound in city: city? Compare that to me saying the t sound as a normal t sound: city. With a d sound in a normal English American accent: city; with a t sound: city.

One circumstance that causes the t sound to be pronounced as a quick d sound is when the t sound occurs between vowel sounds. The word celebrate, a verb pronounced with the long a sound, obviously ends in a t sound. If we put the word in the past tense, the -ed ending will be pronounced as short i plus d sound, just like all of the other regular verbs that end in a t sound. When the -ed ending is added, we get celebrated, with the t sound now between the long a and the short i. Therefore, the t sound changes to a quick d sound: celebrated. Can you hear how the final syllable of celebrated sounds like /dɪd/: celebrated?

Listen to the difference in the word celebrate in the simple form and in the past tense:

celebrate
celebrated

This change will happen when any verb ending in -ate is put into the past tense. Decorate becomes decorated and demonstrate becomes demonstrated.

The same change to a d sound will occur if those verbs have an -ing ending added instead of -ed. Compare the common American English pronunciation of celebrating to a more formal sounding strong t sound in celebrating.

Repeat the following words after me:

celebrating
decorating
demonstrating

Another allophone of the t sound is the glottal stop. The glottal stop is the sound in the middle of the word uh-oh. The glottal stop happens deep in your throat when the gap that allows air to pass through the vocal cords is briefly closed. Say uh-oh and notice how the air stops: uh-oh.

One of the circumstances causes the glottal stop to occur is a t sound following a vowel sound and coming before an l sound. If I take the adjective, accurate, and add the -ly ending to it, making it into the adverb, accurately, the t sound will be pronounced as a glottal stop. Listen to those words again:

accurate
accurately

The glottal stop pattern holds for all adverbs ending in -ately. Repeat the following words after me:

delicately
moderately
passionately

The complete lessons about these t sound allophones and their related practice exercises are available on Pronuncian.com as well as in our textbook, Pronunciation Pages 2. I know many people go to our products page and see Pronunciation Pages 2 and then see that we also have a Rhythm and Intonation ebook and don't know which one to get. Well you're in luck, since we now offer a bundle of both books for a reduced price! When you purchase the ebook versions, you can immediately download your books and the MP3 audio that go with them. Go to www.pronuncian.com and click the "Products" link for details.

In the meantime, let us know what you think of topics like this by commenting on our Facebook page, Facebook.com/EnglishAssembly. You can follow us on Twitter @Pronuncian, and you can subscribe to our SeattleLearning YouTube channel to see all of our videos as soon as they come out. Finally, don't forget that if you're interested in private Skype or in-person lessons with a Seattle Learning Academy teacher, send an email to info@seattlelearning.com. We're looking forward to hearing from you!

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

Bye-bye.

176: Swearing!

If you're going to swear, you'd better be able to pronounce short vowel sounds!

Transcript

This podcast contains references to vulgar language and is intended for mature audiences.

Hi everyone. I've decided to make our 176th episode quite informal. As you can see in the title, I'm going to talk about swearing. I've chosen to talk about swearing now because it relates to our recently released YouTube short vowels pronunciation video. You can see that video by going to www.pronuncian.com and clicking the "Videos" tab. You can also find it on the SeattleLearning YouTube channel, which I'll link to from this episode's transcript page. You can find the transcript by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast.

For some reason, short vowel sounds and English swear words go together. If you're speaking with an American English accent, the most common curses are pronounced with short vowel sounds.

When non-native speakers try to swear, but just don't quite get it right, the problem is usually because of not pronouncing the vowel correctly. Now, before you get too excited about hearing Teacher Mandy swear in English, let me tell you that I'm not going to exactly swear today. I'm going to near-swear. I'm going to substitute one consonant sound so you can still hear the vowel.

I'm also going to give you a few collocations for each swear word. Collocations are other words that are used with a specific word. Collocations are ways to find common phrases. I'm using the dictionary built into my MacBook computer to find the phrases.

And here is today's near-swearing podcast!

A swear word with the short a sound is a-s-s, which I will substitute with the word "ask." Can you hear the short a sound (short a) in the word ask: (short a) ask? Some phrases with a-s-s include:

1) to bust one's ask, meaning to "try very hard to do something." A sentence with this phrase is, "I busted my ask help you move into a fifth floor apartment in a building with no elevator!"

2) to get off one's ask, meaning to stop being lazy. A sentence is, "Get off your ask and help me with this!"

3) to kick someone's ask, meaning to "beat, dominate, or defeat someone." An example sentence is, "You always kick my ask at poker. I'm not going to play it with you anymore."

4) to kiss someone's ask means to be overly obedient to someone and always do what they tell you to do. An example would be, "Stop kissing Kathy's ask, she not going to give you the promotion."

Let's move on to short e. Our short e curse word is h-e-l-l. H-e-l-l is not as vulgar as the other words I'll be using as examples today, but I'm still going to keep from needing to post an "explicit" warning on iTunes by substituting the word "bell."

Can you hear the short e sound (short e) in the word bell: (short e), bell?

There are three common phrases that use the word h-e-l-l. The first is to "give someone bell." To give someone bell means to make things very unpleasant for someone. An example sentence is, "Jake got bell for not coming home last night."

The next bell phrase is, "all bell broke loose." This means that the situation suddenly got very crazy and disorganized. An example that uses this phrase is, "All bell broke loose when his cigarette set the sprinklers off in the building."

And finally, you can "raise bell" if you're causing chaos. If you frequently do this, you'd be called a bell-raiser. An example of raising bell is, "The hackers raised bell by breaking into the computer servers and stealing passwords."

The short i sound has two common English swear words: b-i-t-c-h and s-h-i-t. I will use a p sound in place of the b sound for b-i-t-c-h, and I will say pitch instead. Then I will use an s sound in place of the sh sound in s-h-i-t and I will use the word sit instead.

The short i is a very big problem for many non-native speakers. I can't even say how many students have come up to me after a class and asked, very quietly: How do you say b-i-t-c-h and s-h-i-t. This is really interesting to me because what is happening is confusion with minimal pairs for these words: beach and sheet. Beach and sheet are both pronounced with a long e sound and most students do not have trouble pronouncing those words. However, since these same non-native English speakers often don't pronounce short i correctly, their listeners' ears are always ready to translate words into short i that really weren't intended as short i.

So, back to pretending I'm swearing when I'm actually not swearing. Here again is b-i-t-c-h pronounced with a p sound: pitch. And here is s-h-i-t pronounced with an s sound instead of an sh sound: sit. Can you hear the short i sound (short i), in pitch and sit: (short i), pitch, sit.

A common phrase that includes pitch is to "pitch about." To pitch about something is to complain or whine about something you don't like. A sentence with this phrase is, "If John doesn't stop pitching about his car, I'm going to stop carpooling with him."

Some phrases including the word s-h-i-t, said here as sit are: to "beat the sit out of," to be "in deep sit," and to "get one's sit together."

To beat the sit out of means to beat someone or something very badly. If you've seen the movie Office Space, you probably remember that the main characters hated their office printer. Finally, they took it out into a field an beat the sit out of it, completely destroying it.

To be in deep sit means to be in a lot of trouble. An example sentence is, "The thieves knew they were in deep sit when the police showed up."

And the we have, "to get one's sit together." This highly used phrase means to get organized. A sentence using this phrase is, "You'd better get your sit together before taking on an employee."

Now, our short o swear word: c-o-c-k. This word is a vulgar term for penis. Though this word is in my dictionary, it isn't listed with any very common phrases. So, I'm just going to give you the pronunciation and move on. The word c-o-c-k is pronounced with a short o sound (short o). I'm going to chance the beginning k sound to a p sound and use the word pock. Can you hear the short o (short o) in the word pock: (short o, pock).

Our final common swear word is the word f-u-c-k, also known as the f-word. F-u-c-k is pronounced with a short u sound. To refer to the word f-u-c-k, I'll substitute a d sound for the f sound: duck. Can you hear the short u sound (short u), in the word duck: (short u), duck.

There are three common phrases that use the word duck are: go duck yourself, to not give a duck about, and duck off.

To go duck yourself is used to express anger while also telling someone that you think they're worthless. An example of this phrase in a sentence is, "The brothers haven't spoken since they had a big fight ending in each one telling the other to go duck himself."

To not give a duck about something means to not care. An example sentence is, "Since Jill's boss unfairly yelled at her in front of her colleagues, she doesn't give a duck about her job.

And finally, to duck off. This is a way to sell someone to go away. An example sentence is, "Jill wants to just tell her boss to duck off, but she wants to have a new job lined up first."

Again, the biggest problem learners usually have with swearing is not pronouncing the vowel sound correctly. Since so many English swear words are pronounced with short vowels, you can watch our new short vowels video for free on Pronuncian.com or on YouTube. Pronuncian subscribers have access to all six of our brand new short vowels videos! To view them, log into your Pronuncian account and click the Videos tab. All the new videos will be right there for you. If you're not logged in, you'll just see the free videos we've posted to YouTube.

One of the ways we keep being able to produce these podcasts is through Pronuncian.com subscriptions. If you can't subscribe right now, you can still offer us support by following us on Twitter@pronuncian or Facebook@EnglishAssembly. You could also share any of our content on your social media channel or write an iTunes review. If these podcasts have value to you, there really are a LOT of ways you can say thanks. We appreciate any way you choose.

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

Bye-bye.

175: Short Vowels Minimal Sets

Practice sets like: pat, pet, pit, pot, putt.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 175th episode.

If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter or YouTube you've already heard that we released the first video of our brand new video series to YouTube last week. I'm very excited that the Introduction to Short Vowels Pronunciation video is already live on YouTube and individual videos for all five short vowels are available to Pronuncian.com subscribers.

So you can keep up with all these developments, I'll link to our YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Twitter feed from this episode's transcript page. You can find that by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast.

Let me say today how important Pronuncian.com subscribers are to our ongoing efforts to providing high-quality content, much of it, like these podcasts, for free. While we're happy to be able to provide so much free content, we have costs associated with video production, website programming, content creation, and bandwidth. So, if you've been wanting to go deeper into learning American English Pronunciation, consider joining the site. Site members get complete access to all of the exercises and quizzes, plus all 6 brand new short vowels videos. We'll release one more short vowels video to YouTube next month, but the rest of the videos will be for Pronuncian members only. To learn more about joining the site, go to www/pronuncian.com/join.

Staying on the short vowels theme, today we're going to practice some short vowels minimal sets. Minimal sets are groups of words that are all the same except for one sound. Studying minimal sets can be really helpful when learning to hear individual sounds. Learning to hear individual sounds makes learning to pronounce individual sounds much, much easier.

The complete exercise with all of these minimal sets is also available to site members. The link to the exercise is at the bottom of the Introduction to Long Vowels lesson, which I'll link to from the transcript page for this show.

So to begin today, I'm going to say all five short vowel sounds in the order of: short a, short e, short i, short o, and short u. I want you to repeat all five sounds from memory.

Here are all five short vowel sounds:

(short a, short e, short i, short o, and short u)

Let's do it again:

(short a, short e, short i, short o, and short u)

Now, here are minimal sets that use all five sounds in the same order. Repeat all five of these words.

pack, peck, pick, pock, puck
gnat, net, knit, not, nut
pat, pet, pit, pot, putt

Okay, now I'm going to say only two words. I want you to repeat the words, then say which two vowel sounds were in the words. Ready?

hot, hat

That was short o (short o) hot, and short a (short a) hat.

bet, bit

That was short e (short e) bet, and short i (short i) bit.

lock, luck

That was short o (short o) lock, and short u (short u) luck.

hut, hot

That was short u (short u) hut, and short o (short o) hot.

sud, sod

That was short u (short u) sud, and short o (short o) sod.

stack, stock

That was short a (short a) stack, and short o (short o) stock.

nick, neck

That was short i (short i) nick, and short e (short e) neck.

bid, bed

That was short i (short i) bid, and short e (short e) bed.

hum, ham

That was short u (short u) hum, and short a (short a) ham.

lack, luck

That was short a (short a) lack, and short u (short u) luck.

How did you do? For more listening training, Pronuncian.com members can take the Short Vowels Minimal Sets quiz which is also located at the bottom of the free lesson that I will link to from the Introduction to Short Vowels lesson. In case you were wondering, that's where you can also find the link to the Short Vowels video that doesn't have any of the marketing text that the YouTube version has.

The individual short vowel sound lessons each have links to the new short vowels videos. All the individual short vowels videos have helpful mouth and profile close-ups, and a listen and repeat practice section.

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.

174: 3-sound clusters beginning with 's'

/skr/ (scratch) /spl/ (splash) /spr/ (spree) and /str/ (streak)

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 174th 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.

Thanks, Pauline!

This is a really exciting episode to have a sponsor for because we have the exciting announcement of who won our contest to guess how many total podcast downloads we've had over the past 5 years. As of March 21, 2013 we have had 8,461,381 total downloads. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of your support over the past 5 years. We appreciate all the iTunes reviews, the emails, the questions, and all the ways you have interacted with us. It is because of your eagerness to learn that we keep publishing, year after year.

So the winner of the prize, an ebook version of Pronunciation Pages 2 as well as an hour-long consultation with me, is Michal Kubát. How did Michal win this prize? He added guesses to our Facebook page. I invite all of you to also participate with us through our Facebook page, which is facebook.com/Englishassembly.

Now, let's get on with our show.

Our 164th podcast, about consonant clusters, was really pretty popular. So I decided to do a follow up podcast today about 3-sound initial consonant clusters. The clusters s-p-l, s-k-r, s-p-r, and s-t-r, all begin with the s sound, then move into a stop sound, and then into either the l sound or the r sound. That's 3 consecutive consonant sounds! For languages without strings of three consonant sounds in a row, these can be pretty difficult sequences to pronounce.

You can read along with me as I talk today by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. Then click episode 174 to find the transcript for this episode. I'll also link to the free Pronuncian.com lesson that includes these consonant clusters as well as the other clusters that begin with the s sound.

Talking about how to create the s sound is a lesson in prepositions! We have: close to, of, behind, between, along, toward and through. It isn't an easy sound to create perfectly. But, we'll do the best we can, and that will be good enough!

To create the s sound, the front of the tongue is placed close to the tooth ridge. The tooth ridge is that bump right behind your top, front teeth. The tip of the tongue should also be close to the upper backside of the top front teeth. Keep the tongue tense as you push the air through a small groove along the center of the tip of the tongue. The front sides of the tongue are probably touching the side teeth toward the front of the mouth.

Repeat the s sound after me: (s sound)

The s sound is a continuous consonant, meaning that it can be held for a long time. (Held s sound.)

When the s sound is followed by a stop sound, in this case the k sound, p sound, or t sound, the friction of the s sound continues until the air is stopped for the k, p, or t sound. Then, immediately after the air is released for the stop, the l sound or r sound begins. So there is an overlap of sounds from the s sound into the stop and then from the stop into the l sound or r sound. This means that everything happens very quickly. Repeat the clusters after me:

s-p-l: /spl/, /spl/
s-k-r: /skr/, /skr/
s-p-r: /spr/, /spr/
s-t-r: /str/, /str/

Now let's practice a few words for each of these sequences. I'll leave time for you to repeat the words after me.

s-p-l:

split
splash
splice

s-k-r (and notice that these words are all spelled with the letter 'c' being pronounced as a k sound):

scratch
scream
screen

s-p-r:

spring
spread
spray

s-t-r

street
strong
stress

Very good!

As I said, I'll link to the free pronuncian.com lessons from this episode's transcript page so you can practice as much as you like.

Did you notice Pauline Midwinter's little sponsorship at the beginning of this show? Did you know you can also sponsor a show? It's not very expensive, and you get some great exposure from our dedicated audience. To learn more, go to pronuncian.com/advertising. Pronuncian is spelled p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.

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.

173: Digraphs and trigraphs, complicated spelling patterns

sh, th, tch, dge, gn, mb, and more!

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 173rd episode.

We're coming up on our 5 year anniversary of this podcast, and to celebrate, listen to the end of today's show to learn how you can win a free ebook copy of Pronunciation Pages 2 and a free hour-long pronunciation consultation with me!

We've been having a lot of fun posting to our EnglishAssembly Facebook page based on podcast themes lately. We've also gotten to learn some things about the way our audience thinks about pronunciation, which has been fascinating. A few weeks ago I published a podcast about silent letters, and then posted a word with an unexpected silent letter to the Facebook page every day. From this, I learned that a lot of people view silent letters the way that I view digraphs and trigraphs.

Digraphs and trigraphs: those are two words I'm pretty sure I've never used before on these podcasts. Even if the words are new to you, I'm pretty sure you already understand the concept. A digraph is simply the combination of two letters to represent one sound. For instance, the sh spelling is a digraph. When we see the letters sh, we expect the sh sound (sh sound), as in the words dish or shop. When we see the letters th, we can expect either the voiced or unvoiced th sound, as in the words the and think. A trigraph is a three-letter spelling, like the tch spelling being pronounced as the ch sound in the words watch and catch. Although both vowel sounds and consonant sounds use digraphs and trigraphs, today we're going to only talk about consonant sound digraphs. There are so many vowel sound digraphs that this would end up being a very long episode if we included all of them.

What consonant sounds digraphs or trigraphs can you think of? I'll give you a second to think about it…

How about the letters ph to represent the f sound, as in phone, orphan, and graph?

And what sound comes to mind when I mention the letters ch? Probably the ch sound, as in the words church, teacher, and rich. However, don't forget that the letters ch can also represent the k sound as in chorus, chaos, and ache and the sh sound as in chef, machine, and mustache.

Non-native speakers also often forget about the ng spelling representing the ng sound. The ng sound (ng sound) is different from the n sound (n sound), and it doesn't include a g sound (g sound). I most often hear an accidental g sound added to the ng sound at the end of a word. Say sing, long, and among, not sing(g), long(g), and among(g).

What's the digraph in the word pick p-i-c-k? It's the ck, just like in the words duck, clock, and bucket. When you think of the words duck, clock, and bucket, do you think of the letter c as being silent, or do you think of the letters ck together as simply being pronounced as a k sound?

I think many of you probably don't think of the c as being silent in the ck spelling, which brings me back to the silent letter comments we received on Facebook. When we posted the silent d example in the word Wednesday, we received a reply of a silent d in the word budget. Hmmm. Suddenly things get a little tricky. True, we don't hear a d sound in the word budget, we only hear a j sound. So we could say that the d is silent, but I don't really think of it that way, just like I don't think of the c as being silent in the ck spelling. I think of the d in budget as being part of the dge trigraph.

You see, silent letters are sneaky. They show up where we don't expect them and the only way to conquer these words is to memorize them, one by one. Maybe it's because I've never had the gift of a marvelous memory that some people seem to have, but I prefer to find patterns. If I can find one pattern that works for many words, I only need to memorize that pattern, not the 15 or 25 or 105 words that use that pattern. So, while we can think of the d as being silent in the word budget, we can also think of it as knowing to pronounce the dge spelling as a j sound (j sound). Then, when we see a brand new word with this same spelling, we know that pattern. Then it's suddenly much easier to guess the pronunciation of less common words like fledgeling, nudge, smudge, drudgery, and bludgeon.

Other digraphs that can mask themselves as silent letters include:

  • gn being pronounced as the n sound at the beginning of a word, as in gnome, gnat, and gnaw
  • mb being pronounced as the m sound at the end of a word as in climb, dumb, and comb
  • wr being pronounced as the r sound at the beginning of a word, as in wrong, wrap, and write. Write, w-r-i-t-e, is a homophone with right, r-i-g-h-t

The letters wh at the beginning of a word depend on the sound that follows it. If it's followed by a long o or oo sound, the wh is pronounced as an h sound, as in the words who and whole. The word whole, spelled w-h-o-l-e, is pronounced exactly the same as the word hole, h-o-l-e.

When wh is followed by any other sound, it's pronounced as a w sound. In American English, we seldom use the (hw) pronunciation. So when is pronounced when, not usually (h)when. Which, spelled w-h-i-c-h, is pronounced the same as witch, w-i-t-c-h.

Double letters can also be thought of as digraphs, since we don't say the sound twice even when there are two of the same letter. For example, we don't say two m sounds in summer, or two g sounds in juggle, or two n sounds in sunny, or two l sounds in allow. You get the idea.

Since repetition of information is a great way to learn, our Twitter and Facebook theme for the next two weeks will be digraphs and trigraphs. And speaking of Facebook, remember that I said I'd tell you how you can win a free ebook copy of Pronunciation Pages 2 as well as a free hour-long pronunciation consultation with me?

Here's the deal. March 21st is our 5-year anniversary! I want you to guess how many total downloads we've had of this podcast over the past 5 years. You can tell us by commenting on our Facebook page. You can make one guess per day. So, with 14 days between now and then, you can guess 14 times. On March 22nd, we'll see how many downloads we've had and announce a winner! So, to participate, go to our Facebook page, Facebook.com/EnglishAssembly and give us your guess. That's EnglishAssembly, spelled as one word on Facebook. This is our first competition using Facebook, and if we have a good response from it, you can expect more like it.

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.

172: The 'cc' spelling pronunciations (as in 'accuse' and 'succeed)

Is it /k/ as in 'accuse' or /ks/ as in 'succeed'

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 172nd episode.

This podcast includes a lot of information about spelling, so if you want to see the spellings I talk about instead of just hearing me say the letters, go to www.pronuncian.com/podcast and click episode 172. Then you can read along.

Usually, when we have a word spelled with double consonants--like p-p or b-b or d-d--we pronounce both letters as one single sound. For example, the middle two p's of the word puppy are said as just one p sound. We say puppy, not pup-py. Likewise, we say rabbit and address, not rab-bit and ad-dress, even though the word rabbit is spelled with two b's and address is spelled with two d's.

When we have two consecutive c's in a word, we need to be careful, though; sometimes the two c's are pronounced as a single k sound (as in the word accuse), and sometimes the two c's are pronounced as the k sound followed by the s sound (as in the word succeed). Let's explore some more examples before we get to the pattern in these pronunciations.

In additional to the word accuse, the two c's in the words accustom, occasion, impeccable, accommodate, and tobacco are pronounced with a single k sound. In addition to the word succeed, the two c's in the words access, vaccine, and accident are pronounced as a k sound followed by an s sound. Did you hear the /ks/ in those words? I'll say them again, broken apart by syllable: suc-ceed, ac-cess, vac-cine, and ac-cident.

Luckily, there is a pattern to help you know which pronunciation to use. Knowing this pattern will help you not only with words spelled with two c's, but also with words spelled with one c. Here is the pattern: if the letter c, or the letters c-c, are followed by the letters a, o, or u, the c or c-c is pronounced as a single k sound. Here are examples of the single and double c (I'll leave time for you to repeat after each example):

c+a: vocabulary, c-c+a: occasion
c+o: second, c-c+o: accommodate
c+u: document, c-c+u: accustom

If the letter c is followed by the letters e or i, the letter c is pronounced as an s sound. If the letters c-c are followed by the letters e or i, the pronunciation will be k sound plus s sound /ks/. Here are some examples:

c+e: recent, c-c+e: succeed
c+i: decide, c-c+i: accident

Could you hear it? Here are some more words spelled c-c+e or c-c+i to help you recognize the /ks/ pronunciation:

success
access
accept
vaccine
accelerate
eccentric
accent
accessory

Since that was relatively easy, I thought I'd give you one more bit of bonus information: if a word is spelled with c+y, the c is pronounced as an s sound. This includes the words cycle and cyst and all the the words that end in the -cy suffix (such as legacy, policy, fluency and urgency). You don't need to worry about c-c-y, though, because there are no common English words with that spelling.

Since language is learned by repetition and practice, I'll be posting daily examples of c-c+e and c-c+i words to our Facebook and Twitter feeds for the next 2 weeks. If you want to follow along or participate, like us on Facebook.com/EnglishAssembly or follow us on Twitter.com/pronuncian. Also, feel free to use Facebook and Twitter to give us feedback or tell us if there are any special topics you'd like us to cover. We would love to hear from you!

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.

171: The silent l in the word 'salmon'

Even words we don't use often still matter.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 171st episode.

I talked about silent letters back in podcast episode 156, but I want to revisit the topic today because one of my students recently had trouble with the silent l in the word salmon. The word salmon is spelled s-a-l-m-o-n, but is pronounced salmon. Small pronunciation errors like saying a silent letter are usually passed over by listeners. Saying a letter that should be silent doesn't usually interfere with communication, so it's really not a very big deal. Unfortunately, for my student, though, her error happened at exactly the wrong time. You see, my hard-practicing student had just told her boss that she is taking English pronunciation lessons. To show her boss what she had learned, when the two of them went to lunch later that day, she ordered the salmon. She wanted to demonstrate how nice and clear her l sound had become since taking lessons. Unfortunately, she did say the l sound perfectly, and was then told by her boss that the l is silent in the word salmon.

(Now,) the word salmon isn't a very high-frequency word, so I don't usually cover it in class with my students. However, this isn't the first time that one of my students has had a very notable experience when pronouncing the l in that word. So today, as a public service announcement to all of you who enjoy ordering salmon off the menu at restaurants, I'm going to tell: do not say the l sound in the word salmon. This isn't just an American thing either, the Cambridge Dictionaries Online website does not include an l sound for the British pronunciation either.

Since many of you don't live where salmon is as common of a food as it is here in the Pacific Northwest, I thought I'd review other words, high-frequency and not, that have a silent l.

First, let's talk about words are words that are high-frequency. I'm taking these words directly from the free Pronuncian lesson that lists the high-frequency words that have silent letters. I'll link to that lesson from this episode's transcript page. You can find all of our transcripts by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. Pronuncian is spelled p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n. You can also easily find the lesson by searching "silent letters" using the search box on Pronuncian.

Here are the most frequently used words that have a silent l:

would
could
should
talk
walk
half

Other words that are not very frequent, but also have a silent l include:

calf/calves (c-a-l-f and c-a-l-v-e-s)
caulk (c-a-u-l-k)
solder (s-o-l-d-e-r)
halve (h-a-l-v-e, which is the verb form of half h-a-l-f)
folk (f-o-l-k)
yolk (y-o-l-k, as in the yellow park of an egg)

The word colonel, spelled c-o-l-o-n-e-l has one of the least intuitive pronunciations we have in modern English, which makes it kind of a fun word in its own right. The o-l-o part of the word is simply pronounced as schwa+r, giving us colonel. I'll include a transcription for this word in the transcripts, so you can see that, if it helps. /ˈkɚ nəl/.

Do you have any stories of a mispronunciation that was embarrassing or that happened at exactly the wrong time? Tell us about it! Send an email to podcast@pronuncian.com. Or tell us through Twitter (www.twitter.com/pronuncian) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/englishassembly). Quite likely, someone else could learn from your mistake, and maybe we can all have a little laugh at the same time. I think everyone knows that laughing at yourself is an important part of language learning!

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.

170: 'schwa+r' /ɚ/ paragraph practice

Practice this difficult sound in context.

Transcript

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:

sister
nurse
emergency
yesterday
girl
burns
surgery
after
mother
father
herself
doctors
works

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.

169: Pronouncing 'Seattle'

It takes an advanced lesson to handle a word like 'Seattle.'

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. This is the 169th podcast by Seattle Learning Academy, which means that you've heard me say the word Seattle at least one hundred and sixty-nine times. Seattle is really a fun city name for me to say, and not just because I live here. When I say Seattle my tongue gets to move around and do some interesting things. This is because, linguistically speaking, Seattle has a lot of things going on.

Place names, or names of any sort, often do not follow phonetic patterns. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have a lot of places with names based on original Native American names that existed here prior to the setting of whites. Some of these names have pronunciations that seem completely unrelated to their spelling. The name Seattle also has Native American roots. The city of Seattle is named after Chief Sealth, a Duwamish Native American chief that was born around 1780, just south of the current city. While the name Seattle isn't as much of a phonetic nightmare as some place names around here, it still can be tricky for non-native English speakers.

In this little 7-letter, 3-syllable word, we have (starting from the end of the word), a syllabic l, a lateral aspiration, a t sound allophone, and adjacent vowels. Why did I list the linguistic concepts of the word Seattle from the end of the word toward the front? I assure you, there is a reason. The reason is that the final sound of the word Seattle affects the sound before it. So starting at the end of the word just makes more sense today. Let's explore these fun linguistic features one by one.

The final sound of the word Seattle is a syllabic l. A syllabic l is an l sound that has no vowel sound in the syllable with it. To understand the syllabic l, compare the final syllable of the word canal with the final syllable of the word final.

In the word canal, spelled c-a-n-a-l, we hear a short a sound in the second syllable nal. If you listen carefully to the word final, you'll hear that there is no vowel sound in the final syllable fin-al. My tongue moves directly from the n sound to the l sound with no vowel in between.

Syllabic l's often occur in words that end in -le, as in the word Seattle as well as the words able, circle, and apple.

It's important to know that the final l sound of the word Seattle is syllabic because it affects the pronunciation of double t spelling that comes before the l-e. When a sound varies from what we consider its more standard pronunciation, we call it an allophone of a sound. The t sound has some very complicated allophones. One of the t sound allophones is a pronunciation that is very similar to a quick d sound. You've heard this pronunciation in words like water and little.

I've heard too many teachers tell students that two t's together in a word will be pronounced as this d sound. While it is true that the two t's in the word Seattle are pronounced as a d sound, it isn't because of the spelling. Instead it's because of that syllabic l we talked about a little bit ago. When a single or double t is between a vowel sound and a syllabic l, the t or t-t will be pronounced as a quick, single d sound. Here are a few more examples of the t sound turning into a quick d sound due to the combination of vowel sound, t or t-t spelling, and then syllabic l:

little
settle
beetle
bottle
title

The vowel+t+syllabic l sound isn't the only sound combination that causes the t sound allophone of a quick d sound, but it is all I'm going to talk about today. I'll link to the t sound allophones lesson from this episode's transcripts so you can learn more if you want to.

Now, you'd think that's all I could have to say about the quick d sound in the word Seattle, but it isn't. There's a special pronunciation trick that native speakers do when a d sound precedes an l sound. This trick is called the lateral aspiration. A lateral aspiration is how we connect a d sound (even a d sound that is an allophone of a t sound) into an l sound.

A lateral aspiration is created when the tip of the tongue does not leave the stopped position of a d sound to link into an l sound. Instead, after the air is stopped, only the sides of the tongue release, and an l sound is produced. It can be thought of as stopping the air like a d sound, but releasing it as an l sound.

Learning the lateral aspiration is the easiest way to transition from a d sound into an l sound without accidentally adding a vowel sound before the l sound. Why don't we want to add a vowel sound? Because if we add a vowel sound, the l sound will no longer be syllabic. So we use this as a way to transition smoothly from the d sound into the l sound.

Here are some more examples of the lateral aspiration, first using words pronounced with a true d sound:

middle
sadly
noodle

Now I'll repeat the t sound allophone examples I used before because all of those also use the lateral aspiration. Here are those examples again:

little
settle
beetle
bottle
title

I know, that was all really quite complicated. Let's move forward in the word again, to the e-a spelling part of the word Seattle. The letters e-a are always tricky because they have multiple pronunciations. The letters e-a are commonly pronounced as the long e sound, as in the word team, or as the short e sound, as in the word sweat. Then, less commonly, they can be pronounced with an adjacent vowel sound, like they are in the word Seattle. When pronouncing adjacent vowel sounds, it's important to not stop the air between the vowel sounds. What I mean is that I don't want you to say Se-attle, Se-attle. That stop I added to the word was the glottal stop, and it's the most common problem I hear with non-native speakers when words have adjacent vowel sounds. Specifically, the long e sound links to the short a sound in the word Seattle. Other words with this same sound sequence are the words reality and react.

So, if I put all of these linguistic features back into place, from the front of the word to the end, I have adjacent vowels, then the t sound being pronounced as a d sound, then that d sound linked into the syllabic l with a lateral aspiration. After all of that, I get Seattle.

Say that after me:

Seattle

One more time:

Seattle

I know that was a lot of stuff to fit into one episode. I'll link to the free Pronuncian lessons associated with these concepts from this episode's transcript page. You can find all of our transcripts by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. Then click on the episode number you'd like to see. If it's an older episode, click the "archives" link. Most of the free Pronuncian lessons also have additional exercises or quizzes, too. The exercises and quizzes are only available to Pronuncian's subscribers. To find information about subscribing, go to www.pronuncian.com/join. It's only through Pronuncian.com subscriptions and product purchases that we get to keep so much of this educational English pronunciation content free. If you can't subscribe or buy a book from us, we also really appreciate the iTunes reviews. Those reviews help up stay on the top of the iTunes charts, and that is also very helpful.

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.

168: Stress pronunciation patterns in 3-syllable words

Main stress, secondary stress, and schwa, all in one word

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 168th episode.

Today we're returning to the concept of schwa. Specifically, we're going to study it in 3-syllable words.

We talked before about schwa in 2-syllable words and it was pretty straightforward. When we have a 2-syllable word, we know that one syllable will be stressed. This means it is pronounced louder and for more time than any other syllable of the word. We can expect the other syllable to be reduced, often to a quick (schwa). The position of the mouth during the pronunciation of schwa is pretty much the same as it is for the short u sound (short u). That position is very neutral and allows the pronunciation to occur quickly.

When we look at 3-syllable words, however, syllable stress gets a little more complicated. First, there is obviously one more syllable where the stress can fall. Second, schwa usually occurs next to the stressed syllable. This can cause schwa to occur twice in one word. For example, the word banana is a 3-syllable word and the stress is on the middle syllable. Both the first and third syllable of banana are reduced to schwa. Listen as I break the word apart into individual syllables: ba-na-na, banana.

Listen to some other words with a pattern of schwa-main stress-schwa:

agenda
opponent
consistent

Now let's say we have a 3-syllable word with the stress falling on the first syllable. Let's use the word emphasis as an example. Since the first syllable is stressed (pronounced em), we can expect schwa to occur on the second syllable. That syllable is reduced to a quick pha. But then what happens to the third syllable? Because of the nature of the rhythm of English, we don't usually reduce two syllables in a row. So the third syllable will not be stressed because the stressed syllable is already taken, nor will it be reduced. Instead, it'll be pronounced with what we call a secondary stress. Secondarily stressed syllables are pronounced louder than unstressed syllables, but not as loudly as the syllable with the main stress. Secondarily stressed syllables are also more likely to be phonetic, meaning they will be pronounced closer to what the spelling suggests. So the word emphasis, with the stress on the first syllable, a reduced second syllable, and a secondarily stressed third syllable, is a nice, phonetic word. Once we know where the stress is, the pronunciation of the rest of the word falls into place.

Listen to some other words with the pattern of main stress-schwa-secondary stress:

positive
revenue
allocate

Of course, another possibility is that a 3-syllable word is stressed on the final syllable. This again will allow us to predict that the middle syllable will be reduced to schwa. Now the first syllable is likely to have a secondary stress. Take the word volunteer: The third syllable is stressed. It's pronounced teer. The middle syllable becomes a very quick (schwa). It is pronounced un. The first syllable is pronounced with a short o sound, which is one of the pronunciations we can guess if we know all the patterns for the letter o. So the first syllable is pronounced vol. Putting that all together, we get volunteer.

Listen to some other three-syllable words with a stress pattern of secondary stress-schwa-main stress:

referee
recommend
kangaroo

So while reduced vowels and schwa seem to make words difficult to pronounce, they actually make the pronunciation much more predictable. The hardest part now is knowing which syllable to stress. There are patterns for this, also, although we're not going to get into them today. If you're curious, you can visit the stress lessons on Pronuncian.com. There isn't a pattern for every word, but quite a few do have patterns, and understanding those patterns can make understanding pronunciation a lot easier!

To practice, I'm going to say all of the example words again, leaving time for you to repeat after me. Try to pronounce the words using the same stress patterns as I am using.

First, schwa-stress-schwa:

banana
agenda
opponent
consistent

Now stress-schwa-secondary stress:

emphasis
positive
revenue
allocate

And finally, secondary stress-schwa-stress:

volunteer
referee
recommend
kangaroo

To everyone out there celebrating the holidays right now, we want to wish you a safe, peaceful, and fun holiday season. And we hope that the only stress you are thinking about right now is syllable stress, and not emotional stress. We'll talk again in 2013, so if you're celebrating New Year's on December 31th, have a wonderfully happy New Year's celebration, too.

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

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.

167: When to use the informal contraction 'useta'

And when can 'used to' be substituted by 'would.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 167th episode.

Stay listening all the way to the end of this episode to get the coupon code for $5 off of any product from Pronuncian.com through the end of 2012.

A few days ago I made a post on the English Assembly Facebook page passing along a trick to help with the usage of "used to" vs. "would" when talking about the habitual past. You see, sometimes used to and would are interchangeable, but not always. This trick, which I found on Cambridge's Grammar and Beyond website, notes that if I can add the word usually to the sentence, I can use either used to or would to express the habitual past. The habitual past includes things that occurred regularly in the past, but don't occur regularly anymore.

Let's look at an example. I can say either

When I was a kid, my mother used to (useta) read to me every night.

or

When I was a kid, my mother would read to me every night.

However, I can't substitute would in the sentence

My mother used to (useta) be a librarian.

If I said

My mother would be a librarian.

it sounds like I am saying the first part of a conditional. I expect an if statement to follow.

My mother would be a librarian if she didn't need a special degree for it.

That sentence has an entirely different meaning from the original My mother used to be a librarian.

Thanks again Cambridge Grammar and Beyond for pointing out that little tip. I thought it was pretty interesting, but let's get on to the pronunciation part of this podcast.

If you've been listening very closely, you may have noticed that I've been using two different pronunciations of used to. When I've been saying the phrase in isolation, I've been pronouncing it much more clearly, using what we call the citation form. The citation form of a word is what the dictionaries show. When I've been saying the phrase within a sentence, I have been pronouncing it as the informal contraction useta. Listen to the sentences again:

When I was a kid, my mother used to read to me every night.
My mother used to be a librarian.

This transition from used to to useta includes three changes: the z sound changes to the s sound, the d sound is dropped completely, and the oo sound of the word to changes to schwa. After doing all of that, used to becomes useta. Repeat that after me: useta.

Let's try a few sentences. I'll leave time for you to repeat after me, and if you want, you can also try to figure out which of these sentences can have used to substituted by would.

Tom used to (useta) be a vegetarian.
Paul used to (useta) eat meat.
Sherry used to (useta) be the youngest person in our book club.
We used to (useta) pick fresh apples every fall.
When I lived in Florida, I used to (useta) go snorkeling every weekend.

Which sentences could use would?

I can say Paul used to (useta) or would usually eat meat.
I can say We used to (useta) or would usually pick fresh apples every fall.
I can say When I lived in Florida, I used to (useta) or would usually go snorkeling every weekend.

I can't say Tom would be a vegetarian. or Sherry would be the youngest person in the book club.

The discussion of the pronunciation of used to doesn't stop here, however. No, I'm sorry, it does get a little more complicated. You see, we still have the main verb to use, with the meaning of how something was accomplished, as in what was used to do something. This usage of to use can then be followed by an infinitive. This means that we can end up with used to with an entirely different meaning than is used for the habitual past. What am I talking about? Think of these sentences:

Glasses are used to help people see better.
Assessments are used to place students in appropriate classes.
DNA evidence was used to convict the woman.

In those sentences, the verb plus infinitive was not reduced to the same extent as the informal contraction useta. When I'm not creating the habitual past, the z sound and d sound of the verb used remain. The oo sound of the word to can still be reduced to schwa, however. Listen to the sentences again:

Glasses are used to help people see better.
Assessments are used to place students in classes.
DNA evidence was used to convict the woman.

If you want to keep it simpler, you can use the used t+schwa pronunciation for all circumstances, including the habitual past. It is probably the safer pronunciation to use until you get comfortable with the informal contraction useta form. The advantage of the informal contraction is that it can help your rhythm of spoken English, and good rhythm will help you sound more fluent.

Now let's review, one last time, the useta sentences from earlier; use whichever pronunciation you're more comfortable with. I'll be using the useta form:

Tom used to (useta) be a vegetarian.
Paul used to (useta) eat meat.
Sherry used to (useta) be the youngest person in the book club.
We used to (useta) pick fresh apples every fall.
When I lived in Florida, I used to (useta) go snorkeling every weekend.

Got it? Good.

I started this episode by mentioning the English Assembly Facebook page. If you're a Facebook user and haven't seen our page yet, just go to Facebook.com/EnglishAssembly. We share tips on all aspects of learning and teaching English, not just pronunciation. And we like to add little word puzzles and fun things like that from time to time as well. I'd love to see you there!

Okay, now remember when I said to listen until the end of the show to hear about our current coupon code? Well, here it is. Use the coupon code "Holidays," that's spelled h-o-l-i-d-a-y-s at the checkout from pronuncian.com for $5 off anything you order for the entire month of December! This coupon will expire at the end of December, so don't wait!

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

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.

166: Understanding /ŋ/, the 'ng' sound

When does (and doesn't) the g sound follow the ng sound?

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 166th episode.

Today I'm going to talk about that odd little sound at the end of the word sing: the ng sound (ng sound). The ng sound is one of the three nasal sounds of English. Nasal sounds are those strange sounds that are created when air passes out through our nose instead of our mouth. Here's a very quick little experiment to show what this means.

Create the m sound with me (m sound).

Now, pinch your nose shut while creating this sound (pause).

You can't do it! You can't create a nasal sound while your nose is held shut. That's because, during nasal sounds, the lips or tongue completely block the air from leaving the mouth. Then, if the air also can't leave through your nose, it can't leave at all, and no sound will occur.

English has three nasal sounds: the m sound, the n sound, and the ng sound. Listen to the difference between these three sounds:

m sound (m sound)
n sound (n sound)
ng sound (ng sound)

For this episode, let's focus on the ng sound. The ng sound gets its name because it is often spelled 'ng' as in the words sing, young, and doing.

The trouble that ESL students have with the ng sound usually occurs in relation to the g sound (g sound). Be careful here because the g sound (g sound) is not actually a part of the ng sound. Listen to the ng sound again: (ng sound).

Notice that I did not say (ng sound+g sound). (ng sound+g sound) is a combination of the ng sound followed by the g sound.

Although the g sound is not included with the ng sound, there is a similarity between the ng sound and the g sound that is worth noting. Both of these sounds are velar sounds. Velar sounds are pronounced when the back of the tongue lifts and gets near to or presses against the soft palate. The soft palate is that mushy area at the top, back of the mouth. Notice that when we create the g sound (or the k sound, for that matter), the tongue presses against the soft palate. Then the tongue is released with a little puff of air (k sound, g sound). When pronouncing the ng sound, the tongue presses into the soft palate in the same manner, but instead of immediately releasing, the tongue stays in place, and air is forced out the nose instead.

In addition to the similar tongue position, there are a couple of other valid reasons why people are adding the g sound to the ng sound.

First, it looks like it should be there. The letter g is often a part of the spelling, so it makes sense to want to add it to the pronunciation. When we see the ng spelling, especially at the end of a word, it's helpful to think of the ng spelling the same as we think of the sh spelling. When we see the sh spelling, as in the words she or wish, we don't think of adding an additional s sound or h sound; we realize that those two letters together are pronounced as (sh sound). Think of the ng spelling the same way. At the end of a word, those two letters together are pronounced (ng sound).

Listen to and repeat these words:

sing
bring
belong
cling
ring

Even when people know to not say the g sound, adding the g sound can happen completely by accident. We need to eventually lower the tongue from the soft palate to release the ng sound. This release must be gentle, or a g sound will happen all by itself. It can take some extra practice to end the ng sound without adding a g sound.

I practice this nice, soft release with my students by using verbs that end in the ng sound that can then have the -ing ending added to them. This lets you practice releasing the ng sound twice for each word. For this practice, I want to hear singing, not sing+g sound ing+g sound). Repeat after me, and be very careful to not add any g sound to these words:

singing
bringing
belonging
clinging
ringing

That was the ng spelling at the end of a word or immediately before a suffix. When we see the ng spelling in the middle of a word, we can usually expect the g sound to be included in the pronunciation. Listen to and repeat these words:

angry
finger
single
language
English

Besides the ng spelling, the ng sound often occurs when a word is spelled nk or nc. Notice that the nk and nc spellings usually do include the k sound in the word's pronunciation. Listen to and repeat the following words:

drink
bank
pink
uncle
hungry

A great way to practice all of these possibilities for the ng sound is to listen to the ng sound drills! You can access the drills for free online by going to Pronuncian and clicking the "Sounds" tab. Then you can click "Study now" for any English sound you would like to practice!

These spelling patterns and the sound drills are also included in our book "Pronunciation Pages 2." You can download the book as a PDF or have it shipped to you as a physical, paper book. Both the PDF format and the physical book include MP3 files for all of the sounds of English so you can listen and repeat directly from your digital audio device.

And there is one other way to get extra practice. Pronuncian subscribers have access to the extra listening practice and quizzes associated with the ng sound. To sign up for a Pronuncian subscription, go to www.pronuncian.com/join.

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

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.

165: What is the vocal tract?

From the lips to the throat and the nose down to the vocal cords.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 165th episode.

I talk a lot about the vocal tract when I am explaining how to create sounds. But what exactly is the vocal tract?

An illustration might be helpful during this episode, so I'll link to the Pronuncian.com Vocal Tract lesson so you can see an illustration of the vocal tract from this episode's transcript page. You can find all of our transcripts, including for the episodes we have translated into Spanish, by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast.

The vocal tract is really pretty big. From top to bottom, it begins at the nose and goes all the way down to our vocal cords deep in the throat. From front to back, it begins with the lips and goes all the way back to the back of the throat.

Let's explore this in a little more detail. We're only going to use consonant sounds as examples today because those are the easier sounds to "feel," and I want you to be able to feel all the parts of your vocal tract.

Let's begin with the lips. We use our lips to create the m sound, p sound, and b sound. Make a p sound with me and notice that the sound needs both lips to press together and then open again for the sound to occur:

(p sound, p sound)

Behind the lips, obviously, are the teeth. Some sounds, like the v sound and f sound require interaction between the lips and the teeth. To create these sounds, air is forced between the bottom lip and the the top front teeth. Listen to and repeat those two sounds:

v sound (v sound)
f sound (f sound)

Moving from the front of the front teeth to the backside of the front teeth, we can experiment with the th sounds. The way I recommend creating the voiced th and unvoiced th sound is by forcing air between the tip of your tongue and the backside of the top front teeth. Listen to and repeat these two sounds.

(voiced th, unvoiced th)

Behind the top front teeth there is a bony bump that you can feel with the tip of your tongue. This bump is called the tooth ridge, and there are a lot of sounds that are created by being very accurate with how close the tongue is to the front, middle, or back of this small space. The t sound, d sound, n sound, and even the l sound are created toward the front of the tooth ridge. The ch sound, j sound, s sound, and z sound are a a little farther back. The sh sound and zh sound are created when air is forced between the front of the tongue (but not the tip) and the back of the tooth ridge. With so many sounds using this small section of the vocal tract, it is no surprise that these sounds sometimes give English learner's some trouble!

I'll say the unvoiced of the "tooth ridge" sounds, the t sound, ch sound, s sound, and sh sound. I'll leave time for you to repeat after me so you can hear and feel these sounds:

t sound (t sound)
ch sound (ch sound)
s sound (s sound)
sh sound (sh sound)

Behind the tooth ridge is the hard palate. This is the highest part of the inside of the mouth. A lot of vowel sounds are distinct based on how close or far away the tongue is from the hard palate.

If you have a flexible tongue, you can reach way back and feel the soft palate behind the hard palate. There are three sounds that occur when the back of the tongue presses into the mushy soft palate: the g sound, k sound, and ng sound.

I'll say those sounds so you can repeat after me:

g sound (g sound)
k sound (k sound)
ng sound (ng sound)

Now if we move down deep into the throat we have the vocal cords. You can't really feel these sounds from the inside, but if you put two fingers against the front of your throat, you can feel them vibrate during voiced sounds.

Let's say the p sound and b sound again, and if your fingers are placed against the outside of your throat, you should be able to feel the difference on your fingers.

(p sound, b sound)

Could you feel the vibration during the b sound? If the sounds felt the same to you, you may have been adding an accidental vowel sound to the p sound, making it sound like "puh." If you do that, you'll feel the vibration of the vowel. I'll say the p sound and b sound again.

(p sound, b sound)

The last part of the vocal tract that we're going to play with is the nose. Yes, that does sound weird, but some sounds come out our nose.

I'd like you to say the m sound for a little bit. You have to hold your lips closed to say the m sound.

(m sound)

Now, I want you to hold you nose closed with your fingers and try to say the sound again.

(intentional pause)

If you're creating the m sound correctly, you can't make the sound with your nose held shut. Air needs to pass through your nose for the sound to occur at all. Sounds that come out our nose are called nasal sounds and we have three of them in English: the m sound, n sound, and ng sound.

So that's the whole vocal tract. It is important to know that parts of the vocal tract if you're trying to learn about pronunciation. The better you understand everything involved in creating sounds, the better you can learn to hear and compare your pronunciation with that of a native speaker.

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

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.

164: Consonant clusters in English

/br/, /pr/, /gr/, /kr/, and /skr/ at the beginning of a word.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 164th episode.

Consonant sounds that commonly occur together are known as "consonant clusters." English has quite a few consonant clusters, like the common b-l combination in the words black and blue, or the longer 3-sound s-p-r cluster of the words spray and spring.

When working with pronunciation, consonant clusters can present special challenges for learners because even if your first language has the same two or three consonant sounds as English, those sounds might not occur directly next to each other in words. Or it might not have those sounds next to each other at the beginning of a word, or the end of a word.

Since the r sound is such a difficult sound for many non-native English speakers, today we're going to focus on five of the twelve consonant clusters that include the r sound: b-r, k-r, g-r, p-r, and s-k-r. All of these clusters include a transition from a stop sound into the r sound.

If you want to practice more than these 5 clusters, we've just added 3 new free lessons about consonant clusters. One lesson focuses on consonant+r, another lesson focuses on consonant+l, and the final lesson focuses on s+consonant. I'll link to those three lessons from this episode's transcript page. I would recommend reading the transcript along with listening to this episode because this episode includes a number of difficult concepts. As always, you can find the transcripts for all of our podcasts by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. Then simply click the episode you're looking for.

Now, back to our clusters with the r sound. Remember, I said we were going to practice clusters that transition from a stop sound into an r sound. Stops are produced when the vocal tract is briefly closed, then opened with a small puff of air. When an r sound follows a stop, the r sound begins as the air is released. Let's use the b-r cluster as an example.

To create the b sound, my lips press together, then release. In the b-r cluster, the r sound begins at the same time as the lips open. This creates the following sound: /br/. The b-r cluster is at the beginning of the following words:

break
bring
brother

If we compare the b-r cluster to the p-r cluster--that's /br/ compared to /pr/--we'll notice that the puff of air that happens with the r sound is bigger for the p-r cluster than the puff of air for the b-r cluster. This is one of the main differences in voiced/unvoiced stops: the unvoiced stop (in this case the p sound) has more aspiration (or puff) than the voiced sound (in this case the b sound).

Listen to the words that begin with the p-r cluster:

price
practice
private

If we compare the k-r cluster to the g-r cluster, the same thing happens. The r sound begins at the same time as the air is released, and the puff of air is bigger for the unvoiced k sound than for the voiced g sound.

Be careful. Don't let the k confuse you; even though these words all begin with the letter c, they are pronounced with the k sound.

Listen to the following k-r cluster words:

cry
create
crazy

Now listen to the g-r cluster words:

great
green
grow

Finally today, we're going to practice a 3-sound cluster, the s-k-r cluster. The beginning of the s-k-r cluster is obviously the s-k part of it. When blending from an s sound into any other sound, it helps to think of it as the s sound getting interrupted by the next sound. This is because the s sound is a continuous consonant. I can hold the s sound for a long time if I want to (held s sound). So when I transition from an s sound into another sound, in this case a k sound, the s sound continues until the k sound interrupts it: /sk/, /sk/.

Another detail of the s-k cluster is that both the s sound and the k sound are unvoiced. Some languages, like Japanese, tend to add a tiny vowel sound between clusters, so ski sounds like suki. Adding that vowel also adds a syllable, which makes the word difficult to understand. Another problem with the s-k cluster at the beginning of a word is that some languages, like Spanish, for instance, add a tiny vowel before the s sound. This causes a word like ski to be pronounced eski.

One of the free lessons we just created highlights clusters that begin with the s sound, so if you have trouble with this sound at the beginning of a word, you should probably check that lesson out!

Now let's work on adding the r sound to the s-k cluster. The idea of transitioning from the k sound into the r sound is the same as it was above for the words cry, create, and crazy: the r sound begins with the release of air for the k sound. Listen to the following s-k-r cluster words:

scratch
scream
screen

Are you ready to practice? I'm going to say all of the examples from these five clusters again, and I'll leave time for you to repeat after me:

b-r cluster

break
bring
brother

p-r cluster

price
practice
private

g-r cluster

great
green
grow

k-r cluster

cry
create
crazy

s-k-r cluster

scratch
scream
screen

I hope that was helpful for you!

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

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.

163: -ile and the differences in American and British English

fragile: /ˈfrædʒ əl/ in the US /ˈfrædʒ aɪl/ in the UK.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 163rd episode.

We get a lot of requests for explanations of the differences between American English and British English pronunciation. Today we're going to talk about a pattern that explains American and British pronunciation of multi-syllable words that end in -ile.

The word f-r-a-g-i-l-e is pronounced fragile (ending in schwa plus l sound in the US) and fragile (ending in long i plus l sound in the UK).

Can you hear the difference: fragile (schwa) fragile (long i)?

Remember, schwa is a quick, reduced vowel sound that sounds similar to short u (short u). Schwa is a very, very quick sound, however; it's much quicker than short u.

The general pattern is that the -ile ending is pronounced -ile (schwa+l sound) in American English pronunciation and -ile (long i+l sound) in British English pronunciation. Listen to the difference again: The American schwa pronunciation (-ile), and the British long i pronunciation (-ile): fragile (schwa), fragile (long i).

There is an important detail that this pattern only works in multi-syllable words, and the final syllable can't be stressed.

This difference in accent-specific pronunciation is worth knowing about because it affects a number of similar words. These words include (in my American accent only):

sterile
mobile
fertile
volatile
tactile
agile
futile
hostile
juvenile

Pronouncing these words using the opposite country's pronunciation probably wouldn't ever cause a miscommunication, so it isn't usually a high priority for my students to master. Sometimes, though, the change of which pronunciation you choose can be a simple change to make. The benefit is that speaking closer to the accent of the native English speakers that surround you can help you sound more fluent to them. So, if that is a goal you have, go ahead and learn these differences and choose which is most appropriate for you.

Also, I won't say that all Americans use the schwa pronunciation of these words all the time. You will hear, from time to time, the long i pronunciation; it's just that the schwa pronunciation is more common.

Since there are always exceptions to English patterns, I need to mention the words that are pronounced -ile (long i) in both English accents. These words include:

reptile
profile
exile

Also, I should mention that single-syllable words that end in i-l-e are usually pronounced with the long i sound. So use -ile (long i) for:

smile
mile
file
while

To help you remember the words I talked about today, let's do a listen-and-repeat activity. Since I speak with an American accent, I'm going to use schwa (-ile) pronunciation. I'll leave time for you to repeat after me. Here are the words that are pronounced with schwa:

fragile
sterile
mobile
fertile
volatile
tactile
agile
futile
hostile
juvenile

Here are the words that are -ile (long i) in both accents:

reptile
profile
exile

I hope that helps clear up any confusion you may have had about these pronunciations! If you want to see these words written out, transcripts for all of our episodes are online. Just go to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. Then click Episode 163.

That's all for today, everyone. Thanks for listening. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy Digital publication. Seattle Learning Academy is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.

162: The differences between /b/ and /v/

Two different, yet similar sounds.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 162nd episode.

Today we're going to talk about the ways that the b sound and v sound are different, as well as hw they're alike. I want to mention that this is a special request episode from Jorge from Argentina. Jorge emailed us at podcast@p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.com to let us know that he has trouble with these sounds. You can also email podcast@p-r-o-n-u-n-c-i-a-n.com if you have a special topic request. We appreciate knowing what you'd like to learn about!

Let's get started.

Stops (like the b sound) and fricatives (like the v sound) are produced in very different ways. Stop sounds are created when air is briefly completely blocked from leaving the mouth, and then released. Again, a b sound is a stop sound (b sound). A fricative is created when air is forced out of the vocal tract through a small opening. The air is never completely blocked during a fricative sound. The v sound is a fricative (v sound).

Even though stops and fricatives are created differently, there are still good reasons that the b sound and v sound get confused: both of these sounds are created using the lips.

The b sound, generally speaking, is a simpler sound that fewer non-native English speakers have trouble with. It is created when the top lip and bottom lip touch each other, blocking the air. When the lips open, the air is pushed out in a small "puff." We call the puff of air the "aspiration" of the sound.

In addition to the aspiration, another important aspect of the b sound is that it is voiced. A sound is voiced when the vocal cords vibrate during its production. If the vocal cords were not vibrating during a b sound, the listener may hear a p sound instead. One more difference between the b sound and p sound is that the aspiration is bigger for the p sound. We could say that the p sound has a bigger "puff" when the sound is released.

Listen to the b sound, then the p sound:

(b sound, p sound)

Listen to these minimal pairs. I'll say the word with the b sound first:

ban, pan
bath, path
big, pig
bush, push
bark, park

So the b sound and p sound are created when the lips are pressed together to stop the air from leaving the mouth, and then the air is released. The b sound is voiced and the p sound is unvoiced. Additionally, there is more air released during the p sound than the b sound.

Now let's move on the the v sound. As I said in the beginning, the v sound is a fricative. A fricative is created when air is forced out through a small opening in the vocal tract. The air is never completely stopped for a fricative. That means I can hold a sound for a long time, if I want to. For instance, here is a v sound being held for a few seconds:

(Held v sound)

I cannot do that with a b sound. I can only say it one time, then it is done.

(b sound, b sound)

The position of the bottom lip is very important when creating the v sound. To create the v sound, air is forced through a small opening is between the bottom lip and the bottom of the top front teeth. This happens when the bottom lip is tipped, very slightly, into the teeth. At the same time as the bottom lip is tipped close to the teeth, the vocal cords are also vibrating. The vibrating vocal cords make the v sound into a voiced sound. If my vocal cords are not vibrating, I will create an f sound instead. So, just like the p sound is an unvoiced b sound, the f sound is an unvoiced v sound.

Listen to the v sound, then the f sound:

(v sound, f sound)

Listen to a few minimal pairs for the v sound and f sound:

view, few
very, ferry
vine, fine
van, fan
vocal, focal

The distinct difference between a b sound and a v sound is that the air is stopped and released for the b sound, while the air is never completely stopped for the v sound. If you stop the air for the v sound, even for just a tiny bit of time, your native English speaking listener will hear a b sound instead.

Listen to the b sound, then the v sound:

(b sound, v sound)

Let's listen to some minimal pairs between the b sound and v sound so you can hear the difference:

best, vest
boat, vote
bury, very
bent, vent
base, vase

Okay, it's your turn to practice. I'll say all 15 of those pairs again, leaving time for you to repeat after me.

b sound/p sound:

ban, pan
bath, path
big, pig
bush, push
bark, park

v sound/ f sound

view, few
very, ferry
vine, fine
van, fan
vocal, focal

b sound/v sound

best, vest
boat, vote
bury, very
bent, vent
base, vase

That's all for today, everyone. Thanks for listening. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy Digital publication. Seattle Learning Academy is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.