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English Sounds and Spelling (#1), by Dennis Oliver

 

English Sounds and Spelling #1:
Introduction to the Vowels

 

English spelling is challenging because its sounds are not
very well represented by the letters used in writing it.
Unlike many languages, English writing is not phonetic:
most English sounds have several very different spellings.

One particularly frustrating area in English is how its
vowel sounds are spelled. The spellings of these sounds
are particularly confusing because there are only five
vowel letters (a, e, i, o, u) in English, but there are
at least 14 vowel sounds in standard American English.
To make this situation even more complicated, the letters
w and y are used in writing both vowel and consonant
sounds. Also, most English vowel sounds change when
they are followed by the / r / sound.

 

Examples of Vowel Sounds, plus key words:

beat
 

bit
 

bait
 

bet
 

bat

but

fool
 

full
 

foal
 

fall
 

follow

foul
   

foil
   

file

 

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Special Notes:

1.  

Vowels are sounds like the last sound in may,
be, hi, go, and who.

Consonants are sounds like the first sound in
be, see, do, foe, go, hay, joy, key, chew,
lie, may, now, pie, raw, so, she, too, thigh,
thy, view, way, and zoo.

     
2.  

Vowels are grouped in several different ways.

In one group (which is often used by native
speakers), several vowels are classified as
being long or short.

Long vowels include the sounds shown in
the key words bait, beat, file, foal, fool,
also fuel.

Short vowels include the sounds shown in
the key words bat, bet, bit, follow, and full.

     
3.  

Another classification groups vowels
according to the position of the tongue
when the vowels are pronounced.

The front vowels include the sounds in
the key words beat, bit, bait, bet, and bat.

The back vowels include the sounds in
the key words fool, full, foal, fall, and follow.

     
4.  

Another classification groups vowels
according to the amount of tension in
the tongue when the vowels are pronounced.

The vowels in the key words beat, bait,
fool, and foal are sometimes called tense
vowels. The vowels in the key words bit,
bet, full, and fall are sometimes called
called lax vowels.

     
5.   The vowel sound in but is called schwa.
     
6.  

The vowels shown in the key words foul,
foil, and file are called diphthongs.

Diphthongs are actually combinations of
two vowel sounds.

     
7.   The diphthong in foul is pronounced in
two different ways. In some American
English dialects, the first vowel is / a /
(the sound of o in hot). In other dialects,
the first vowel is / ae / (the sound of a
in hat).

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