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What's in a Vowel?

What exactly is a vowel? Vowels are speech sounds that are produced with the vibration of the vocal folds, or with our voice. Different vowel sounds are produced by changing the shape and placement of our lips and tongue.

Spanish only has 5 vowel sounds, and Italian only has 7 vowel sounds, but in English, there are 5 letters that represent 13 vowel sounds! This can be confusing to English language learners.

When speaking English through the lens of other languages, it may be difficult to produce the many variations of English vowel sounds. But it is very important to do so because changing a vowel sound can change the meaning of words!

Let’s compare the short i sound in English to the Spanish i sound.

English short i as in sit pronounced as Spanish i as in si changes the meaning of words.

It sounds like eat It is good. becomes Eat is good. (Yes, eating is good!)

Sick sounds like seek Are you sick? becomes Are you seek? (Am I seeking what?)

Lid sounds like lead I need a lid. becomes I need a lead. (You need a horse leash?)

As you can see the above English sentences produced using a Spanish i can be confusing to native English speakers and will make your communication frustrating for both speaker and listener.

Can you learn to speak American English more clearly? Yes, you can! In fact, it can be fun! With help from a professional accent reduction coach, you can learn how to produce English more clearly. With daily practice, these sounds will become part of your natural way of speaking English.

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