English Communication Confidence Blog

American English Vowel Chart

Jul 12, 2022

If you want to speak English well, you'll need to master the 12 American English vowel sounds. I'll take you through my vowel chart in this blog post so that you can improve upon the shapes of the vowels and get your diction to sound more American.


Video Transcript:

Hi everybody. It's Jill Diamond.

Today, I want to talk about the vowels. I'm sure some of you have seen my videos either on YouTube or LinkedIn, where I talk about the muscle movement and how important it is.

Well, today, I think it's really important for you to learn the actual vowel chart. The vowel chart, because the vowels are where we emphasize our words in English.

That's why the vowels matter so much. And as you can see here, there are 12 vowels, each with their own phonetic symbol.

These are phonetic symbols here in the slash marks. Okay? So it looks like a lowercase "i" actually represents the "e" sound in the word "meet."

And that symbol is always in between two slash marks.

That tells you it's not a letter, even though it looks like one, but that it's a symbol. And then if we go to the one that looks like a capitalized "i," that's actually the "ih" sound in the word "mitt."

So let's keep going. This looks familiar, this looks like a letter "e," it's a symbol, and it represents the "a," the long "a" sound in English.

Here we have kind of a backwards three, or might even look like the letter "E" capitalized "E" to some of you. And there we have the sound "eh." Now this one here really is a symbol.

And some of you may recognize it. We do not write that as a letter and it represents the "ah" sound "ah" in the word "gnat."

So I want to talk about these words here on the left hand side, okay? From "e" all the way down to "ah."

So these symbols here "e," "eh," "a," "eh," "ah," those five sounds happen towards the front of the mouth or towards the lips. Right towards the lips. The lips are that opening here, it's represented here in that part of the chart, the lips. So those are all towards the front of the mouth: "e," "eh," "a," "eh," "ah."

However, if you watch closely, as I get further down, you see also my jaw is coming down and that brings us over here to the lower part of the jaw, right?

Here we have the jaw at its lowest point. That's what this little triangle represents: the mouth. With the lips over here, we have the lower jaw over here, and then all the way up here we have the back of the throat.

So that by the time we get to the symbols over on the right hand side, and we say, "ooh," our jaw is back up, it's high again. And our lips this time around, "ooh," and the sound is more generated in the back of the throat, "ooh," or in the sound of number nine, "uh," the sound number eight, "oh," the sound of number seven, "aw." So again, the jaw is coming down as we get to number seven, "aw."

And then when we get to the very bottom here we have "ah," and at that point, the jaw is all the way down and the lips are kind of relaxed, "aw," "aw," "aw."

Because once we get to number seven, we're going to start to round the upper lip. So we get "aw." The jaw is down, similar number six, but we start to round.

So that by the time we get to number 10, we get "ooh," where the lips are round. So, I'm going to start by reading numbers one through ten for you. And I want you to watch the movement of my lips and my jaw. Watch this.

Now, you want to practice that and practice it in a mirror so you can see what you're doing. It's so important that you really overly exaggerate the shapes.

So use a mirror. Now, let's talk about number 11 and number 12. Number 11 and number 12 are smack in the middle of the mouth, okay? Just like the "aw" sound is also in the middle of the top.

It's not forward towards the lips, or back towards the throat.

It's in the middle. So everything, "mother," "machine," that those sounds number 11 and number 12, they are exactly the same sound. The only difference is number 11, this symbol, the upside down V, represents when the syllable is the stressed syllable: "mother, mother." So it's the long syllable.

Whereas when we get to this one, it's the "schwa" symbol, which hopefully some of you know, and I could talk about in another video.

That upside down E is the "schwa" sound, it's the reduced vowel. And in this case, we're actually stressing the second half of the word "she," but the first half "ah" is the same sound but it's short "machine." So we have "schwas" in the middle.

We have the "uh" sound in the middle, and here's your vowel chart. So go ahead and practice it.

See you next time.

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