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10 Most Shocking Things I

Learned About English


Pronunciation


This is the second article of the series English Pronunciation Challenges:
What a Latina Learned in an Accent Reduction Class where I share some
of the resources I used during my class. These tools includes books, apps and
web pages that will help you during this process.
Posts in this series:
1. English Pronunciation Challenges for Latinos
2. 10 Most Shocking Things I Learned About English Pronunciation [this post]
3. 8 Tools I Used to Improve My English Pronunciation

The 10 Most Shocking Things I Learned About
English Pronunciation
NOTE: Everything written
in blue italics is pronounced like Spanish.
FIREFOX USERS: This post includes short audio clips. The best way to listen to
the clips is by right-clicking the play (&#9654) button. A regular mouse click
will open the audio in a new window.
According to Barrons American Accent Training book, accent is the
combination of intonation (music or rhythm when speaking), liaisons
(connecting words) and pronunciation (sounds of vowels and consonants).
During the course of my Accent Reduction class, we practiced all three
elements. But the pronunciation part was the most shocking for me. Here are
some of my discoveries:
1. English is a horrible mix of languages and dialects
Twenty nine percent (29%) of modern English words have a Latin root; the
same percentage applies for French influence and close is Germanic with 26%.
The other 16% includes Spanish, Italian, Celtic, Indian, Arabic and Greek. Here
are some Foreign Language influences in English. I used the word horrible
because you can imagine that with all these languages combined; there is no
pronunciation rule that works 100% of the time.
2. English has 15 vowel sounds
Less than 10 minutes into my first day of class and I got my first Ah-Ha!
moment when the teacher shared with us this revelation: English has 15
vowels sounds. In Spanish there are only five sounds(a, e, i, o, u) and you just
have to learn 10 more.
1. English Alphabet Vowel sounds. The 5 sounds that say their English
name when pronounced.
2. English Relative Vowel sounds. The other 10 sounds go into this
category, including the 5 Spanish vowel sounds that I already know.
3. Pronouncing words with one vowel in a syllable (use relative
vowels)
If theres one vowel surrounded by consonants in a syllable it is pronounce with
its relative vowel. This is common with short words such as add, set, pin, hop
or cut.
4. Pronouncing words with two vowels in a syllable (use alphabet
vowels)
When there are two vowels in one syllable, the first one uses the alphabet
vowel sound and the second is silent. Some examples are: change, seat, pie,
note, rude.
Here is a interesting example that illustrate the usage of 1 vowel (with relative
vowel sound) or 2 vowels (with alphabet vowel sound). Listen
Relative Vowel Alphabet Vowel
rod rode
rid ride
rat rate
bed bead
cut cute
5. Voiced and un-voiced sounds
Voiced are all the sounds that make your vocal cords vibrate when pronounced.
Fortunately, almost every vowel and consonant in English are voiced. There are
only 7 exceptions that are know as un-voiced or voiceless: F, K, P, S, T, SH
and CH. Why do you need to know this? Well, you will need it to know how to
pronounce the verbs in the past tense next.
6. Three tricky ways to pronounce past tense verbs
1. Verbs ending with a T or D sound Add the extra syllable -ed to the
word and pronounce it like id in Spanish to pronounce it in the past tense.
Listen to the examples
need / needid
want / wantid
wait / waitid
construct / constructid
2. Verbs ending with a Voiced sound (vocal cords vibrate) Add only a D
sound at end of the verb to pronounce it in the past. Listen to the examples
arrive / arrived
move / moved
play / played
smile / smiled
3. Verbs ending with an un-voiced sound (F, K, P, S, T, SH and CH)
Add a T sound at the end to pronounce it in the past. Listen to the examples
work / workt
stop / stopt
ask / askt
miss / misst
7. The unclear sound of schwa ()
Theres a totally new concept called schwa that left everybody completely
clueless. Schwa is the unclear sound of a reduced vowel (or vowels) in a
word. This was my second Ah-Ha! moment and (in my opinion) the clue to
sound like an American. And here are the facts about it:
- Schwa is the most common vowel sound in English
All of the vowels can be schwa
Considering that any vowel can be schwa, there isnt a specific letter related to
its sound and phonetically the symbol assigned was . Here are some
examples .
Clear Vowel Sound Schwa
Tom atom / at m
Face surface / surfce
8. Three different ways to pronounce the CH
1. ch sounds like tch I learned that the correct CH pronunciation includes a
stop sound like TCH. This works about 85% of the time with words such as
cheese (tcheese) and much (mutch).
2. ch sounds like sh In a few occasions the CH sounds like SH such as
machine (mashine) or Chicago (Shicago).
Failing to make a distinction between these first two rules is the most common
mistake I make. In Spanish we use the sh sound for ch, like in the
words chango and Sharon.
3. ch sounds like k There are some times that it sounds like k such as
architect / (arkitect), schedule (skedule) or stomach (stomak).
9. Same word with different pronunciations
This is another tricky one. There are 2-syllable words in English that are
pronounced differently depending if its a noun or verb. The rule is that 2-
syllable words have the stress on the first syllable, except for verbs. Listen to
these examples
Nouns (stress in 1
st
syllable) Verbs (stress in 2
nd
syllable)
permit (permiso) permit (permitir)
address (direccin) address (dirigirse)
record (registro) record (registrar, grabar)
10. Different words with same pronunciation
During the class we identified a couple of words spelled differently, but
pronounced the same:
steak (bistec o filete) and stake (estaca, participacin y otros)
write (escribir) and right (derecha, derecho)
roll (rollo) and role (papel)
aunt (ta) and ant (hormiga)
son (hijo) and sun (sol)
hear (escuchar) and here (aqu)
root (raz) and route (ruta)
After finishing this class, I didnt lose my latino accent as some people may
have expected from the course name, but I learned about correct
pronunciation. I also realized that my accent is not bad; it is just different and
Americans arent used to it.
If you are a Latino interested in improving your English pronunciation, I
encourage you to take a class like this because the learning experience is
incredible. You can also check out some of the resources that I list in the next
post of this series and feel free to share your thoughts about your challenges
with American English.