Mistake 5: the letter U & the /ə/ – Words & spellings
In this lesson we’re going to see some everyday words where the vowel U has the /ə/ sound. Click here to see the /ə/ in the phonetic alphabet chart.
The flashcards below, like all the flashcards throughout my English pronunciation course, have been recorded by native speakers with a Standard British English accent.
Let’s see some spellings
For now, we’re going to focus on hearing and distinguishing the /ə/ sound. Later, we’ll practise saying those words.
Finding patterns and rules is a great way to improve your English pronunciation fast. Here are some spellings and tips that’ll help you identify the /ə/:
1. In words starting with consonant + unstressed U + two or more consonants that U is likely to have a /ə/ sound. Play these five flashcards to hear the native speakers, and click on the red arrows to flip them. Can you hear the /ə/?
Remember that the symbol ‘ indicates that the syllable after it is stressed.
2. The unstressed “ure” ending has a /ə/ sound. Play these five flashcards to hear the native speakers, and click on the red arrows to flip them. Can you hear the /ə/?
You’ll be tempted to say more than just a /ə/ in the “ure” ending. Unfortunately, that’s going to make those words difficult to understand. Notice how native speakers say just a /ə/.
3. There are many everyday words where an unstressed U has a /ə/ sound . Play these five flashcards to hear the native speakers, and click on the red arrows to flip them. Can you hear the /ə/?
You’ll be tempted to say some of these words like in your first language. To avoid that, watch out for all the /ə/ sounds.
4. Remember that a stressed U never has a /ə/ sound:
Play those flashcards again a few more times before moving on. Make sure you focus on the /ə/ sound. Click here to flip all the flashcards and go back up to the first one.
Let’s practise saying those words
Now that you’ve listened to the flashcards several times, go back to the top of this page and practise saying those words out loud.
In case you need a reminder, this is what your lips should look like when saying the /ə/ sound:
And this is where your tongue goes:
Play the first flashcard on this page again and say the word “survive” out loud after the recording. Say it a few times before moving on to the next flashcard. Remember that repetition is essential to master the English sounds. Click here to flip all the flashcards and go back up to the first one.
Let’s do some drills
Now that you’ve practised saying those words out loud, we’re going to do a listening and a speaking drill.
All the drills throughout my English pronunciation course give you immediate feedback. That way you know which sounds you’re getting wrong, and you can practise them right away.
Linguists have proved that doing drills with immediate feedback is the fastest way to improve your pronunciation.
Let’s start with the listening drill.