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Lesson Transcript

Gina: Hello, I’m your host Gina.
Gabriella: Hello! I’m Gabriella.
Gina: Vowels in British English.
Gina: In this series, we will help you with your English pronunciation, and the focus of this lesson is vowels.

Lesson focus

Gabriella: That’s right. We’ll demonstrate how to pronounce the vowels, and give you a few tips about how to do it correctly.
Gina: In the last lesson, we concentrated on consonants, so moving onto vowels seems to the sensible and natural thing to do!
Gabriella: Definitely. Now, we know that there are 21 consonants and five vowels.
Gina: And what are the five vowels?
Gabriella: A, E, I, O and U.
Gina: Vowels are very important in English, as virtually every word in the English language has at least one of those five vowels.
Gabriella: That’s right, and the few words that don’t, such as “sky” or “rhythm”, instead have a vowel sound provided by the letter “y”.
Gina: “Y” sometimes pretends to be a vowel, doesn’t it?
Gabriella: It does. Most of the time it’s a consonant, but it does occasionally like being a vowel.
Gina: As you said, we have five actual, full-time vowels in A, E, I, O and U. How many different sounds do these five vowels produce?
Gabriella: Too many! In this lesson, we will look at 19.
Gina: Nineteen from five letters… that really is too many!
Gabriella: The vowel sounds can be split into two categories – simple, “pure” vowel sounds, and then diphthongs.
Gina: What’s the difference?
Gabriella: Pure vowels are just one sound, such as the “a” sound in “cat”. It’s just one letter and one sound.
Gina: And diphthongs?
Gabriella: They are two vowel sounds within the same syllable. They can also be called “gliding vowels”, because your tongue has to quickly glide between the two sounds.
Gina: Let’s hear an example or two of diphthong sounds, before we get into listing the individual sounds.
Gabriella: Okay. Listen to the vowel sound in “house”. “House”.
Gina: Yes, the “ou” sound is two vowels added together.
Gabriella: That’s a diphthong, and they can be a little tricky, so let’s tackle them later and start with the pure vowels first.
Gina: Okay!
Gabriella: First, there is the “e” sound in “seat” and “tree”.
Gina: The “i” in “fit” and “fish”.
Gabriella: The “oo” sound in “book”.
Gina: And “pull”, even though that’s spelt with a “u”.
Gabriella: Yes, vowel sounds don’t always follow the way they are spelt!
Gina: The “eh” sound in “head” and “said”.
Gabriella: The “er” sound in “teacher” and “observer”.
Gina: The “i” sound in “girl” and “nurse”.
Gabriella: Again, spelt differently! The “or” in “door” and “four”.
Gina: The “a” in “apple” and “had”.
Gabriella: The “u” in “cup” and “love”.
Gina: The “ar” in “heart” and “dark”.
Gabriella: And finally, the “o” in “hot” and “stop”.
Gina: Those are all the simple. They’re short and one-sound vowel sounds.
Gabriella: Yes. We just demonstrated 12 short vowel sounds, and there are seven of the longer, two-sound diphthongs.
Gina: Let’s start the diphthongs then!
Gabriella: The “ea” in “year” and “ear”.
Gina: The “air” sound in “chair” and “where”.
Gabriella: The “oh” in “throw” and “low”.
Gina: The “ou” in “out” and “lounge”.
Gabriella: The “eh” sound in “they” and “way”.
Gina: The “ai” sound in “thigh” and “lied”.
Gabriella: And finally, the “oi” sound in “joy” and “choice”.
Gina: I think you can really hear the difference between the diphthongs and the short vowels.
Gabriella: Yes. They can be difficult to master because they involve some gymnastics with your tongue, in order to change from the first sound to the second.
Gina: In a word such as “year”, you can really hear how the vowel sound changes within that single syllable. “Year” [slower]
Gabriella: Yes, the word “ear” consists entirely just of the diphthong, almost.
Gina: Let’s just repeat some of these example words so that the listeners can hear them again. Pay close attention to the vowel sounds in each word.
Gabriella: Okay. “Year, ear”.
Gina: “Chair, where”.
Gabriella: “Throw, low”.
Gina: “Out, lounge”.
Gabriella: “They, way”.
Gina: “Thigh, lied”.
Gabriella: “Joy, choice”.
Gina: I think that there is one more thing we should briefly cover in this lesson. If you look in an English dictionary, you might see some strange symbols next to a word.
Gabriella: This is the phonetic alphabet. Each vowel and consonant sound we have discussed in this lesson and the last one, has a symbol attached to it. The dictionary will have each word spelt out in the phonetic alphabet, so that you know how to pronounce it.
Gina: It can be difficult to remember the symbols and the sounds, especially for beginners, but it can be very useful as you progress through your English learning.
Gabriella: Definitely, so pay close attention to those, listeners.


Gina: And that’s all for this lesson! Don’t forget to check the lesson notes!
Gabriella: Thanks for listening, see you next time!

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Hello Listeners! Which British English vowel is the most difficult to pronounce?