pronunciation

The Schwa - Your secret weapon to understanding Native speakers

 


Sound instantly more British by getting rid of (removing) the -er endings of words. What do I mean by that?

When British people say 'Better' or 'Hotter' or 'Jumper' we don't pronounce the -ER at the end of the words, instead we use something called a SCHWA. The schwa sound can be either your nemesis or your secret weapon depending on whether you're a glass half full or glass half empty type of person.

I'm glass half full as I'm sure you've noticed by now, so I strongly encourage you to make friends with the schwa!

What is it? It's a vowel sound, probably the most common sound in the English language and Adrian Underhill says the following:

'The vowel sound /ǝ/ is as close to nothing as you can get and yet still have a sound. It is the only sound with a name, schwa, which is from Hebrew and means something like “a neutral vowel quality,” literally  “emptiness” or “nothing”.

In a nutshell, English is a stressed language, this means we 'squash', change or omit certain syllables or sounds to make them fit the stress or rhythm of our language. This changes depending on the region you're in or the accent of the individual speaker.

I know this might make you want to give up learning English as it seems unfair, but it's absolutely a sound you can master. Nobody teaches us about the schwa when we're children in the UK, it's something you pick up on naturally from family, friends, tv and the radio. 

If you start by noticing when it's being used then practising it on your own or with a language partner, you'll see a big improvement in your pronunciation and listening ability very quickly.

If you have a dog, they can be very understanding practise partners - I practised rolling my 'r' with Rosie in the park for a couple of weeks and it really worked!

To 'find' the sound (and you might want to do this on your own as you'll look a little strange....)

1) Completely relax your face with your mouth open (yes, the aim is to look very dopey.)

2) Make a long sound without moving your tongue or lips.

3) Now holding the sound, move your lower lip into the tiniest smile, you should just feel the corners of your mouth have some tension.

4) Try the sound again, the /ǝ/ should sound like the 'u' in CUT.


Practise makes perfect! Here is a BBC video to help you practise!

 

10 Easy ways to immerse yourself in English

 
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ONE - EXERCISE IN ENGLISH

If you normally do a yoga class or have a half hearted attempt at pilates - then do it in English instead! Kill two birds with one stone - don't worry too much about technical vocabulary, you'll pick a lot of it up through watching the instructor. I still don't know what glutes are and I've been doing these videos at home for years!

Choose instructors with a variety of accents so that you don't get too used to one and get lazy!

Yoga with Adriene - very zen lady, easy to understand.

 Pop Sugar Fitness - Lots of different options and styles!

TWO - COOK IN ENGLISH

Youtube is such an amazing resource, here are some of my favourite cooking channels:

Aine Carlin - Vegan Irish Blogger 

Food Tube - This is Jamie Olivers channel and there's a multitudes of options on here from all over the globe!

THREE - GET A LANGUAGE PARTNER

This is vital, with skype you can find someone to practise with at any time of the day from all over the world. There are many different sites to choose from, but the ones i've used personally and been happy with are the following:

Italki - Online

Meetup - In person (be wary of the language exchanges, they can be a bit of a cattlemarket! I prever to go along with a cinema/book club)

FOUR - PUT FACEBOOK IN ENGLISH

This can be a little frustrating, but it definitely makes you work harder! You can also use the translation element to check your friends messages in English.

FIVE - START AN ENGLISH HOUR AT WORK

Accountability really helps with language learning, and agreeing that the workplace has a designated English hour can provide a bit of light relief during the day as well as meaning that you can review your vocabulary together and have a brainstorm about any shared problems you're having in English!

SIX - MEMORISE A TED SCRIPT

TED, my students know that i'm a little obsessed with TED talks, they can be used in so many ways to help you improve your English and increase your world knowledge! Interesting topics  equal interesting conversation, which means you're using English without thinking about it. Memorising sections of TED talks will help you to increase your fluency quickly, it doesn't even matter if you understand everything. Mimic the intonation and tone and you'll start to enjoy speaking in English so much more!

SEVEN - MAKE A YOUTUBE VIDEO

You don't have to upload it, you can just keep it in your phone for yourself. But taking time to record a video in English in the style of a youtuber helps you to identify any pronunciation errors or areas you want to improve. I was horrified to realise how much I overused the word amazing when I recorded myself teaching (AMAAAAAZING GUYS) and now my delivery is much more punchy!

EIGHT - UPLOAD TO SOUNDCLOUD

Yes, again, recording yourself - but rather than a video, focus on the audio - you could set a series of topics to talk about in order to improve your vocabulary. Evan journalling everyday for a week will help you to set the habit!

NINE - READ A BLOGPOST IN ENGLISH

I sign up for websites in Spanish to make sure that I get their newsletters sent to my inbox everyday. Before I let myself look at the news or my favourite blogs in English, I read at least one in Spanish, it really helps with Vocabulary.

Find a blog to sign up to here.

TEN - TAKE A CLASS IN ENGLISH

Skillshare is a fantastic resource for this, you can do something completely frivolous and fun (my first class on here was a 'knife skills' class) - if you do it in English, it counts towards your practical hours!