English Vowel Sounds

Video Lesson #19

IPA – Use it to pronounce words correctly

Right now, we are going to study English vowel sounds! Why? Because you can get yourself into a lot of trouble by using the wrong vowel sound in English words… So we need to fix that, don’t we?


OK, If you’ve already watched my IPA introduction video, you will know what all these symbols are used for – This is the International Phonetic Alphabet. I use it a lot when I’m teaching English pronunciation.

If you don’t, watch the video up there video first… because it will make this video much easier to understand!

These are all English vowel sounds. Those ones over there are called diphthongs and that video up there explains them in more detail. You can watch it later.

So, there are all these vowels sounds but only 5 English vowels – a, e, i, o, u … How does that work?

Let’s use the letter ‘e’ as an example. When you see the letter ‘e’ in an English word, it can be pronounced in a few different ways:

  • Short | hello
  • Long | he
  • Long (accented) | café
  • Lazy schwa | the sound is so lazy, it just sounds like this… eleven


Let’s look at this group of English vowel sounds. Remember that these symbols aren’t English letters, they are English sounds.

Now, the first two sounds, i: and ɪ cause English learners a lot of trouble.  /i:/ and /ɪ/

Look at these examples of ‘beach’ ‘sheet’. Both use the long vowel sound /i:/ – beach, sheet.

If you make the mistake of using the short /ɪ/ vowel sound instead, you’ll pronounce two very different words: bitch and shit! Both of these words are rude so you don’t want to make that mistake!

The short sound is /ɪ/  /ɪ/  /ɪ/  Hit, fit, sing, bring, which, disc

The long sound is /i:/   Meat, beach, eat, sea, see, sheet, heat, he, leave, we, desk, believe

Next, we have the /ʊ/ vowel sound you hear in book, cook, sugar

Then, we have the /u:/ vowel sound you hear in you, to, flu, too, boot, flute, who, computer, recruit, shoe

Let’s move down. It’s also easy to confuse the short ɪ sound with the short /e/ sound. Egg, ten, left, excellent.

Below that, we have /æ/ /æ/ /æ/.  Cap, bat, flat, that, compact

Let’s go through the middle now. From /e/ we move to my favourite sound! It’s one you will never forget because it’s the laziest sound!!  /e/ /e/ /e/

It’s also the most common English sound – you’ll hear it everywhere! A lot of unstressed vowel sounds are pronounced as the ‘schwa', as in today, teacher, the, around.

This is ‘err’ /ɜ:/  /ɜ:/  /ɜ:/  /ɜ:/  Her, work, first word, sir, bird

Notice that the same sound can be made using different English letters! In the example /ɜ:/, her, work and first all have the same sound, but they are written using different letters. That’s why learning the IPA is going to help you pronounce words better in English!

Then, we have the /ɔ:/  /ɔ:/  /ɔ:/, as in or, floor, door, saw, sort, perform, boring, bought

Underneath we move from /æ/ to /ʌ/  /ʌ/  /ʌ/, as in cup, but, butter, truck

Then, we have the /ɒ/  /ɒ/  /ɒ/, as in not, on, got, log, God, forgot

Then, we have the /ɑ:/ /ɑ:/ /ɑ:/, as in far, part, heart

So that’s if for English vowel pronunciation! Subscribe here and check out my next video to build on your English pronunciation with diphthongs.

Right now, I want you to go to my website and download the free practice worksheet and video for this lesson, so you can practice, practice, practice! The link is right here and in the description below this video.

See you next time!

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mmmEnglish Video Lessons are a series of video lessons created to build confidence in English learners and focus on English in daily life. Download them and watch them anywhere! Subscribe to my YouTube Channel to be the first to get my new videos, and come and say hi on my Facebook page!!

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