There are two types of English speech sounds which are important for English pronunciation — vowels and consonants. Understanding both are important for speaking English better and changing your accent. Vowels are made when our airflow is shaped, rather than blocked, by our speech muscles. Three factors impact vowels: the height and location of our tongue in our mouth, whether our lips are rounded or not, and the length of the vowel sound. In English pronunciation there are also single vowel sounds and vowel sounds that glide from one vowel to another (known as diphthongs).
So when we say the vowel “oo” as in “boot”, we pronounce it as a single vowel. Our tongues are high and back, our lips are rounded and the length of the vowel is long.
Consonants sounds in English are made when the speech muscles, like the tongue and lips, change the airflow. Three factors create different consonants — place, manner and voicing. Place refers to where the sound is made. Manner refers to how the sound is made and voicing refers to whether the vocal cords are vibrating or not.
Take the consonant “b” for example. This sound is made at the lips, airflow is stopped then released and our vocal cords are vibrating.
Now that you know what factors affect how vowels and consonants are made, you can apply this knowledge to learn how to correctly pronounce specific sounds in English.
“Accent Reduction Explained” is a client-requested series created to provide core accent reduction knowledge and strategies for changing an accent. Information, including specifics about English pronunciation, can be applied to multiple accents including French, Chinese, Russian, Indian, Spanish, Arabic and Italian accents. Our goal is to demystify accent reduction so people can easily improve their English speaking skills to be better understood. We are committed to promoting diversity and helping people worldwide to join the conversation.