5 Mistakes You are Probably Making in English Pronunciation

English pronunciation1.  Silent e in plurals when it’s incorrect (and unnecessary) in English pronunciation

Sometimes students get confused because of the seemingly random English pronunciation of what is usually a silent vowel (silent e).  This tends to happen when the plural /s/ is added to the end of a word.  A good example is the unpronounced e in clothes.

SEE ALSO: Sounds of American English

Some students forget that this is a silent vowel.  What causes the confusion is that the same e is pronounced in words like roses.  The good news is that there is a good reason for this occasional pronunciation of the otherwise silent e.  When it is used in this way, it is there to separate two identical or very similar sounds.  For instance, roses would end up with an s followed by another s, so the vowel is pronounced to separate them.  This type of vowel is sometimes called a buffer vowel.

Or, as The Electric Company refers to it – a ninja vowel:

2.  Pronouncing all words according to their spelling

In many of the world’s languages, alphabets are more or less phonetic; that is, every letter has a consistent value (or several values, depending on its environment), and a word’s pronunciation can be predicted by looking at the spelling.  This is not true of English, so it’s important to remember that spelling does not always determine what is “correct.” For instance, words such as comfortable cause confusion even for native speakers.  In fact, both /kʌmftərbəl/ and /kʌmfərtəbəl/ can now be found in dictionaries.  Some people might argue that the first of the two is wrong because it doesn’t correspond to the spelling.  While that’s a logical argument, it still isn’t valid, because we would then have to change the way we pronounce the hundreds of other words that don’t correspond to their spelling, such as February.

3.  Mixing up /s/ and /z/; /t/ and /d/
English pronunciation

Although there are exceptions, most consonants come in pairs wherein one of the two is voiced (the vocal cords vibrate during its articulation) and the other isn’t.  The only difference between /s/ and /z/ is that /z/ includes the vibration of the vocal cords, while /s/ doesn’t.  The former is said to be voiced, while the latter is called voiceless.  Because of their similarity, the individuals in the pairs are frequently mixed up.  American English in particular is known for /t/ being pronounced [d] between vowels.  Bottle is therefore [bɑdl].  It is worth mentioning that this [d] is analyzed as [ɾ] by scholars, but for our purposes, thinking of it as [d] will suffice.

4.  /r/, /l/, /m/, and /n/ behaving like vowels in English pronunciation

Most consonants can’t stand alone as their own syllables, but need vowels to form their nuclei.  That is why you would not find a word pronounced /ktsdf/.  If you try to say it, you might find yourself trying to insert vowels between the consonants.  While vowels are usually necessary to form a syllable, a limited set of consonants can have the same function and stand alone without the help of a vowel.  For example, in the English word bottle, there are two syllables ([bɑ.dl]).  However, the second syllable has no vowel.  Instead, /l/ has this function.  /r/, /m/, and /n/ can also function in this way.  These are sometimes called syllabic consonants.  A lot of languages in the world do not permit these, so anyone who wants their English to sound natural will have to pay attention to these sounds.  Serbian and a few other Slavic languages happen to be exceptions to this (in words such as Serbian trg “square” and bicikl “bicycle”).

5.  A lot of the most common words are not fully pronounced

Certain English words that are sometimes called “grammar words” occur so frequently and are so predictable that they’re often partially or completely reduced.  These are words such as prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions, and auxiliary verbs.  Contractions such as they’d for they would are examples of this phenomenon, wherein the word would is reduced to just the d.  Contractions are reflected in the spelling, but many other examples of reduction are not.  For instance, the conjunction and often loses both a and d, so the phrase Bruno and John would end up being pronounced more like Bruno n’ John.  Another example is the pronoun he, which loses /h/ in sentences such as where’d he go? It comes out sounding more like [wɛərdi gəʊ].  Students of English often fully pronounce this type of word, which makes their English sound unnatural.

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