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THE NAMES OF THE VOWELS
 

All languages have names for their letters, but not for the sounds of their vowels. Languages with a phonetic spelling (like Spanish, Swahili or Italian) use the names of the letters for the corresponding sounds, but we can't do that in English. So how can we name the English vowels if we want to talk about them?

An example of what we shouldn't do is what teachers of English usually do in Spanish speaking countries (and other countries too). For example, Spanish teachers talk about "i larga" (long i) and "i corta" (short i) when they mean and . This system may sound very simple and convenient, but it has a negative impact on the students' mind, leading them to think (consciously or unconsciously) that they are not two different sounds, but simply two versions of the Spanish vowel / i / , with the only difference that one is shorter and the other one longer. But for an English person, those two vowels are not even similar; they're completely different!. To make things worse, when a Spanish student finds an English person talking about "short i" and "long i" he or she doesn't know they are actually talking about and (see: pronouncing vowels).

If we want students to pronounce the English vowels correctly, they must eventually forget about their native vowels and create new frames on their minds for the new sounds. ® Motion Phonics will give them the frame they need, but it is very important, from the beginning, to have a name for the vowels which creates no connections with their native vowels or the letters. To do that, we're going to see how English people call their vowels.

If you ask a Spanish person (with their phonetic spelling) what is the vowel in the Spanish words "las" or "cara", they will say: the vowel "A". If you ask an English person (with a non phonetic spelling) what is the vowel in "jazz", they will simply say: "jazz is pronounced as lamb", for instance, or they will say: "jazz rhymes with cam" (or with "matt", "cat" or "fan"...). This system may be very confusing for students of English, because their next question may be: "and how do you pronounce lamb (or cam/matt...)?".

To solve that problem, we have chosen one single example for every vocalic sound, and we will always use that word as the name of the vowel. So we can say that the word "jazz" is pronounced with the vowel in "cat" (and always "cat").

SYMBOL
NAME tea ship bell cat car hut sock fork cook boot girl the

The vowel is the only vowel in English that has a name. Well, in fact it is the Germans who named it, but English phoneticians use it too. The example we use is "the", but "the" is only pronounced with this vowel when it goes before a noun, not when it is pronounced alone. No word of one syllable is pronounced with this vowel when it goes alone, so we use the German name to call it: schwa (pronounced "shwah").

We can do the same with diphthongs and triphthongs if we want to:

SYMBOL
NAME day fine boy house phone beer chair hour fire

So now we can say that the word bare is pronounced as in chair or we can say that bare is pronounced with the vowel in chair.



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