The Importance of Sound for Mastering a Language

A blog by Shalon Sims about creative writing, literacy, education and psychology

The Importance of Sound for Mastering a Language

When we are young, we learn the sounds of our language automatically from our parents, but when we learn a new language we need to pay special attention to the sounds. In most languages, including English, sound is made with two types of letters: 1) Consonants and 2) Vowels

The consonants are similar in many languages, but vowel sounds may be very different from language to language.

There are 12 primary vowels in English

  1. Long A  (pay, pain, feign, fade) 
  2. Short A  (pan, Santa)
  3. Long E  (eat, deep, pique, story, eve, he, alley, key)
  4. Short E  (peck, step)
  5. Schwa  (paw, ella, )
  6. Long I  (by, nine, bright, buy, find, child)
  7. Short I  (bit, in, it)
  8. Long O  (go, toe, tote, coat, old, host, grow)
  9. Short O  (cot, bought, stop, saw, call)
  10. German long U (book, look)
  11. Long U (too, cute, flew)
  12. Short U  (cut, flood)

There are other vowels in English, but these are the most important.

Did you notice that there are many ways to spell the same sound? Look at #11 — the Long U — there are three ways to spell the same sound! This is very difficult for people from other languages to understand about English — that vowel sounds are made in many different ways. BUT, there are patterns and you can learn them!

In Canada, we learn about the vowels and their sounds in elementary school. You can find many inexpensive (cheap) exercise books on vowels. These books are made for children, but they can easily be used by adults to help learn the vowel sounds.

At the bottom of this article, I’ve created some lessons about the vowels just for YOU. 

Why is learning the vowel sounds so important?

Vowels are the building blocks of words. By practicing to understand and hear vowels properly, you will also improve:

  • Spelling
  • Reading
  • Speech
  • Comprehension

The sounds in a new language are often very difficult to learn and this is not helped by the fact that many teachers do not make it a priority.  Instead, they often focus on reading, writing, speaking and listening and forget that when they were young, they had many lessons and a lot of practice with long and short vowel sounds, and were expected to know how to spell them properly.  

I have found that by focusing on the sounds of all the letters–the vowels and consonants–and by practicing our use of sound regularly, my students improve rapidly in their general English ability.

Lessons

Here are some short lessons on the long and short vowel sounds.

Before you study these charts, PLEASE watch my Youtube video so you can see what your mouth is supposed to look like when you practice these vowels. You can see my Youtube videos to practice your vowels here.

If you look in the first chart in the lesson below, you will see “long” vowel sounds and “Short” vowel sounds. If you don’t know what these are, here’s a video explaining long and short vowel sounds. It’s a children’s song, but all people, young and old, benefit from learning through music. It helps us retain the information. 

Here’s a tip: The long vowel says its name. E says “eeeeee” and A says “aaaaa” etc. The short vowel says a completely different sound, so make sure you get some practice saying the short vowels. This is VERY important because in your first language, you probably also have these same vowel sounds. For example, 

A

Short A
Sounds like “ah”
Long A #1
Says its name
Pattern: ai
Long A #2
Says its name
Pattern: a__e
Long A #3
Says its name
Pattern: eig
madmaidmade
amaim
planplainplane
ranrainreign
fanfeign
backbake
snacksnake
There are other ways to spell the long “a” but these are the most common.

E

Short E
Sounds like ‘eh”
Long E #1
Says its name
Pattern: ea
Long E #2
Says its name
Pattern: ee
metmeatmeet
redreadreed
hellhealheel
stemsteam
speckspeak
fellfeel
There are other ways to spell the Long E, but these are the most common.

I

Short I
Sounds like “ai”
Long I
Says its name
Pattern: i__e
Long I
Says its name
Pattern: igh
ridride
sitsitesight
witwhite
winwine
quitquite
stripstripe
fitfight
There are other ways to spell the Long I, but these are the most common

O

Short O
Sounds like “oh”
Long O
Says its name
Pattern: oa
Long O
Says its name
Pattern: o__e
rodroadrode
gotgoat
costcoast
mopmope
robrobe
There are other ways to spell the Long O, but these are the most common.

U

Short U
Sounds like “uh”
Long u
Says its name
Pattern: u__e
ususe
cutcute
hughuge
Another common way to write the long U is with ‘ew.’ For example, knew

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many ways to spell the same sound!

BUT, the point of these lessons is NOT to teach you all the ways to spell a vowel sound. The point is to get you practicing making the sounds with your mouth.

Make sure to watch some videos on how to position your mouth for making the vowel sounds and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!!

 

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