How Many Vowels In English?

Jul 31, 2019

Episode 3

There are 5 vowels in American English, right?

Not exactly.

Most people think there are 5 vowel sounds in American English because there are 5 vowel letters. But actually, there are 15-20+ vowel sounds in American English (depending on who you ask and how you classify them) but only 5 letters in the written alphabet to represent these sounds.

The 5 vowel letters are A, E, I, O, and U. 

Then we’ve got the letter "y." It’s a consonant letter but sometimes pronounced as the vowel sound /EEE/ (written as /i/ in the IPA.)  No wonder English pronunciation is so difficult for non-native speakers!! Oh, to be a language like Spanish, for example. 5 vowel letters. 5 vowel sounds. Everyone is clear on what’s happening. But no…English is not that way.

When learning accents or teaching accents, you need to give up your association of pronunciation with the letters of the alphabet.

You must start thinking in terms of sounds. For example: The letter “A” has several possible pronunciations. It can be /AE/ as in “cat.” It can be /AY/ as in “baby.” It can be /AH/ as in “father.” It can be /AW/ as in “ball.” It can be the unstressed vowel or the schwa as in “above”

This all seems really confusing until you just start thinking of them as separate sounds.

It takes a little while to change your thinking, but when you do, it changes EVERYTHING! So try letting go of what you know about letters. Think in terms of sounds, not letters, to learn and accent or teach an accent.

Want a copy of my Super Simple Vowel chart with example words?  You got it!

Click Here.



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