English Pronunciation Pod 11

Podcast 11: The Vowel /ə/ (Part II), Distinguishing between /ə/ and /a/

by Charles Becker


Saturday November 22nd, 2008

The Vowel /ə/ (Part II), Distinguishing between /ə/ and /a/:

This podcast teaches you how to distinguish between these vowels with a standard American accent.

The focus of today’s lesson is:

  • learning how to distinguish between /ə/ and /a/ using your tongue position
  • Practicing the distinction with special training exercises

Developing a clear distinction between / ə / and /a/:

Many students of English often subsistute /a/ for /ə/ because /ə/ doesn’t exist in their native language.
For example “rub” sounds like “rob”.
“Will you rob my back?”
Or :”Please calm down.” When they mean to say, “Please come down.”

** I strongly recommend that you listen to podcast #10 (introduction to schwa, /ə/) ,before using this podcast.

Difference in tongue positons between /ə/ and /a/:

To produce /ə/:

Tongue : relaxed, central, neutral.

To produce /a/:

Tongue: low and back. Back portion is pushed back, front is flat.
Jaw: lowered


Exercise:Alternate between /ə/ and /a/ . Begin in a relaxed neutral postion, then slide your tongue backa little and lower your jaw. Listen and repeat:

1. /ə/… /a/

2. /a/ … /ə /

If hearing and saying the difference is difficult for you, you should know that you’re not alone. This distinction is considered to be one of the most difficult in the English sound system. Even my most talented private students here in New York City, often have to work very hard to master this distinction.
If your native language is Russian,Polish or Serbo-Croation, you may find this distinction particularly difficult. But with practice and repetition , you will eventually get it!

Exercise: Listen and repeat the following pair of words , paying careful attention to the difference in vowel sound:

/a/            /ə/

lock         luck

body        buddy

Don          done

stock        stuck

socks       sucks

calm         come

rob            rub

wander     wonder

Training Tools:

Improving your pronunciation and reducing your accent is all about reviewing and practicing regularly. The more you practice regularly, the easier it will become to say the sounds distinctly and correctly.
Just ten minutes day of practice can really make a difference!

It’s important to have good tools to practice with. I recommend  Best Accent Training mp3s!

Any questions, comments or suggestions ? Contact us at:  contact@englishpronunciationpod.com

Thank you and see you next time!