A few of my students have told me in the past week they never know how to pronounce an English word, and they requested some pronunciation rules.
Good idea. We can talk about this for another ten years.
So here we go.
First of all, as I’m sure you’ve found out, English is notoriously* tricky when it comes to spelling and pronunciation. That is because the spelling and pronunciation don’t coordinate = they don’t fit.
* famously in a negative sense
Most of the problems are with the vowels (a, i, e, o, u).
Nevertheless, not everything is hopeless. There are some rules.
We’ll start with some basic rules.
Pronunciation Rule 1:
This is the first rule that we teach children learners of English.
CVC means: Consonant Vowel Consonant.
Vowels are the letters a, i, e, o, and u. The other letters are consonants.
The words that conform to (= follow) the rule look like this: pun, cat, lip, pet, top.
They (almost) always have the same vowel sounds.
So that means that the u in pun sounds like the u in bus.
The a in cat sounds like the a in bag.
The i in lip sounds like the i in pig.
The e in pet sounds like the e in bed.
The o in top sounds like the o in log.
Unfortunately, there are a few exceptions, for instance car is said with a longer and deeper a.
But on the whole, this rule works, also in longer or more complicated words, such as: strop, handstand, fish, mix-up, stepmum, singsong.
As you can see in the examples, the words that apply to the rule can have more than one consonant on either side of the vowel. Their pattern can be ccvc, cvcc or ccvcc or whatever.
Here are some more examples of more complicated words that are still said with the CVC vowel sounds:
condominium (the second o is unstressed and will therefore sound like a schwa – a schwa sounds like the last vowel in words like later, table, etc.)
Pronunciation Rule 2
Unstressed syllables are said with a schwa vowel.
All words have syllables.
The word fish has one syllable.
The word fisher has two syllables: fi – sher.
The word fisherman has three syllables: fi – sher – man.
Syllables that are unstressed will lose their vowel “colour.” The vowels in these syllable will usually turn to a schwa. A schwa is the uh-sound in the second syllable in the next list of words:
Try to say these words.
The first syllable follows Rule 1 of the CVC words. The second syllable is a schwa.
The First Syllable is a Schwa
Next up is a group of words in which the first syllable is a schwa. (This is less common in English.)
Try to say these as well:
We’ll continue next time, otherwise this will get a bit heavy.
In case you’re wondering what to practise next, just go over the list of words and say them aloud!