Shwa Lesson 1: Short Vowels

In the last lesson, you learned 12 of the English consonants. In this lesson, we're going to teach you some vowels, so you can spell words!

We're going to use the excellent color vowel system, which associates each English vowel with a color whose name contains that vowel. In this lesson, we'll present just the short vowels. Here are the short vowels of British English:

On all these color vowel charts, you can click on each color to hear the associated sound.

The golden vowel is the very close sound in the second syllables of golden and helmet. This vowel never occurs in English in a stressed syllable. It sometimes sounds like a type of i, and sometimes like a type of u.

Now here are the short vowels of American English:

You'll notice two changes. First, there's a new vowel that the Brits don't have: the purple vowel. It's less closed than the golden vowel, but more closed than the mustard vowel. Most important, the main difference is the r-sound.

Second, the olive vowel is missing. Some words that Brits pronounce like olive - for example, cloth - Americans pronounce like auburn. But Americans pronounce most of them like almond.

Match the sounds with their letters:

   

In addition to standard British and American English, the English of New England, the Western USA, the Southern USA, Central and Western Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, South Africa and Singapore all have slightly different vowel systems - the pronunciation of vowels is one of the many differences between dialects. From now on, we're going to use just the General American dialect, the one with the most speakers.

Now let's see if you can spell some words:

cat          
dog          
pet          
man          
   

Good work! In the next lesson, you'll learn some more consonants.

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