PEARTREE LIFE: Experiencing Languages

The most common sound in English - schwa

Have you ever heard about the schwa /ə/? It’s the most common sound in English!

English is a stress-timed language, which means that stressed syllables, normally from content words (the ones that bring new information, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs etc), are said at a regular pace, while unstressed syllables need to be shortened to fit into the rhythm.

Therefore, in a sentence like: ‘I would like a cup of tea’, we wouldn’t pronounce every single vowel sound strongly, but rather say something like: “I’d like a cuppa tea” /aɪd ‘laɪkə ‘ti:/ (the stressed words are in bold). If you look carefully, you will notice that the unstressed syllables are frequently pronounced with a schwa: /aɪd ‘laɪkə ‘kʌpə ti:/.

The schwa is a short mid central vowel that doesn’t take a lot of effort to be pronounced. You just have to drop the jaw a bit, relax your lips and cheeks, and leave your tongue in a resting position. It’s pretty much a lazy sound! You can find it as the first sound in ‘about’ /ə’baʊt/ and the last in ‘idea’ /aɪ’di/.

Have a look at how it often comes up in these words (commonly mispronounced by students). The underlined syllables are stressed:
Chocolate /ˈtʃɒklət/
Comfortable /ˈkʌmfətəbəl/
Cupboard /ˈkʌbəd/
furniture /ˈf3ːnɪtʃə/
computer /kəmˈpjuːtə/
photography /fəˈtɒɡrəfi/
museum /mjuːˈzɪəm/

Want to learn more about pronunciation? Join us this Thursday to further practise your English speaking skills and learn more about the schwa!
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Peartree Languages is a language school located in Cardiff.


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