Schwa – The Key to English Pronunciation

schwa-sound

The schwa /ə/ is the biggest key to English pronunciation a learner can possess.

Using a schwa can increase vowel accuracy by over 30%, it is the star of English speech, but most learners of English pronunciation have never heard of it and do not use it. This article aims to solve that with 4 simple questions…….

 

1. What is a schwa /ə/?

schwa is by far the most common vowel sound in English – RP English speakers use it about once every three vowels they pronounce. To put it another way if you don’t use the schwa sound in your speech, you are making a pronunciation error 1/3 of the time. To illustrate this, listen to and read the passage below, the schwa vowel is written in.

I’d like tə go shopping fər ə pair əf shoes, bət thə shops ə closed becəse thəs ə weathər əlert. əparrəntly lots !f snow is coming in frəm thə Highlənds so thə govərnmənt həv ədvised peopəl tə stay ət home.

2. How is a Schwa produced?

Schwa is a neutral vowel – in order to produce it your tongue should be flat and resting, your lips should be relaxed (not spread or rounded) and your jaw should be relaxed, half way open.

3. Where does Schwa appear?

The main problem is that you cannot see it on the written page – it can be spelled with ‘a’ (about), ‘e’ (father), ‘i’ (lentil), ‘o’ (polite) or ‘u’ (column), so unless students are trained to spot it, errors will occur. The key to recognising schwa is stress; schwa is only weak.

Schwa also appears in small words like ‘to’, ‘from’, & ‘are’ in connected speech, which are known as ‘function’ words in pronunciation.

4. How can I include the sound in my speech?

Like all language acquisition, you can learn the schwa in a simple 3 step process:

1. PRESENT – Learn how to say it using the correct, neutral mouth position.
2. PRACTICE – Recognise where it is in words and sentences (the script on this page is a good example) and repeat them.
3. PERFORM – Apply it to your own words and sentences.

Repeating this process will gradually incorporate the sound into your speech naturally.

Join a free Schwa class.

Free Class ii

Pronunciation Studio’s 90 minute free introduction class is all about the schwa sound, we learn how to produce it, where to find it and how to incorporate it into your speech. All delivered by an English pronunciation expert. Click here for current dates.

Alternatively download chapter 1 of ‘The Sound of English’ and learn more about the schwa with audio in there!