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The Long and the short of it, vowels, that is

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The long and the short of it – vowels, that is.

When attempting to learn a foreign language you forget that you had a lot to learn about the sounds of your native tongue. If you go through the alphabet and form various words around certain vowels you will realize how much you picked up by yourself as a child.

Let’s take a look at many words with the vowel ‘a’ and see how differently they are pronounced. You learned them as a child before you learned any rules of pronunciation.
‘a’ as in ‘bad’, as in ‘bar’, as in ‘ball’, as in ‘bait’, as in ‘about’, as in ‘bland’, as in ‘father’. They are all pronounced differently! And yet as a child you got the hang of when to use which sound.

Then there is ‘e’ as in ‘bed’, as in ‘beet’, in ‘enough’, as in ‘energy’, in ‘elect’, in ‘heel’, as in ‘amaze’. They are all different, but you never noticed that, did you?

There is ‘i’ as in ‘insect’, as in ‘bite’, as in ‘illegal’ as in ‘itch’. The consonants that surround a vowel affect the pronunciation of the vowel.

There is ‘o’ as in ‘over’, as in ‘above’, as in ‘bought’, as in ‘bowl’, as in ‘bomb’.

There is ‘u’ as in ‘use’, as in ‘but’, as in ‘unusual’, as in ‘bury’, and so on.

And yet if you remember your language arts classes only talked about ‘short and ‘long’ vowels, but there are more versions of them than you realize. And then the short and long vowels of other languages are different from English.

How do Americans pronounce the word ‘not’? They pronounce it as if it were a long ‘a’
(as in ‘father’). Why on Earth do we do that? The British say, ‘nawt’, which is truly a short ‘o’. That’s the sound a foreigner would expect to hear if he were studying English.

If you add the letter ‘e’ to ‘not’ the ‘o’ becomes a long vowel. That’s what the addition of the letter ‘e’ at the end of a word normally does: ‘bit’ – ‘bite’, ‘hat’- ‘hate’, ‘cut’- ‘cute’, and sometimes within the word: ‘bet’- ‘beet’

So, don’t drive yourself nuts learning the rules of pronunciation in the foreign language that you’re studying. Focus on listening, listening a lot. That worked for English, didn’t it? And you were only a toddler then!

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