Oral English: Easy Ways to Pronounce the 24 English Consonants and 20 English Vowels

English Lesson Notes for Junior Secondary

Oral English: Easy Ways to Pronounce the 24 English Consonants and 20 English Vowels

I will make this lesson as simple as possible for the benefit of all because I understand the level of difficulty encountered by second learners of English as regards English phonetics. By the end of lesson, English learners should be able to:

i. Define a consonant sound.

ii. Define a vowel sound.

iii. Distinguish consonants from vowels.

iv. Pronounce the forty-four English phonemes (or sounds) and give corresponding examples.

v. Transcribe at least simple English words such as come, go, stay, about, driver, agree, etc.

Oral English: Easy Way to Pronounce the 24 English Consonants and 20 English Vowels
The English Language has forty-four phonemes (or sounds) which are comprised of twenty-four consonants and twenty vowels.

What Are Consonant Sounds?
In simple terms, consonant sounds are sounds that are produced with the obstruction of airflow in the speech tract. In other words, the airstream is blocked or passed with some friction during the articulation of consonant sounds. You will understand this better when start pronouncing the consonant sounds. We have twenty-four consonant sounds in English: /p, b, t, d, k, g, m, n, ŋ, f, v, θ, ð, s, z, ʃ, ʒ, l, w, r, j, h, tʃ, dʒ/.

Classification of Consonant Sounds 
In classifying or describing consonant sounds, we look at three things:
·         Place of Articulation
·         Manner of Articulation
·         State of the Glottis

1. Place of Articulation; that is, the organs of speech responsible for the production of each sound. The places of articulation are eight in number:

a. Bilabials
These are consonant sounds produced with the upper lip and lower lip: /p, b, m, w/. In other words, during the articulation of these sounds, the upper lip and lower lip come in contact with each other.

b. Labiodentals 
As the name implies, labiodentals are consonant sounds articulated with the lower lip and upper teeth: /f/ and /v/.

c. Dentals 
This involves the tip of the tongue coming in light contact with the upper incisor. /θ/ and /ð/ are dentals or dental consonants.

d. Alveolar
The alveolar consonants are produced when the tip of the tongue touches the alveolar ridge. They are seven in number: /t, d, s, z, n, l, r/.

e. Palato-Alveolar
Articulated with the blade or tip of the tongue approaching or touching the alveolar ridge and the main body of the tongue near the hard palate: /ʃ, ʒ, tʃ, dʒ/.

f. Palatal 
The /j/ sound is a palatal consonant, and it is produced with the blade of the tongue held close to or touching the hard palate.

g. Velar 
Velar consonants are articulated with the back of the tongue held close to or touching the soft palate (velum): /k, g, ŋ/.

h. Glottal 
This sound is produced when the air which passes through an open glottis escapes through the mouth: /h/.

2. Manner of Articulation 
Consonant sounds are also classified according to their manners of articulation. The manner of articulation is the way the airstream is affected as it flows from the lungs and out of the nose and mouth. Below are six different manners of articulation in English that distinguish one consonant sound from another:

a. Plosives
These are sounds produced from sudden opening of a previously closed oral passage. The plosives are /p, b, t, d, k, g/. Three things happen during the production of these sounds:

i. There is a complete closure of the oral passage or vocal tract as a result of the inevitable contact of the articulators, holding back the air pressure. For example, when producing the sound /p/, the articulators (the upper lip and lower lip) must first come in contact with each other. 

ii. During this inevitable marriage, the air pressure builds up behind the closure. 

iii. Then, there is sudden release of the closure, and the blocked air puffs out with an explosive sound.

b. Affricates
Affricates consist of plosives and fricatives; thus, they share something in common with plosives. Like plosives, before the affricates are released, there is a complete closure of the mouth behind which air pressure builds up. However, to release these sounds (affricates), the articulators gradually and slowly separate unlike that of plosives. The affricates are /tʃ/ and /dʒ/.

c. Nasals 
In producing the nasals, the oral passage is closed, and the soft palate is lowered in order to allow air escape through the nose. The nasals are three in number: /m, n, ŋ/.

d. Lateral 
The /l/ sound is a lateral consonant. During its production, the tip of tongue touches the alveolar ridge with a partial closure of the mouth in order to let the air escape through either or both sides of the tongue.

e. Fricatives 
Fricatives are sounds produced with the narrowing of two articulators in such a way that the airstream passes through them with obstruction. The fricatives are /f, v, θ, ð, s, z, ʃ, ʒ, h/.

f. Approximants 
In producing an approximant, two articulators “approach each other but do not get sufficiently close to produce a “complete” consonant such as a plosive, nasal or fricative” (Roach 2000, p. 62). That is why approximants are also called semivowels. The approximants are /r, w, j/.

3. State of the Glottis 
This has to do with the state or condition of the vocal cords when sounds are produced. The vocal cords sometimes vibrate and at other times remain still depending on the type of consonant that is being produced. When the vocal cords vibrate, the consonant sounds produced are said to be voiced. But when there is no vibration, the consonant sounds are said to be voiceless. Therefore, under state of the glottis, consonant sounds are classified according to whether they are voiceless or voiced. The voiceless consonants are /p, t, k, tʃ, f, θ, s, h, ʃ/. The voiced consonants are /b, d, g, dʒ, r, w, l, v, ð, z, ʒ, m, n, ŋ, j/.

Based on the above classification, each of the twenty-four English consonants can be described as:

/p/     voiceless bilabial plosive
/b/     voiced bilabial plosive
/t/      voiceless alveolar plosive
/d/     voiced alveolar plosive
/k/      voiceless velar plosive
/g/     voiced velar plosive
/f/      voiceless labiodental fricative
/v/      voiced labiodental fricative
/θ/     voiceless dental fricative
/ð/     voiced dental fricative
/s/      voiceless alveolar fricative
/z/      voiced alveolar fricative
/ʃ/     voiceless palato-alveolar fricative
/ʒ/      voiced palato-alveolar fricative
/h/     glottal fricative
/tʃ/    voiceless palato-alveolar affricate
/dʒ/    voiced palato-alveolar affricate
/m/     voiced bilabial nasal
/n/     voiced alveolar nasal
/ŋ/     voiced velar nasal
/l/      voiced alveolar lateral
/r/      voiced palato-alveolar approximant
/j/      voiced palatal approximant
/w/     voiced bilabial approximant

How to Pronounce the Twenty-four English Consonants 
This is not a video tutorial where you can hear the actual pronunciation of a given phonetic symbol. In this case, you have to work out your salvation with fear and trembling although I will make it easy for you by using a technique known as the recurring technique. To get the actual pronunciation of a given phonetic symbol, I will give three word examples against a given phonetic symbol. These examples have a recurring sound in them. This recurring sound is the actual pronunciation of that given phonetic symbol. To make it easier, I will underline the letter(s) or syllable that carries the actual sound of the given phonetic symbol. Therefore, you have to listen to yourself as you pronounce the words against each of the twenty-four English consonants presented below:

/p/     people, ripple, rope
/b/     book, ribbon, rob
/t/      talk, rattle, voiced
/d/     dig, riddle, read
/k/      kettle, racket, talk
/g/     girl, nougat, dig
/f/      physical, ruffle, rough
/v/      voice, revise, love

The /θ/ sound is that sound that compels you to bring the tip of your tongue almost in between your upper teeth and lower teeth in order to sound posh. Lol! It is found in most 'th' words. Some word examples with this sound are through, truthful, breath etc.

This sound is almost pronounced as /d/. It is found in 'th' words where the 'th' does not compel you to bring the tip of your tongue almost in between your upper teeth and lower teeth. Some word examples with this sound are father, them, breathethey, the, then etc.

/s/      steal, reset, price
/z/      zip, razor, eyes
/ʃ/     shoe, sugar, parachute

/ʒ/      massage, vision, pleasure
To make this sound, you have to first practise the /ʃ/ sound, then use the voice to pronounce /ʒ/.

/h/     history, high, house
/tʃ/    teachchurchchick
/dʒ/    George, digit, lodge
/m/     man, comb, mammal
/n/     neck, nine, sin
/ŋ/     thank, sing, morning
/l/      luck, plight, kettle
/w/     once, warm, wow
/r/      reign, drain, river
/j/      year, stupid, use

What Are Vowel Sounds?
Vowels are sounds produced without the obstruction of airflow in the speech tract. The English language has twenty vowels: /ɪ, iː, e, æ, a:, ɒ, ɔː, ʊ, u:, ʌ, ɜː, ə, ɪə, eə, ʊə, eɪ, aɪ, ɔɪ, əʊ, aʊ/. These twenty vowels consist of twelve monophthongs or pure vowels /ɪ, iː, e, æ, a:, ɒ, ɔː, ʊ, u:, ʌ, ɜː, ə/ and eight diphthongs /ɪə, eə, ʊə, eɪ, aɪ, ɔɪ, əʊ, aʊ/.

The twelve monophthongs (or pure vowels) are further divided into seven short vowels and five long vowels. The short vowels are /ɪ, e, æ, ɒ, ʊ, ʌ, ə/ whereas the long vowels are /iː, a:, ɔː, u:, ɜː/.

On the other hand, the diphthongs are divided into two: centring diphthongs and closing diphthongs. The centring diphthongs glide towards the ə (schwa) vowel: /ɪə, eə, ʊə/. The diphthongs ending in ɪ /eɪ, aɪ, ɔɪ/ and those ending in ʊ /əʊ, aʊ/ constitute the closing diphthongs.

How to Pronounce the Twenty English Vowels
Hope you remember the five vowels of the English alphabet (a, e, i, o, u)? The
/ɪ/ sound, which is a short vowel, is pronounced exactly as the i in the five vowels of the English alphabet. It is present in words such as sit, bit, live, chip etc.

This is the elder sibling of the /ɪ/ sound. But for its length, it is similar to the /ɪ/ sound. In other words, the /i:/ sound is the long version of the /ɪ/ sound. You have it in words such as seat, beat, leave, cheap, see, sea, be, people, quay, chief, piece, receive, key etc.

/e/    bed, left, dead
It is pronounced as the e in the five vowels of the English alphabet.

Open your mouth widely and pronounce /æ/ in words such as man, cat, hand, black, bat, plaid, plait etc.

This is the long version of /æ/. Pronounce this sound the way you pronounce ah. It is present in words such as pass, staff, cart, heart, car, laugh, clerk, sergeant, calm, ah etc.

Pronounce this sound the same way the o in the five vowels of the English alphabet is pronounced. The /ɒ/ sound is present in words such as off, dog, cough, quantity, lorry, want etc.

The /ɔː/ sound is the long version of the /ɒ/ sound. This sound is pronounced ‘or. Some examples of words with this sound are broad, soar, roar, before, brought, four, saw, war, salt etc.

Pronounce this sound the way you pronounce the oo in 'book,' the o in 'woman,' the ou in 'could,' the u in 'put,' etc.

This is the long version of /ʊ/. Pronounce the /u:/ sound the way you pronounce the  ew in chew, the ou in group, the oe in shoe, the u in rude, the oo in soon, the ue in sue, the ui in suit, wo in two etc.

It is a short vowel and is pronounced uh. It is somewhat similar to the /æ/ sound, but relaxed. When pronouncing this sound, your tongue should rest in the middle of your mouth. The jaw is kept in a neutral position, and the lips are relaxed. It is the o sound in come, the u sound in cut, the ou sound in country, the oo sound in blood.

This sound is pronounced err, as in “To err is human; to forgive is divine.” It is the ear sound in early, the er sound in person, the ur sound in church, the ir sound in bird, the yr sound in myrtle, the our sound in journey, the or sound in word.

This is the schwa. It is usually weak and is known as the central vowel. It is the weak form of all the vowel sounds. The /ə/ sound is similar to the /ʌ/, but unlike the /ʌ/ sound, it usually unstressed. Word examples: allow, about, extra, beggar, mother etc.

Pronounce this sound the way you pronounce ear. Word examples: beer, near, weird, tier, mere, here, etc.

/eə/ – air
Word examples: air, fair, scarce, care, heir, where, there, bear etc.

The /ʊə/ sound begins from the /ʊ/ sound and end in the central vowel /ə/. So, you should have the /ʊ/ and /ə/ sounds in mind when pronouncing the /ʊə/ sounds. Word examples: poor, moor, tour, rural, manual, pure, sewer etc.

Pronounce this sound the way you pronounce the letter 'A'. Word examples: pay, make, great, eight, grey etc.

/aɪ/ – eye
Word examples: eye, height, time, die, buy, cry, bye etc.

/ɔɪ/ – oi
Word examples: boy, noise, coil, annoy etc.

/əʊ/ – o
Word examples: go, boat, rose, hoe, soul, foe, sow, etc.

/aʊ/ – ow
Word examples: how, loud, tout, blouse, cow etc.

Another English sounds of vowel type are the triphthongs. A triphthong “is a glide from one vowel to another and then to a third, all produced rapidly and without interaction” (Roach 2000, p. 24). Triphthongs are made up of the closing diphthongs and the central vowel ə (schwa). They are five in number:

·          + ə = aɪə, as in fire /faɪə/
·          + ə = eɪə, as in player /pleɪə/
·         ɔɪ + ə = ɔɪə, as in royal /rɔɪəl/
·         əʊ + ə = əʊə, as in lower /ləʊə/
·          + ə = aʊə, as in hour /aʊə/

Definition of Some Words
Monophthong – A vowel retaining same quality throughout its duration.
Diphthong – A vowel sound that begins with the sound of one vowel and ends with the sound of another vowel.

This lesson has been simplified to benefit all English learners as regards phonetics, at least the basics. However, if you find it difficult to pronounce any of the forty-four phonemes (or sounds), don't hesitate to chat with me on Whatsapp (+2348035232017).