How to Pronounce the Schwa

Number 36 of 73 in B2 - UPPER-INTERMEDIATE

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¿Como se pronuncia el ‘Schwa’ en Inglés?

como-se-pronuncia-el-schwa-en-ingles

How do you pronounce the ‘Schwa’?

The Schwa is the name of a sound which is very common in English. When you hear an English speaker and then (for example) a Spanish speaker say exactly the same sentence, it usually sounds very different – this is mostly due to the Schwa.

Look at these words. How do you pronounce them?

1. Fireman
2. Elephant
3. Sir Richard Bird*
4. London
5. Manchester supporter

*Although the sound is similar, the vowel sound in ‘bird’ is too long to be a schwa sound. ‘Sir’ can be pronounced with ‘Schwa’ or similar to ‘bird’ – with a longer vowel.

Now listen:

As you can see, any vowel can have the schwa sound. If you find this difficult to understand, just take out the vowel from these words and try to pronounce them. Effectively, you have a similar result:

1. Firemn
2. Elphnt
3. S Richd Bird
4. Londn
5. Manchest spport

Listen again – the last sound you have to add to Manchest-‘(er) support-‘(er) is the schwa. In another post we will see how this is extremely important as a technique for combining words in a sentence, which is what makes English (Listening) so difficult to understand. Understanding the Schwa is our first step to that ‘Matrix moment’, where everything suddenly becomes clear!

Read these sentences. Use the ‘Schwa’, listen, then repeat:

1. Come on! /K’-mon/
2. Where does he live? /d’sz/
3. I was sleeping /w’sz/
4. Where were you? /w’/
5. There’s a hat at home /Schwa sound/
6. Are you Sarah? /Schwa sound/
7. There are some eggs on the cooker /s’-meks/ /Q’-k’/
8. You could have* told me /k’-d’uvf/
9. Is this for Christmas or for Easter? /f’-cris-m’s/ /f’rii-sta/
10. Do you think that* I can do that* /d’yu think th’../

*Have = main verb (tener) does not use schwa: ‘I have a dog’
Have = auxiliary verb (haber) uses schwa: ‘I have seen/got your dog’. This has exactly the same pronunciation as ‘of’. In fact it is a very common mistake for native children to write: ‘I should of visited my granny’ or this reason.
*that = determiner (eso/aquello) does not use schwa: ‘I like that dog’
that = relative pronoun (pienso/sé que…) uses schwa: ‘I know that you like dogs’
*can = as a quick answer does not use schwa: ‘Yes, we can!’
can = in the middle of a sentence uses schwa: ‘I can take you to the station.’

Note 1: My transcriptions of these sounds are not phonetical (many visitors will not know phonetics) and are approximate. It is better to listen to the sound carefully

Note 2: This is generally true in all English-speaking countries, but there may be regional variations depending on accents or the pronunciation of specific words. For example, in the north of England ‘run’ is often pronounced with a schwa (r’n).

Note 3: These are not rules. They are guidelines on how English is generally heard. It is not usually incorrect to pronounce these words without schwa, but if you want to understand general conversational English, you should get used to hearing (and using) schwa.

Note 4: People often believe it is difficult to understand English because it is spoken very quickly. I don’t think this is the problem (it’s a question of opinion). People can speak slowly but still be difficult to understand. It is because of the Schwa, and it is not necessary to speak quickly!

Read these sentences, then listen and underline where you hear the Schwa. The answers are at the bottom of the page:

1. “There was a fireman at the accident.”
2. “Where were you this morning?”
“I was buying some eggs for Easter”
3. “Do you think an apple is enough? There are three of us!”
4. “You could have come last autumn.”
5. “Does he know we’re coming?”
“I can give him a call.”
6. “Are you from Ireland? Where were you born?”

 

Answers:
1. “There was a fireman at the accident.”
2. “Where were you this morning?”
“I was buying some eggs for Easter
3. “Do you think an apple is enough? There are three of us!”
4. “You could have come last autumn.”
5. “Does he know we’re coming?”
“I can give him a call.”
6. “Are you from Ireland? Where were you born?”

 

 

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