Vowels are very important in spoken languages. In fact, without vowels, we can’t pronounce almost any word. For instance, if you were asked to say these words: prnc, dg, fr, drnk, bnc, ls, what will you say? Nothing? Yes, they don’t pass as words because they don’t have vowels in them. This explains why I strongly say that the best definition of the vowel is “sound letter”. Vowels are sound letters and without them all words are mute. Vowels can make sounds in isolation, unlike consonants that can hardly make sounds on their own. What! Can we say anything without vowels?
How the Vowel Can be an Enemy
As important as vowels are, they distort the Spoken English of non-native speakers of English. Virtually all pronunciation problems of non-native speakers of English are linked to vowels and how they work in spoken English. Your spoken English can only get better when you understand how vowels work. Your knowledge of vowels will enhance your naturalness and fluency when you speak English.
How do vowels work in spoken English? They are either useful or useless; they are either friends or enemies. Let’s now discover how vowels work and help neutralize your accent.
How Vowels Work
As already established, vowels are sound letters. They give sound to consonants. No consonant can utter a sound without the aid of a vowel. Try these: Make the sound of letter b/b/. Did you say /bu/or /be/ or/bi/or…? Make the sound of letter d/d/. Did you say /du/or /de/ or/di/or…? Can you think of any consonant that has no tint of a vowel sound? It’s obvious that vowel sounds are heard even when we try as much as we can to silence or mute them. So whether you swallow or drop vowels in a given syllable of a word, we can always feel or hear their presence. Let’s try this simple exercise:
Bd. If you can say bd, then you should be able to say the part of cupboard where oar are dropped and we are left with bd. This tells us that cupboard is pronounced cubd. Please note that this does leave us with the conclusion that board is pronounced bd. All one-syllable words that are not auxiliary verbs, conjunctions, prepositions, articles, and pronouns are given full pronunciation—they are said clearly.
How Vowels Work (More Examples)
Let’s consider a broader example. Words ending: ment, ted, ful, and tion.
Ment is reduced to mnt in government, assignment, treatment, measurement, and argument. Can you say these words without the /e/ sound?
Ted as a name is pronounced as written but as a past time marker, ted is reduced to td. Aspirate the t and say the following d in wanted, seated, tempted, prompted, tested, rooted, and rated.
Ful is not an English word until we add a final l to it and make it full. Ful is fl in beautiful, successful, dreadful, harmful, shameful, skilful, joyful, gleeful, cheerful, graceful, needful and careful.
Tion is reduced to (shn). Ti is pronounced sh in partial and credential you reckon? Usually but not commonly, ti is pronounced as sh/ʃ/. So tion is shn/ʃn/ in nation, mention, tradition, correction, notion, inflation, relation, connection, induction, section, motion, and portion.
This explains why we can say faint syllables without vowel sounds and still recognise the word both in isolation and in company.
From the foregoing examples, we can say that vowels can deceive us completely if we don’t know and understand how they work. They can embarrass us more than our enemy would if we don’t drop them when we should and reduce their sound when necessary. Befriend vowels and they will make your spoken English more English. They will make your spoken English more natural and fluent.