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Let’s Learn English Pronunciation : Letter A

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I have been planning to introduce English Pronunciation Guide in this blog site for a long long time, finally I’m inspired to go ahead after seeing misual.com user Perek’s post on the same topic. Thanks to perek for his/her concern for the net users.

This guide will focus on correcting and helping Zo hnathlak (Northeast Indians) to pronounce every English word correctly. The different pronunciation of Queen’s English (British) and International (American) English will also be highlighted from time to time. The study of the physical sounds of human speech is called Phonetics (from the Greek φωνή (phonê) “sound” or “voice”. Each sound ‘pheneme’ must be clear for hearers to understand what you utter (speak). There is no way to match every English sound with our native languages. That will lead us to more problem. Let’s see how we can deal with it.

The English letter ‘a’ produces the following sounds, they are:

1). æ – a sound as in apple, have, pattern, pat, cat, fat, lack, affluent, man, anti-, thrash, etc – This a sound is not too short nor too long. When you compare with the others, you will understand more.

So, try to produce the same sound a for apple and have… We tend to pronounce Apple as Epple and have as haf. Just remember to pronounce it as half of a & e. If you find difficult to pronounce with some words, try with the easiest one like Cæt, Bæt or æpple and pronounce them again. Drop your jaw to produce this sound.

Most dictionaries use æ for this sound, but answers.com use ă sign for this sound. The sound are the same.

2). a: – long ‘a’ sound - a: as in father, after, march, fart, bark, park, lark, bar, mark, etc. We are pretty good at pronouncing this long a: sound. It is similar to our first letter a but the sound will be a little longer. To produce a good sound you need to open wide your mouth. Notice whenever a is followed by r, a tend to take this long a: sound though it is not always the case.

Most dictionaries use this long a sound as ä – a with double dot above or a: – a followed by colon.
So the pronunciation will be : fä’THər or fa:’THər

3). ā – ei sound as in taken, paid, fade, gate, Kate, etc – this sound is not as long as the a: sound but it is definitely a little longer than æ sound. I guess we are very good at producing this sound. Since it is a dipthong sound, it should be a little longer than sound like æ.

4). ə Schwa (pronounced as Shwa) – Phonetically this is given a particular name called ‘Schwa’. This is one of the most problematic sounds for us. If you can procude this sound as it is supposed to be, you are almost done with 20% of a good English pronunciation.

This sound is the shortest one, sometimes it is almost unheard.

Eg. above – əbove, produce the same sound ə for affair, aloud, afar, appease, alike, allude, etc.

When a word begins with letter a, one must know which a sound it is going to take. This is very important. There can be no a:bove sound, it is əbove. You must clearly distinguish this sound from the first three sounds produced by the letter a.

Misual.com user Perek dilemma of trying to tell us the correct sound of a in land (Maryland) is actually is a schwa – ə. So, it will sound like this Marylənd. It is not lind nor lænd, it is lənd, quite close to lind but a native speaker cannot understand you if you try to produce lind sound. It should be lənd sound. Americans pronounce it as merələnd. Notice that ‘ry’ too is pronounced as R and a Schwa – rə. Here it from Answers.com

Other English speakers may tend to pronounce it as meri-lənd or meri-lænd (though acceptable but not very good).

Some other letters like ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘u’, ‘o’ and ‘y’ are also pronounced as a schwa sound like this, we will deal with them one by one in our next post.

Letter ‘a’ also gives – e (English) i(Mizo/Mara) sound as in passage (pæs.idz), message (mes.idz), etc. This is however, very easy to spot. This sound is attained mainly due to the influence of the following letters g and e. Therefore, it is not classed under the points mentioned above.

Special words? : Adidas has two different pronunciations – BE ædidəs or ædidəs and AmE – ə’di:dəs. There are many words pronounced as æ and ə in BE and AmE respectively and vice versa.

Note: Letter ‘a’ in combination with y – ay, i – ai, u – au, o – ao, etc produced diphthong sounds, they will be dealt separately.

Q. Why a letter ‘a’ gives different sounds in English?
Ans : English is a non-phonetic language, what is spoken and written are not corresponding to each other. Therefore, one must know how the same letter may sound differently in different words. Hindi is a phonetic language. In Hindi letter ‘a’ will always sound the same wherever you place in a word. Mizo and Mara too are a good example of a phonetic languages.

Q. What is the main difference between Queen’s British English and American International English?
Ans : There are many factors. The most visible differences are:
1. Queen’s English is a non-rhotic language whereas American English is a Rhotic language. R sound is silent as a suffix, instead of the r sound it will simply prolong(sound longer) the sound without eventually producing r sound, while American English will produce r sound at the end.
Eg. Water – BE – wôtə:, AmE – wô’tər – (note some US will also use a flap t, meaning it will sound more like wô’-ər – t sound diminishes in this case. It aslso depends where you are in the States).

2. They used different names for certain things.
Eg. BE – petrol, AmE – gas, etc.

In AmE o sounds like a long a: sound as in hot – BE hawt and AmE ha:t, body as BE – bawdi:, AmE – ba:di:

I will post up more on this as well.

Recommended:
1. Free Online English Dictionary (American) : www.answers.com

2. Book: Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary by Daniel Jones. It comes with CD, spoken pronunciation for every word – British and American English are both included in one book and CD.

Price: Rs.350* (approx.)

Note: If you have any better way to improve the above guide do let me know. I welcome all suggestions and inputs. We will deal with intonation and others later.
Disclaimer: The above post is subjected to change at anytime.

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7 Responses to “Let’s Learn English Pronunciation : Letter A”

  1. 1
    Gopal Sharma Says:

    Help me for bgeter English

  2. 2
    Stanley Ravi Says:

    Great work and nice website. Can you please let me know how many pronunciations are there for the letter ‘A’ when we use these words:

    aeroplane or air

    about, arrange

    ask, after

    August, all

    April, apron

    Apple, arrow

  3. 3
    Justin Chastain Says:

    Thanks… well done. I didn’t see any mention to the use of the letter A as it stands alone in a sentence, and its correct pronunciation. I am American, born and raised, but as of late, I have been told that A is not to be pronounced as it sounds in the word ‘late’. For example, “The voice is the instrument that make you a complete performer.” I feel the need to pronounce the A as it is sounds in ‘late’. But I am told that the A alone is always to be pronounce a the sound ‘uh’ or as in ‘dumb’. I feel the need to use both sounds at different times. Usually I use the ‘late’ sounding A just before a descriptive word, like and adjective. Do you have any thoughts on this? Thanks

  4. 4
    mario gutierrez Says:

    want to know the sound of letter @. for example is it:
    1. I am a (aaahhhh) doctor.// os is it:
    2- I am a (eei) doctor,//?????????????????

  5. 5
    K Says:

    The “proper” way to pronounce the indefinite article is technically “uh” (except when emphasizing singleness) but as with many languages speaking “proper” English just sounds unnatural and makes you sound like a foreigner. People who write grammar books may try to fight it, but language is a living thing, the right way to speak a language is to mimic the people you are speaking with.

  6. 6
    stephen daisy Says:

    The word “procude” is that a misspelling of “proclude” which is not a word either. Very thorough presentation of the letter “a.”

  7. 7
    stephen daisy Says:

    The word “procude” is not a word nor a misspelling of “proclude” which is not a word either. Excellent explanation of the letter “a”, though.

    I did not write my address correctly and so am sending the message again.

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