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American Vowel System. ENG 115 Prof. K. Horowitz. INDEX. Objectives Introduction What is a Vowel? The Vowel Chart Vowel Chart Diagram Front Vowel Definition Try Your Luck! Practice Exercises Useful Links. Objectives.

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American Vowel System

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American vowel system

American Vowel System

ENG 115

Prof. K. Horowitz



  • Objectives

  • Introduction

  • What is a Vowel?

  • The Vowel Chart

  • Vowel Chart Diagram

  • Front Vowel Definition

  • Try Your Luck!

  • Practice Exercises

  • Useful Links



This module is designed to familiarize second language students with the vowel system of American English, which is the most common variation of the language encountered by Puerto Ricans.



  • The English language is much more complicated than Spanish when it comes to vowels. In all, there are twelve vowel sounds in English, along with three diphthongs. That’s almost three times as many vowels as Spanish! No wonder Puerto Rican language learners have such a tough time!

What is a vowel

A vowel, also known as a monothong, is a sound produced in the mouth with no air obstruction. That is, there is nothing blocking the flow of air from the lungs out through the mouth.

What is a vowel?

American vowel system

  • If you try saying aaaaa, iiiii, uuuuu, eeeeee, oooooo to yourself you should be able to feel that, although your tongue moves about your mouth, it never actually obstructs the airflow. You should also be able to feel that the position of the tongue changes for each of those vowels.

American vowel system

  • English has more than twice as many vowels as Spanish does, and this makes learning pronunciation harder for Spanish-speaking students. Spanish native speakers trying to learn English often have trouble pronouncing words due to the fact that most of the vowels present do not exist in their own language.

The vowel chart

The Vowel Chart

  • The vowel chart shows where sounds are produced in the mouth, and is divided into sections, both horizontally and vertically. The chart is designed to show where each vowel sound is produced in the mouth, via movement of the tongue. Horizontally, sounds move from the front to the back of the mouth. Vertically, they move from the top of the mouth to the bottom. For this reason, vowels are labeled as front, central, or back.

American vowel system

  • You will notice that there are vowels labeled as lax and tense. They are also called short and long. This refers to whether or not the pronunciation of the sound is prolonged. See the difference, for example, between [i] and [I]. [i] is a tense vowel, as its pronunciation

  • is several seconds long (EX: sweet). In a word such as sit, however, the vowel sound [I] is significantly shorter, thus it is lax.

Front vowels

Front vowels are pronounced using the front of the mouth. There are five: [i], [I], [e], [ε], and [æ].

[i] is the same as in Spanish.

EX: Sweet, fui.

[I] is shorter in pronunciation.

EX: Si t, fi ll.

Front Vowels

American vowel system

  • [e] is pronounced “ey”

    • EX: Name, rey

  • [ε] is shorter, and is pronounced “ej”

    • EX: Be t, ve te

  • [æ] is a unique sound.

    • EX: Fa t, ba nd

Try your luck

Try Your Luck!

  • Let’s try some single exercises and see if we can identify the front vowel sound!

  • Bill




American vowel system

  • Here’s another one!

  • man

  • Now let’s try some more exercises!




Practice exercises

Practice Exercises

  • Correctly identify the front vowel sound in the following words.

  • A.B.

  • 1. wet _____1. glad _____

  • 2. pit _____2. ill _____

  • 3. pen _____3. knit _____

  • 4. lake _____4. aim _____

  • 5. wait _____5. bread _____

  • 6. ham _____6. heel _____

  • 7. lift _____7. made _____

  • 8. feet _____8. rain _____

  • 9. left _____9. green _____

  • 10. men _____10. fan _____

Useful links

Useful Links

  • Here are some sites on the Internet that can help you with these exercises, as well as those done in class.

  • University of Iowa: A site with an excellent area devoted to vowel and consonant sounds. Click on "launch English library."

  • Easton’s American English Pronunciation: A great site with plenty of information about vowel and consonant pronunciation, as well as some great practice exercises.

American vowel system

  • Tim’s ESL Site: Raritan Valley Community College Phonetic practice page.

  • The online language library.

  • American English Vowels: Michigan State University site with exercises.

American vowel system

  • Great Job!

  • Look for Module #2: Mid Vowels.



Incorrect try again

Incorrect! Try Again!

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