You are going to come across the sound “schwa” when you start learning English pronunciation. People always talk about how important it is. But what is it? You will learn what is schwa and how to pronounce it in this article and video.
Schwa is the most widely used vowel in American English.
English learners often have a hard time to understand and be able to pronounce it because other languages do not have this sound.
Schwa is the most neutral vowel in American English.
When you look at a vowel chart, you will notice schwa is placed in the middle of the chart. (I will talk about what a “Vowel Chart” is in another post.) There are two symbols. /ʌ/ is stressed schwa and /ə/ is unstressed schwa. They are both pronounced in the same way. The difference between the two is that the first one is stressed and the other one is not.
The vowel is pronounced in the middle of the mouth.
Close your mouth and just breathe. Your whole face should be relaxed. Open your mouth just slightly (as you see in the video) and pronounce the vowel from your diaphragm. It is really neutral. You do not move your mouth or tongue at all. Just open your mouth slightly, stay in that position and pronounce the vowel.
The words below have stressed schwa /ʌ/. The vowels that are underlined are schwa.
Hut, Cut, What
You may be able to guess these vowels above are schwa. But how about the words below? The words below have unstressed schwa /ə/. The vowels that are underlined are schwa.
Lemon, Favorite, Intonation
Were you surprised that some of the words had schwa in them, but you did not know they were schwa?
To ace American English pronunciation is to ace “schwa.” It is that important. Check the video embedded here and let me know how it goes. Comment below or on YouTube.
American English pronunciation coach. Studied linguistics at UCLA. Specializing in phonetics, phonology, intonation, and second language acquisition.
She likes music and Toastmasters. Recently she enjoys playing ukulele and hand bells.