Are You Saying These Words WRONG? How to Pronounce Double Vowels in English

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

Many of my students make pronunciation mistakes with these words because they try to pronounce vowel sounds for each vowel letter in the word – but this is incorrect! (I’m talking about words like fuel, cousin & building!)

Practise pronouncing these common & useful English words correctly with me… Are you ready?

Video Transcript
Section 1
Well hey there! I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! This is an English pronunciation lesson and we’re going to be talking about some extremely common words that are often mispronounced by English learners. Words like these ones:

  • fuel
  • building
  • touch
  • various
  • information

Now do you notice anything about these words that’s similar? What do they have in common? Apart from the fact that they’re all a little tricky to pronounce. They’ve all got two vowels together in the word, right? It does make them a little tricky to pronounce. And this is quite common in English, right? There are many words just like this that are spelt with two vowels together.

Now sometimes they’re pronounced as separate syllables like in the word ‘liar’. Sometimes they’re pronounced as just one vowel sound like ‘deal’. And sometimes one of them is silent like in the word ‘moreover’. It’s pretty annoying, huh?

So by the end of this lesson, you’re going to be able to pronounce literally thousands of English words correctly, clearly and naturally just like a native speaker would. So stay tuned!

Vowels are one of the most challenging, possibly the most challenging part of English pronunciation. There are just five vowel letters but there are up to twenty different vowel sounds. Now English is not phonetic so the letter that you see is not always pronounced in the same way and this is especially true for vowels.

One of my subscribers in a previous video suggested that: “Do you know what? Maybe we should just scratch the English alphabet altogether and replace it with the symbols of the IPA?”

It’s not a bad idea at all. At least we would all know how to pronounce English words, right?

Now I’m a huge fan of the IPA, the international phonetic alphabet. It’s one of the best tools that you have to study and improve your pronunciation. Actually, I’ve got some lessons about it right here so we can go through step by step how to use it. And I’ve also added a few links into the description box below to help you improve your pronunciation using the IPA to help you sound more natural when you speak in English.

Today I want to keep things simple, we’re going to go over five common pronunciation mistakes with vowels that as an English teacher, I hear a lot from my students. And I’m quite curious to note if these are the same kinds of mistakes that you make as well.

So we’ll focus on words with double vowels and how to pronounce them correctly.

Let’s start with this one here.

1. fuel

Do you know how to pronounce this word correctly? It’s an easy one to mispronounce. Just by looking at it, you might sort of think it would be something like: But the correct pronunciation is ‘fuel’.

Now notice that when this word is spoken, we actually add a consonant sound, the sound. Like the word ‘you’ with a at the front of it. Actually, quite like this word (few). Then we just need to add an L. Now when native speakers say this word they push these vowel letters together into just one sound. There’s just one syllable. So say it with me.

We need to get some fuel on the way to the supermarket.

Now there are some minor variations depending on the native English accent that you’ll hear but ‘fuel’ is very standard. The words ‘dual’ and ‘cruel’ have the same vowel letters and also the same vowel sound. They’re pronounced in the same way with just one syllable.

2. building

Now you’ll see UI in all kinds of words, right? UI can be pronounced in a lot of different ways in English. These all have the same combination of letters, right? You can see that there are different vowel sounds used for all of these different words despite the fact that they all use the same letters.

Today we’re really going to focus on words that have UI in them but they are pronounced with a short sound. Like ‘building’. So notice that you can’t hear the U right? It’s silent.

Now this can actually be quite a challenge for native French speakers. In the word build, built, building, builder, in all of them, the U is silent. It’s the vowel sound, the short. To make that sound, all you need to do is drop your jaw a little, open your mouth.

The builder built a building by the school.

Now let’s check out a couple of other examples because it’s quite common to see UI in English words but to only hear the short sound pronounced. Like in:

  • circuit
  • biscuit
  • guilty
  • guitar

So try repeating each of those words with me out loud. Ready?

3. touch

Now the OU in this word looks like it should probably be pronounced like in the word ‘couch’ or ‘doubt’ perhaps. But listen to the pronunciation because the vowel sound is different. So ‘touch’ is pronounced with an vowel sound, not the vowel sound. It’s as in ‘up’. Gosh English is annoying! Try repeating it after me!

See how my mouth moves to make that sound. Compare it to. It’s a completely different movement.

Let’s touch base later this week.

So OU here is pronounced in ‘touch’. It’s not always pronounced this way but there are a lot of other words that have this same pronunciation like:

  • cousin
  • double
  • trouble

Practise with me but try not to let your eyes fool you when you look at these words. In fact, close your eyes. It’s a little easier, just listen to the sound that I’m making and repeat it at home.

Now if you’re a Spanish speaker or a Portuguese speaker or in your language you’re used to pronouncing every letter that you see, then it can be a little tough to break the habit. It’s difficult to break bad habits with pronunciation because often you don’t realise that you’re making them, right?

So if you want to improve your pronunciation, I’d really recommend getting some help from a native English speaker or teacher if you can. Ask a colleague, find a tutor or sign up to some online classes with Lingoda. They’ve got English teachers from the UK and the US, all native speakers. And if you want to find out which sounds you need to improve and how to improve them, this is a really great place to start because classes are really affordable so you can do a few of them over a few weeks and get continual feedback to help you improve.

Now the next two examples are really common. They’re going to help you to pronounce literally thousands of English words correctly so make sure you don’t go anywhere.

4. various

Alright, this little pronunciation trick is going to help you to pronounce many, many, English words naturally, just as a native English speaker does and it’s actually much easier than you think. This word has three syllables.

So listen to the sound that that final syllable makes. It’s short and it’s low in pitch. The schwa sound. If you’ve watched this pronunciation lesson right here, you’ll know that unstressed syllables often reduce down to the schwa sound.

Your eyes might be expecting those vowel letters to produce a sound like the one in ‘mouse’. But the vowel sounds are incorrect here. If you look in a dictionary, you look at the IPA symbols, it will tell you the correct pronunciation.

That final syllable is very flat and low in pitch. Now there’s many, many words in English that end in -ous and you can use these same pronunciation rules for all of these words too.

  • serious
  • nervous
  • obvious
  • previous
  • curious
  • delicious
  • cautious

There are just so many of them, right? See what I mean? The ending is really, really common and it’s almost always pronounced exactly like this unstressed. Let’s try saying all those words again together, so follow after me.

Now actually there’s another double vowel combination there that doesn’t really sound how it looks: cautious and delicious.

5. information

So how do you pronounce this word? There’s a couple of things about this word that make it tricky but I’m not specifically talking about only this word here, I’m talking about all words that end in -tion and there are thousands of English words that end this way.

So just like in the last example, the final syllable reduces down to become a schwa. Now my Brazilian students, I’m looking at you, this is not to be pronounced. It’s just one syllable and it’s always unstressed. So it uses the schwa. It’s short and it’s low in pitch.

Close your eyes and just listen to the sound. So see how little movement there is in my mouth when I make this sound?

Alright let’s try this whole word at natural pace.

Now another handy tip about all words ending in -tion is the syllable before -tion is usually the stressed syllable. How many other words can you think of that end in -tion? Add them to the comments below, I want to see how many of these words we can get down there to help us practise. They all follow the same rules and actually, I’ve got a whole lesson that’s completely dedicated to words that end in -tion right up there. And I also talk a little bit about -sion and -cian as well because a similar set of pronunciation rules apply. The IO or the IA reduces down to the schwa. Can you think of any others?

Alright it’s time to be open and honest now. Were any of those words difficult for you? Or did you realise perhaps that you’ve been pronouncing some of them slightly incorrectly? It’s likely that you don’t mispronounce all of them but there were probably a couple in there that you need to work on, right?

If you enjoyed this lesson, make sure you subscribe just down there and come and find me on Facebook and Instagram as well. And tell me, are there any other words that always trip you up and get you tongue-tied? Let me know in the comments and I’ll try and make a lesson to help you.

There are plenty of mmmEnglish lessons to help you practise and improve your pronunciation, like here, and your natural English expression. Plenty to keep you busy, right? I’ll see you in the next lesson. 

Links mentioned in the video

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