Learn the most important English vowel sound the "schwa" that will improve your score on the TOEFL Speaking section!
The Speaking section of the TOEFL is all about . . . Speaking! Now, a lot of students worry that they won't get a good score because they don't sound like they speak perfect English.
But don't worry about that! There is no such thing as "perfect" English, so don't aim for "perfect" English. On the TOEFL, your goal should be to speak English confidently and fluidly so you can be understood.
OK, so how do you speak English that way? Well, for many students, the most confusing part of speaking English is the vowels. So let's talk about vowels.
As you might now, there are five (or six) vowels in English:
These are A, E, I, O, and U. And sometimes Y is considered a vowel too.
That's not that many vowels, right? But there are actually lots of different vowel sounds in English. That's because each vowel can be pronounced in lots of different ways. Think about the letter E. Sometimes it's pronounced as a "long" E, like in the word:
Beet. Sometimes it's pronounced as a "short" E, like in the word:
Bet. And sometimes it's not pronounced at all. It's silent, like in the word:
Bite. That's a lot of different sounds for just one letter. In fact, there are up to twenty different vowel sounds in spoken English. So it's not surprising that students worry about vowels.
But don't worry. There is one vowel sound that is much more common than any other vowel sound in English. If you master this sound, you will immediately improve your speech in English. And that will improve your TOEFL score!
So what is this sound? It's called the schwa sound. The what? . . . The schwa sound. You might not have heard that name before, but you've heard the sound many times.
So what does this sound like? It's a soft, relaxed sound, the kind of sound someone might make if they don't know the answer to a question. Like this: Uh . . . Listen to that again: Uh.
The schwa sound can be expressed by any vowel in English. It's the sound that's normally made by any vowel that is not stressed or emphasized. For example, consider the word:
Banana. In that word, both the first A and the last A are pronounced as a schwa. Listen again: Banana.
How about this word: Cotton. Listen to the second O in that word. It's a schwa too! Listen again: Cotton. Hear that uh sound?
Let's try one more: Elephant. In this word, the second and third vowels are both pronounced as a schwa. The second vowel is an E, and the third vowel is an A, but they both sound like this: Uh. Listen to that once more time: Elephant.
OK, great! Remember, the schwa sound is by far the most common vowel sound in English! So if you want to improve your English delivery quickly, practice your schwa! And, if you're not sure about the sound of a vowel in English, try pronouncing it as a schwa!
Here are three lessons we learned today:
First, don't worry about speaking perfect English. There's no such thing as perfect English. Just relax, be confident, and try to speak well enough to be understood. If you do that, you can get a great score on the TOEFL Speaking section!
Second, vowels are a crucial part of speaking English, and the most common vowel sound in English is by far the schwa sound, which sounds like this: Uh. So practice saying that schwa sound . . . And if you're not sure how to pronounce a vowel, try a schwa!
Third, everybody needs help on the TOEFL. So try the world's best TOEFL preparation course: PrepScholar TOEFL. Just visit toefl.prepscholar.com to find out more. Go ahead . . . try it now!