Can you pronounce the difference between sell and sale or want and won’t? In today’s episode, we’re talking about how to effectively pronounce the 5 diphthongs of American English.
Hey everyone, it’s Hadar. And this is the InFluency Podcast, episode number 360. And today we are going to talk about the pronunciation of diphthongs in English.
Hey, hey everyone. Thank you so much for tuning in for another pronunciation episode here on the InFluency Podcast. I’m so happy that you’re here with me. And today we have another pronunciation lesson, and we are going to talk about something super important, and I actually don’t get to talk about it enough. And that is diphthongs, as you already know, by the name of this episode.
Diphthongs are changing vowels, are two different vowels within the same syllable. So basically you’re transitioning from one vowel to another. And I really like talking about it because some of the diphthongs are super easy for most people to pronounce, and others are super difficult.
And being able to pronounce them correctly doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it makes a huge difference. And this is why I love talking about it, because it’s the 20%, right? Putting a little bit of effort and getting a lot of ROI, return on investment. So you do hear a significant change when you pronounce diphthongs correctly.
This is why I wanted to make this episode extra special. And I also created for you a PDF with words, phrases, and sentences of each diphthong. There are five each diphthongs, so you can actually practice it and make a difference simply by listening to the audio, there is also an audio, and repeating after me.
So, once you listen to this episode, make sure to download the freebie and practice with a practice sheet. Practice it a few times and you will feel the difference. So I’m very, very happy about what’s to come for you. All right, let’s go ahead and listen to today’s episode.
Fine, light, buyer, boy, want, won’t, focus. .
Hey everyone, it’s Hadar. Thank you so much for joining me. Today we are going to talk about diphthongs. This is a pronunciation lesson about vowel sounds in English. Now, a diphthong is a vowel that changes within the syllable. A syllable is the smallest unit in the word. Like ‘rea-dy’ – two syllables; ‘a-bi-li-ty’ – four syllables; kite – one syllable.
And usually a syllable has one vowel in it, but there are different types of vowels. There are monophthongs, which is the more conventional vowel: /i/ as in ‘see’ and /æ/ as in ‘cat’. But there are also diphthongs, or diphthongs, vowels that change from one sound to another within the same syllable.
There are five key diphthongs in English: /eɪ/ as in ‘day’, /aɪ/ as in ‘my’, /oʊ/ as in ‘go’, /æʊ/ as in ‘now’, and /ɔɪ/ as in ‘toy’. I’m going to talk about these 5 diphthongs only. Some people consider the R vowels as diphthongs as well, like /ɪəɹ/, /ɛəɹ/, and so on. But I’m not going to talk about them right now. In fact, just recently I recorded an R Masterclass, and I talked about all those R vowels, or soft R’s, and I highly recommend for you to check it out if you want to improve your R in English. But for now, we are going to talk about diphthongs without the R sound.
So here’s the one thing you need to remember. Most of the people who struggle with diphthongs in English focus only on the first vowel, and they don’t bring their tongue to hit the next sound. And that causes you to either sound less clear, maybe mispronounce a word. So what you want to think about as we’re practicing these five diphthongs is to get to the next sound within the same syllable.
We’re going to start with the /eɪ/ as in ‘day’. Here we start with an /e/ sound, and then the tongue that is right here, the /e/ is a front vowel, rolls forward for the /ɪ/ as in ‘sit’. Now, in a diphthong, the second vowel is a little higher. So it’s not /ɪ/, so it’s closer to an /i/- /eɪ/.
Let’s look at the next few words: ‘day’, it’s not /de/ – /deɪ/. ‘way’, ‘say’. Let’s do it again. Imagine as if there is a ‘y’ sound at the end, and you want to get to that ‘y’ sound: /deɪ/, /weɪ/, especially if you tend to just stretch the first vowel – /de/, /se/. day, say.
Now let’s practice this diphthong when there is another syllable in the word: payment, /peɪ.mənt/, not /pe.mənt/ – /peɪ/, /eɪ/. Now, notice that it’s not two separate syllables. It’s not pay-ment. The word has two syllables – ‘pay’, ‘ment’, but there are two vowel sounds within the first syllable, the first unit – /peɪ/.
So, it’s a changing vowel. You keep moving your tongue as you pronounce this sound. Unlike other vowel sounds that it’s the same position throughout the entire pronunciation, the entire syllable. hat, boss, pay. See how my jaw moves? /eɪ/, payment. vacation. sale. Not ‘sell’, that’s a different word. sell – sale. bet – bait. men – main. So, if you can’t hear a difference between those words, make sure you move your tongue to get to the /ɪ/ sound before the last consonant. men – main.
And by the way, to make it easier on you and to help you implement everything that we learned here, I created a PDF for you with a few example words for each diphthong, some minimal pairs, confusing words, and an audio practice, so you can just hit play and practice along with me. It’s absolutely free. So I’m going to put the link in the description for you to practice along with me.
The next one is the /oʊ/ as in ‘go’. This one is one of my favorite vowel sounds to teach, because it really changes everything when you pronounce it correctly. It gives you a lot more clarity, it helps you be more specific with your pronunciation, and it doesn’t take much for you to change things up.
So the /oʊ/ as in ‘go’ starts with a back open /o/ sound, and then you round your lips for an /ʊ/ sound. Technically, it’s more of a lax /ʊ/, /oʊ/, but if you think of it as a W sound at the end, it makes things a whole lot easier. /oʊ/ as in ‘go’, ‘low’, ‘show’. This is American English. In British English, the first sound is actually a schwa- /əʊ/:, go, show, home.
But I will teach you now the /oʊ/ as we pronounce it in American English, so it’s more of an /o/ sound – /hoʊm/. So the sound is more in the back, the lips are a bit more rounded: lonely, hotel. So it’s not /hatɛl/, not an /a/ sound, not /o/ – /hotɛl/. /hoʊ/. /hoʊtɛl/. ‘only’. I know you want to say /anli/ or /onli/, but get to the W sound, that’s the secret of the diphthongs. /oʊ/, /oʊnli/.
‘won’t’. I always talk about this word, because if you don’t get to the W sound, if you don’t pronounce the diphthong, it’s going to sound like ‘want’. want – won’t. want – won’t. focus: /oʊ/, /foʊkəs/. portfolio, portfolio, /foʊ/, /foʊlioʊ/.
The next one is the /æʊ/ as in ‘now’. Now, this diphthong is pronounced slightly differently in American English than in British English. In British English, it’s going to be pronounced more with an open /a/ sound: /naʊ/, /haʊ/ – /a/, so you start with an /a/ sound and then go to an /ʊ/ sound.
But in American English, and this is really interesting, the starting vowel sound sounds more like the /æ/ – a sound associated with the letter A: /æʊ/ as in ‘cat’. Listen: not /naʊ/, but /næ/, /næʊ/. Nat, Natalie, now. down: /dæ/, /dæʊn/. /hæ/, /hæʊ/. ‘how now brown cow’. And notice how we have to transition from the /æ/ to the /ʊ/, right, get to the /ʊ/ sound. ‘how now brown cow’. loud, thousand, pronounce. Very good.
The next diphthong is /aɪ/ as in ‘my’. Here you drop your jaw for an /a/ sound, that’s a front vowel. And then your tongue rolls up and moves forward for the /ɪ/. high, why. Make sure your jaw is really relaxed here. fine, light, hide, bite. If you don’t get to the /ɪ/ sound, it might sound like ‘but’. but – bite. hut – height. height, light, buyer, hiding, slightly. Good.
The last diphthong for today is the /ɔɪ/ as in ‘toy’. Here we start with an /ɔ/ sound, the lips are a bit rounded. Generally, you won’t hear in American English this sound pronounced in isolation, usually it’s a bit more open. You don’t hear /ɔ/, but you do hear it within the /ɔɪ/ diphthong. Let’s practice it together. Here we’re shifting from the /ɔ/ to the /ɪ/. toy, coin, boy, poison. So, drop your jaw here, round your lips, and make sure your tongue constantly moves until you get to the /ɪ/ sound, that’s the end of the syllable.
All right. To practice more, I highly recommend that you download the PDF that I’ve created for you with all five diphthongs, words, and a few phrases, and also an audio recording that you can practice along with. You can just hit play and repeat after me.
When you learn a new sound, it’s not enough to understand it, it’s not enough to be able to pronounce it correctly – you have to repeat it again and again and again until you make it your own, until you build a new speaking habit. Otherwise, you are always going to go back to your old pronunciation, the way you’re used to pronouncing it from when you started learning English or the way you usually pronounce it in your first language.
There are a lot of old habits that we bring into English, and that’s perfectly normal. But if we want to create a new habit, meaning to acquire and start using a new sound, we have to repeat it intentionally. And this is why I created this practice for you for free.
Now, after you do that, you can practice speaking freely to yourself while thinking about these sounds and while trying to use them intentionally. And once you do, let me know in the comments how it is going for you.
All right. I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you so much for being here and for practicing with me. I hope this was helpful and helped you understand better the diphthongs in English. For more resources and free lessons, go to hadarshemesh.com because everything I create there is designed to help you feel confident, clear, and free in English.
Have a beautiful, beautiful rest of the day. And I will see you next week in the next video. Bye.
Diphthongs are a combination of two vowels in one syllable. There are five diphthongs in American English:
- /eɪ/ as in ‘day’
- /oʊ/ as in ‘go’
- /æʊ/ as in ‘now’
- /ɔɪ/ as in ‘toy’
- /aɪ/ as in ‘my’