Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The SCHWA Sound! English Pronunciation Lesson

Difficulty: 0

Well hey there! I'm Emma from mmmEnglish!

This lesson is all about the schwa.

Now it's just one of the many English sounds

but it's one of the most important ones

that you need to understand and use.

Particularly if you want to sound more natural

when you're speaking English. So stay tuned!

There are forty-four sounds in English.

Some say forty-five.

So you might be wondering why is this sound

in particular, the schwa, so important?

Well firstly it's the most common sound

in the English language by far.

It occurs the most frequently.

And that's why it's got its own special name, the schwa.

Another thing that's weird is that there is no

schwa sound in the name schwa

so it's not really helpful for remembering it.

But it's also one of the trickiest sounds to understand

because any vowel letter

or combination of vowel letters

could actually be pronounced as a schwa.

Because English is not a phonetic language right?

You can't see this sound written in English.

I mean we all know that English spelling is

rarely a good guide to improve your pronunciation, right?

But the schwa occurs so much in spoken English

and it looks completely different every time.

All of these words

include the schwa sound in them when they're spoken

and learning to use this sound correctly

is really important. It's going to help you

to sound more natural, relaxed and more fluent

when you speak English,

more like a native English speaker.

So if you're trying to reduce your accent

and to improve your pronunciation, then this sound

is a great place to start.

So what does it sound like?

The schwa sound is a lazy sound.

It's actually my favourite sound of all the English sounds

it's my Friday afternoon sound.

You know when you're winding down after a long week

and you're probably already thinking about the weekend

and you can't really be bothered doing much else?

So that's how the schwa sounds.

But how is it written?

What letters should you look for?

Well that's quite tricky because all of the vowel letters

can be pronounced as a schwa in spoken English.

All of these words have the schwa sound

but they're represented by a different vowel letter

each time.

For such a lazy sound, it sure does

show up in a lot of different places.

And since the schwa sound can be represented by

any of the vowel letters,

sometimes by consonant letters

and sometimes by no letter at all!

Being able to recognise the international phonetic

symbol for this sound will help you to see

when it occurs.

And that schwa symbol is this one.

Now the schwa sound is always unstressed.

It's the only vowel sound that is never stressed

so you need to just relax, just be like the schwa.

Relax and take it easy, it's Friday afternoon.

So to make this sound, first you need to relax everything

This is a really relaxed sound okay? Check your lips,

your jaw, your neck, everything needs to be relaxed.

Drop the jaw slightly and open your mouth.

But keep everything relaxed.

Remember, this is the lazy sound.

Keeping that in mind, let's try it together.

It's very, very relaxed.

Make sure that you're doing this with me

so if you need to find a place that's quiet on your own,

go for it.

It's a guttural sound so you should feel it coming from

a little deeper. And with all unstressed vowel sounds,

the sound is really fast

and it's also low in pitch, it's quite flat.

You should feel it here and it should be flat.

So why is the schwa sound so common in English?

Let's start from the basics. English has rhythm.

It's made up of stressed and unstressed sounds

and words.

The stress plays an important part in understanding

natural spoken English.

Without stress, you'd sound like an English robot

and it would be better if you were not a robot.

When words or syllables are unstressed in English,

the sound is reduced and the vowel letter is often

reduced to a schwa sound.

In English, words with more than one syllable

have one main stress

and other syllables are often unstressed

and they often reduce to the schwa sound.

Can you hear the schwa sound in the

unstressed syllable there?

Let's look at another example together.

Now some of those syllables were longer than others

weren't they?

And that's because the important words in the sentence

were stressed.

The less important words are unstressed and this helps

the brain to focus on the important ones, right?

The words that you need to understand to

to make sense of it.

But it's difficult to know when to use this sound

and if you're not really into the IPA script,

then you need to rely on your ears to identify it.

Imitating a native speaker, copying their pronunciation

is a really great way to practise the schwa sound


And actually, I've got an imitation lesson

that you can try right here.

In it, I'll train you to imitate me while I'm speaking.

So the lazy schwa sound, it's not too difficult

on its own, but recognising it in other English words is.

To help us practise today, you'll need to take out

a pen and some paper because I'm about to tell you

some of the many different places that you can

find the schwa sound.

Now you can often find the schwa sound in unstressed

structure words.

So structure words are grammatical words

in English sentences.

They make the sentence grammatically correct

but they don't really have much meaning.

Words like articles





There's lots and lots of different words that are

structure words in English sentences.

Really common ones.

When these words are stressed, you'll hear a stronger

vowel sound.

But when these words are unstressed and spoken

naturally in a sentence,

they often reduce right down to the schwa sound.

Now there are tons of schwas hiding in those

unstressed structure words.

But also a couple of schwas in the

unstressed syllables as well.

Okay, so what's next?

We'll look at this list of words.

What do all of these words have in common?

Can you tell?

Apart from the fact that they all start with the letter A,

what else?

The first syllable is unstressed.

Now these words all start with the schwa sound.

This test is a little harder.

What about this group of words?

What do they have in common?

Make sure you're listening carefully.

Now the schwa sound is

somewhere in the middle of all of these words.

How about

Now there's no letter in there

that shows there should be a vowel sound

but we can hear it.

So if the schwa sound comes at the start of a word,

the middle of a word, well there must be

some words that end in a schwa, right?


for example

but also

This is where it gets interesting!

Firstly, look at all of the different endings here.

They all make the same schwa sound

at the end of the word.

But the second reason why this is interesting is because

this right here is where American accents differ from

most Australian and British accents quite significantly.

Most of you already know that I'm Australian

and because of this, I use the schwa sound quite a bit

more than my American friends.

In Australian English pronunciation, usually the -ER

at the end of a word will be unstressed.

The sound is not pronounced at the end.

So in my accent, these words all end in a schwa sound

and there are many, many, many, many words

that are just like this. These are just a few.

They end in -ER but they also have these other endings.

So to pronounce them like me, you really need to

focus on relaxing that sound at the end,

that last syllable.

Okay here's a challenge.

Where are all of the schwas there?

You got it! Those are schwa sounds as well.

The schwa sound creates reduced forms

when English is spoken naturally

so 'going to' becomes 'gonna'

'want to' becomes 'wanna'

'got to' becomes 'gonna'

'should have' becomes 'shoulda'

So there are so many more examples for this. In fact,

I'm going to save them for another lesson

because I could go on forever

but yes the schwa sound is everywhere in English.

It's the sound that you need to know,

that you need to get comfortable with using.

So at the very least, you should be able to recognise

this symbol so that you can use unstressed syllables

and it will help you to pronounce words correctly

when you see them in the dictionary like these ones.

They all have the schwa sound in there

and you can see it.

Now time for the bonus section!

I'm glad you waited all the way until this point

in the lesson,

I promised you that if you stuck around

until the end of the lesson,

you'd get some extra pronunciation practice with me.

Are you ready?

Let's go!

Hi, Emma!


Hey great lesson today with the schwa sound!

Thanks! Did you like it?

Yeah it was awesome.

Do you think you could give us a few more examples

to practise with?

Like maybe, what if you say a sentence

and we'll try and guess where the schwa sounds are.


Are you feeling better today?

Am I feeling better today?

Hang on, is that one of the questions?

Yeah, are you feeling better today?

Yeah, actually can you put the words on the screen

so we can see them?

Okay. Here.

How many schwa sounds

can you hear in that sentence?

Say it with me, out loud.

There's quite a few.


Got it!

Ready for another one?


Do you want a piece of banana cake?


Good because that's what I'm making.

How many schwa sounds are there?

Nice one!

Okay are you ready for another?


This knife... where's the knife that I'm looking for?

Where are the schwas?

Say it with me.

Alright, one more.

Okay I've got a tricky one for you!


There's quite a few schwas there.

Okay, is that enough?

Yeah that's enough, thanks.

That was great!

Okay good because I've got to get

this cake into the oven.

I'll leave that one there for you.

If you enjoyed that bonus practice session,

then let me know.

I'm trying something new here at mmmEnglish

and I'd love to hear your feedback.

Let me know in the comments

or hit the subscribe button right there.

If you want to keep practising with me, then check out

these two lessons right here.

I'll see you in the next one!

The Description of The SCHWA Sound! English Pronunciation Lesson