What sound do native English speakers make when hesitating? The answer to that question is a key to correctly pronouncing 1000s of English words, such as ‘earth’, ‘work’, ‘her’, ‘stir’ and ‘fur’. (If you don’t know the answer to this question, you can find out by watching this video).
er / uh / əː
In the International Phonetic Alphabet the sound we make when hesitating is represented by the symbol əː. In written dialogue this exclamation can be spelt ‘er’, or ‘uh’. It's even in the dictionary:
expressing hesitation: ‘Would you like some tea?’ ‘Er … yes … thank you.’
Why is this Important?
Understanding how to hesitate ‘correctly’ is important for one obvious reason: if you want more like a native, you need to make the sounds that natives make. But there’s another, less obvious, reason why this is important.
You see, the sound əː isn’t just the sound we make when hesitating; it is also one of the vowel sounds of English, and is used in the pronunciation of 1000s of words. So, if you know how to hesitate like a native English speaker, then you have the key to pronouncing every word that uses this vowel sound.
For example, the words ‘earth’, ‘work’ ‘stir’, ‘her’, ‘fur’, ‘learn’, ‘word’, ‘dirt’, ‘perk’ and ‘turn’ are all pronounced using the vowel sound əː.
the sound əː isn’t just the sound we make when hesitating; it is also one of the vowel sounds of English, and is used in the pronunciation of 1000s of words
So, there are two lessons here. Firstly, if you are a less advanced student of English, and you have the bad habit of hesitating ‘incorrectly’, then you should try to break that habit and hesitate like a native English speaker. This won’t be easy because it’s something we do unconsciously, but it’s important that you try.
Secondly, if you are a more advanced student, and you have already acquired the good habit of hesitating like a native English speaker, then you should try to make the same sound when saying words such as earth, work, stir, curve and her.
If you’re really advanced, then try to understand that the vowel sound əː is also used in words such as ‘home’, ‘roam’, ‘though’ and ‘grow’. These words all use the diphthong əʊ. A diphthong is a double vowel – it’s two vowel sounds stuck together in one syllable – and the first of the two vowel sounds that make the əʊ diphthong is the sound əː. (If you don't believe me, watch this video.)
if you are a more advanced student, and you have already acquired the good habit of hesitating like a native English speaker, then you should try to make the same sound when saying words such as earth, work, stir, curve and her
That's all for today. Thanks for reading.
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