Accent Reduction For Professionals (2015)

Chapter 7: Discovering Diphthongs




You say you’ve never heard of the word ”diphthong” before? No problem.


Many native speakers have no idea what a diphthong is even though they use them every day. Probably many times throughout the day, in fact. The fact is that it’s difficult to speak the English language without using diphthongs.


A diphthong is a single vowel sound that are composed of more than one vowel. It really is much easier to understand than you’re thinking at this moment. This sound begins as one vowel sound and moves toward the next sound. When they’re pronounced they are enunciated as one sound. Take the words coin for example. Your mouth begins as an “o” but as you form the “i” sound, it’s pronounced as “oy.”


Loud is also a good example of a diphthong. It, too, starts with an “o” sound, but then merges with the “u” to produce an “ow” sound that rhymes with “wow.”


These two pronunciations stand in contrast to two vowels standing together in a word which retain their distinct vowel sounds. Words with these sounds are called monophthongs. The words violin, triage and chaos fall into this category. Notice that not only are the vowels are pronounced separately, but they also are split into separate syllables.


A Difference you can Feel


If you’re unsure how you’re pronouncing them, there is, believe it or not, a method you can use to test yourself. Place your index finger on both sides of your mouth. Next, say the short vowel sound of “a” (pronounced “ah”). Your fingers shouldn’t move. Nothing happens. Why? Your fingers are motionless, because your mouth doesn’t move during this. You’ll discover this is the case with most of the vowel sounds.


This same test ends with different results when you pronounce the “oy,” and “ow” sounds. When you place one index finger on each side of your mouth and make those sounds, your mouth should move. In effect, your mouth moves from making the first vowel sound to the next to create this sound.


Curiously (and I certainly don’t mention this to confuse you), there are two other vowel sounds with actually pass the diphthong test. They aren’t vowel consonants, but free-standing vowels: the long “i” and “a” sounds. If you place your index fingers on the side of your mouth, you’ll discover that your mouth moves – because they are composed of two distinct sounds. Most linguists recognize these as diphthongs. Most reading teachers do not.


Here are a few of words that are pronounced as one sound, blending one vowel sound flawlessly into the other. This short list shows you the diphthong that is pronounced in the words, how and wow.


These include: cow, allow, owl, down, clown, drown, browser, browse, powder, proud, cloud, doubt, foul, noun, south, mouth, couch, found, around, amount, mountain, bounce, allowing, plowing, towel, bowel, hour, sour, flour.


The other diphthong we’ve mentioned is the “oy” sound as in the word boy. You’ll discover that there are many words with these sound, some with different spellings. Here is a partial list -- and I do mean only a partial list: noise, voice, avoid, poison, join, point, foil, oil, spoil, exploit, toy, toying, annoy, employ, employing, employer oyster, destroyer.


Have I filled your head with enough rules and regulations – and exemptions to those same rules and regulations? Are you ready to say, “Enough!”


I have to admit you have enough material to master to take you along your journey to sounding like a native English speaker. In the following chapter, I’m ready to show you how to put it all together. Go ahead! Take a deep breath before you go there. You deserve at least that.