How Vowels Work #1 – What Is A Vowel?

British Accent Training - LettersWelcome to this British Accent Training series on how vowels work. A wrong vowel can give away your accent completely, but often it’s so hard to know what you need to improve. You end up saying “No, that just doesn’t sound right!”, without any more detailed way to correct yourself. So this series is designed to establish a working language so that we can start analysing your vowels. It’s a toolbox to help you self-correct those troublesome sounds.

What Is A Vowel?

You all know the written vowels in English. A, E, I, O, U. Five of them. Easy to remember. But did you know that there are 23 ways of saying vowel sounds in English? A whole alphabet’s worth of sounds to consider. And sometimes, letters that are written as consonants are actually pronounced as vowels. For instance, the word ‘really’ has an ‘ee’ sound on the end, despite it having a ‘y’ as a letter. So the letters can fool you into thinking that a sound is a consonant, when it’s actually a vowel.

A really simple way of thinking about vowel and consonant sounds is that vowels are open and consonants are closed. Vowels are generally open sounds, like ‘ee’ and ‘ah’, which can be extended. But consonants are moments of closure; tight sounds like ‘t’, ‘d’ and ‘f’. A word like ‘Bus’ has a moment of closure at the beginning for the ‘b’, an open ‘uh’ sound, and a closed ‘s’ at the end.

It’s important to be able to pull apart a word to work out which are the vowels, and which are the consonants. Let’s try a few words and see if you can find the vowels and consonants in them.


One vowel sound, three consonant sounds.


Three vowel sounds, six consonant sounds.


Three vowel sounds, five consonant sounds.

Got any questions about these? Email me at and I’ll answer anything you’ve got. Next in the series, we’ll be looking at vowel lengths – stay tuned!

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