I’ve been thinking a lot about vowel sounds. When Idahosa Ness’ free course on How to tune your vowels popped into my inbox, it seemed perfectly timed.
I do not have vowels figured out. You would think I would by now, but I don’t.
The rest of this post is me babbling about vowels. Probably nothing of value here. You’ve been warned. Go read something else. 🙂 Meanwhile, I will put on my thinking cap and try to reason my way through.
Here is what I know or am trying to figure out.
1. I have seen the vowel position chart. I know vowels sounds are made in different places in the mouth, and that the position of the tongue is important.
2. I know about IPA symbols that describe sound.
3. I have tried repeatedly to listen to Korean vowel sounds and mimic them.
4. I suspect part of my problem is that vowels aren’t suppose to be made with different mouth shapes, but some of mine are.
5. I have a very “loose” idea in my mind about vowels. It isn’t a clear target, but sort of a range, subject to change depending on the word, my mood, if I am trying to rhyme, if I am mimicking others dialects, etc. The way I perceive vowels smearing together is not how Koreans treat vowels. I think it is the reason why they all tell me “clear vowel sounds!”
6. The closest I have come to any vowel training is singing “do-re-mi” scales.
7. I started off 3 years ago having no ear at all for Korean sounds. I literally could not hear the difference between a man and woman speaking, or when it switched from one actor speaking to another. It was all confusion and overload.
8. Now, I can hear, but often have simply no idea how to make the sound. Tutor says if I can hear the difference, I can some day make the different sounds. I want to trust tutor, but I have doubts that ears hearing can be translated to mouth/tongue making.
9. I do not know exactly where each sound is suppose to be made in my mouth. I have looked at the charts. I have had tutor explain it to me many times. It just won’t stick.
10. There seems to be a key point I am not grasping about “connectivity”. Tutor will explain that I am not making a vowel sound in the right place in my mouth. That where I am making that vowel sound doesn’t allow for it to connect to the next sound. Connect? I never think about how to connect. I just make sounds based on the letters. Yet this connecting of sound for flow is some important concept.
11. Describing sound with words is hard. I think my lack of ability to describe the sound is part of why I can’t hold on to it in my brain. I will try 20 ways to say a sound, tutor with tell the one of them is right, and to hold on to that. Yet, seconds later it is gone. Hold on to what? I don’t get the difference. I just kept moving air around in my mouth into a bunch of different places, and 19 times told I was wrong, once right, no idea how I got that right response. No idea how to reproduce it.
12. I have come to doubt all sound. I thought I had some quasi-effective system for converting Hangul letters to make sounds, but I was wrong a lot, and now I simply assume I am always wrong, and every sound is cast into doubt. I have no confidence with sound.
13. I have built up a great deal of frustration with sound. Three months ago, tutor thought me sassy when I said I had given up on ever pronouncing ㄹ. Now after 10 hours of working with me on that, I think he can understand my frustration and seemingly complete inability with that letter. We can spend 20 minutes out of an hour just on that one letter, and I can’t get it. My brain calculates the cost in tutor time spent on that stupid letter, and I just want to toss that letter off a tall building!
14. If I were to identify those things that I am having the greatest difficulty with, it would be ㄹ, ㅓ, and ㅚ.
15. I want to remember this correction tutor made in the last session. 쇠. I know raw fish is 회 and it is the vowel that confused me because it doesn’t look like it’s sound. It is more like “wae” than my assumption of “wei”. I was trying to say “shae” but it is more like “sway” said softly with the w removed. No ‘u’ sound in there at all.
16. The Color Vowel Chart
Vowels almost behave like colors. Three basic colors: blue, yellow, and red. From blue and yellow you get green. Mix red and yellow and you get orange. Vowels are color-coded. So make the u sound, it’s so blue. The o sound is violet because it is between the red a and the blue u. At the center is the neutral schwa or the ə sound.
17. Vowels have height
- When you LOWER your tongue towards your lower jaw, you are making a more OPEN vowel sound.
- When you raise your tongue toward the roof of your mouth, you are making a more CLOSE vowel sound
18. Vowels have backness
- When you extend your tongue forward towards your teeth, you are making a more FRONT vowel sound.
- When you retract your tongue backward towards your throat, you are making a more BACK vowel sound.
19. Vowels can have “roundness”. Vowels can have “nasality”.
20. I have been told this a thousand times. ㄹ is not an ‘R’ sound. I try so hard to figure out what to do with my tongue.
21. I wonder if what I need is time with a voice instructor or vocal coach or speech therapist.
22. Whatever pronunciation rule does this ㅅ changing to ㄴ I have forgotten. I have practiced, but still do not get the rules right.
t final sound followed by ᄆ changes to ᄂ
23. What pronunciation rule makes this happen? ㄴ changing to ㄹ.
24. I have been saying “happy” wrong. This is the correct pronunciation.
25. The even rhythm of each syllable is important. Because I know some better than others, I speed up and slow down speaking within the same word. For example, ㅂ니다 I have learned since the beginning, so I tend to say that relatively quickly.