Clear vowel sounds

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.

VA - Vowels.jpg

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.

Korean IPA Vowels

Korean IPA Vowels

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

Color Vowel Palette

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 heightvowelheight

  • 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 backnessvowelbackness


  • 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.



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