american english vowels
not your grandmother's vowels
"When two vowels go a-walking, the first one does the talking."
Except when it's the second one, or even a completely different one as in:
When children are first learning to read, they are taught that English has five vowels (a-e-i-o-u) with long and short versions of each, plus -y- when it is not otherwise employed as a consonant. The focus is on the letters rather than on the sounds themselves.
Really though, if you add up the long and short versions of each of the five vowel letters plus -y-, you get eleven--not five--vowels. This is much closer to a more accurate count of twelve single vowels plus three ‘glides’ (in which a vowel sound starts in one place, but finishes in another).
The idea that there are five vowels in English is an idea whose time has come and gone.
Things like that happen all the time. Left-handed children used to have their dominant hand bound behind them to encourage them to do the “right” thing. Gastric ulcers were thought to be caused exclusively by stress, until the H. pylori bacterium was unmasked as the real culprit.
The fact is that there were never only five vowels in English.
So how can we best describe English vowel sounds? In the opinion of the editors at ioE, there’s one way that is clearly better than any other: the International Phonetic Alphabet. So put on your hard hat, buckle up that safety harness, and click on the short video in the sidebar.