The schwa is a very small (but very common) sound in English. It sounds like a shorter, weaker version of the sound “uh” and it is probably one of the most important sounds you can have in your “American accent.”
Most people who learn English as a second language don’t know much about the schwa and rarely use it. Native English speakers use it ALL THE TIME and most don’t even know what it is.
But I guarantee that if you become good at this sound, it can really improve your accent.
The symbol for the schwa is an upside down e. When you see it in the pronunciation symbols in a dictionary, you will know the syllable a schwa is in is also short and weak. Going between the longer, stronger syllables and the shorter, weaker syllables gives words and sentences the American English accent.
For example, let me show you how many schwa sounds there are in the following sentence. I will use a ‘ to represent the schwa since I can’t type it on the keyboard.
Th’ childr’n list’n t’ mus’c ‘n th’ kitch’n.
(The children listen to music in the kitchen.)
Wow! Notice how many vowels are actually pronounced as a very small uh.
The schwa is everywhere! We spend quite a bit of time in our classes going over this sound and how and when to use it. I like to think of it as my secret weapon because when my students start to recognize it and use it, they sound great!
So now you know that there is something out there called a schwa. Make it a goal to find out more about it.
Learn more in the American Accent Course.