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Saturday March 14th, 2009
English Pronunciation Podcast 27-
Distinguishing between /oʊ/ and /ɔ/:
This podcast teaches you how to distinguish between these vowels with a standard American accent.


Developing a clear distinction between / oʊ / and /ɔ/:

In this week's podcast, were going to learn how to develop a clear distinction between the vowels /oʊ/ and /ɔ/.

Many students of English often confuse these two vowels. Usually, the student pronounces /ɔ/ something like /o/ or /oʊ /.
So a word like" cost " sounds like /kost/ or "coast."

For example, someone might say, "New York is great, except for the coast."

In this case, the speaker meant to say cost, but it came out sounding like "coast" which may leave the native speaker, the listener, a bit confused as to what the person is trying to say.

This mistake is made because /ɔ/ doesn't exist in most languages but something similar to /oʊ/ does.
However, to a native speaker, to an American , these sounds are different and if you don't distinguish between them, it can be difficult to be understood.

Before we proceed further into the lesson, if you haven't already listened to podcasts #22 and #25, I recommend that you do so before using this one. Those podcasts explain how to pronounce /oʊ/ and /ɔ/ in detail.

The focus of today's lesson is:

  • learning how to distinguish between /oʊ/ and /ɔ/ using your tongue, lip and jaw position
  • Practicing the distinction with special training exercises

Differences in Articulation

The first step in developing the distinction betwen these vowels is knowing how to articulate them- how to position and move your tongue, lips and jaw.
The positions for these vowels were taught in podcasts #22 and 25 .

There are some subtle differences in articulation between these two vowels and with careful practice, you'll begin to see, feel them and hear them.

Here are some tips for pronouncing these vowels accurately:

Lip Position:

One of the main differences betwwen /oʊ/ and /ɔ/, is that for /oʊ/ your lips move forward into /u/, but for /ɔ / they remain slightly rounded but not forward.
Don't move your lips forward at all for /ɔ/ because will make a sound similar to /oʊ/.

I recommend that you use a mirror to see the difference. If your lips are moving forward, even just a little, try to control them each time you say the sound.

Tongue Position:

Another difference is the tongue position. For /oʊ/, your tongue goes further back and becomes tenser.This is because the second half of /oʊ/ contains /u/. We finish in /u/, with our tongue all the way back and tense.

Jaw movement:

Another difference to think about is the jaw movement. Your jaw will drop further down for /ɔ/ and stay down, but for /oʊ/ it drops on the first half of the vowel, /ə/, but then begins to rise on the second half, /u/.
Again, try saying the vowels in a mirror to see that subtle difference.

Exercise: Alternate between /oʊ/and /ɔ/.
Listen and repeat
: pay careful attention to differences in articulation we've just discussed.

1. /oʊ/ ... /ɔ/

2. /oʊ/ ... /ɔ/

If hearing and saying the difffrence is difficult for you, you should know that you're not alone. Even my most talented private students here in New York City, often have to work very hard to master this distinction.
If your native language is Russian , Polish, Serbo-Croation or Korean you may find this distinction particularly difficult.
But with practice and repetition, you will eventually get it!

Exercise: Listen and repeat the following pairs of words , paying careful attention to the difference in vowel sound:

/oʊ/            /ɔ/

coast         cost

boat           bought

won't         want

choke        chalk

woke         walk 

coat          caught

Training Tools:

Improving your pronunciation and reducing your accent is all about reviewing and practicing regularly. The more you practice regularly, the easier it will become to say the sounds distinctly and correctly.

Regular practice with controlled exercises builds muscle memory -tha ability to something automatically without thinking.
Even just fifteen minutes day of practice can really make a difference!

It's important to have good tools to practice with.
I recommend  Best Accent Training mp3s! :

A full English pronunciation course in mp3 format.
Download  Best Accent Training mp3s onto your mp3 player or mobile device and practice wherever you go!

Any questions, comments or suggestions ? Contact us at:  contact@englishpronunciationpod.com

Thank you and see you next time!


After practicing with Best Accent Training daily,
I can say that my English communication has improved 100%. "

- Domingo Ponce Rodriguez- - Marketing Manager USA (Spain)

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