The AH /ɑ/ in father and the UH /ʌ/ in butter are two vowels in American English that sound very similar. Many of my clients tell me they have a difficult time hearing the difference between these two vowels, as well as pronouncing these two vowels so that they sound different.
In this video, I’ll discuss how to make the AH in father and UH in butter vowels, and then you can test your skills with a listen and repeat quiz.
The AH /ɑ/ Vowel
First, the AH vowel. AH. You may have this vowel, or something close to it, in your native language. To make the AH sound, the jaw is open, the tongue is low in the mouth, and, this is key, there is a little bit of tension in the back of the tongue as you say AH. AH. I can feel the back of my tongue tense up. AH.
The UH /ʌ/ Vowel
Now the vowel, UH. UH. This vowel is less common in the world’s languages, so you may not have this vowel in your native language. UH. The UH vowel is a very relaxed vowel - no tension at all. UH. The jaw closes just a bit for UH as well, and the tongue relaxes. UH. UH.
AH - tension. UH - relaxed. AH, UH. AH, UH, AH, UH.
If you can’t hear the difference between these two vowels, don’t worry! Watch this video over and over again, and take the listening quiz that will follow, every day for a week or two. You will get better at hearing the difference between AH and UH, and your ability to say AH and UH will improve.
Minimal Pairs Listening Quiz
Now the listening quiz. We’re going to use minimal pairs for this quiz. Minimal pairs are two words that differ by just one sound, so the words hot and hut are minimal pairs - those words differ by one sound only - the vowel. The words cop and mop are also minimal pairs - those words differ by one sound only - the initial consonant. Minimal pairs are a great way to practice difficult sounds.
You’ll see two words on the screen. I’ll say one of the words, and you decide which word I said. Repeat the word after I say it, so you can practice both listening and speaking, and try to imitate exactly what you hear.
calm, come (Answer: come)
gut, got (Answer: gut)
bud, bod (Answer: bod)
lock, luck (Answer: luck)
stuck, stock (Answer: stock)
run, Ron (Answer: Ron)
bog, bug (Answer: bug)
cluck, clock (Answer: clock)
not, nut (Answer: nut)
shut, shot (Answer: shut)
Thanks so much for watching! And I'd love to hear from you - contact me to learn how we can work together to perfect your American English pronunciation!