Sound like a Native: How to Pronounce Diphthongs

Pronounce-Diphthongs

 

Did you know that the majority of what makes up a person’s accent are vowels? In fact, one of the most common problems English language learners have is with English pronunce Diphthongs. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our other blog posts about how to pronounce different English vowels. 

In this post, we will be focusing on a particular subgroup of vowels called diphthongs and how improving your understanding and pronunciation of them can make a big difference in your competence and confidence in speaking English.

I am willing to bet that anyone, from beginner to advanced English speakers, will learn something new from this! Follow along through the practice exercises as well!

 

WHAT ARE DIPHTHONGS?

Let’s start with some of the basics. 

Most syllables are made up of a monophthong — which is just a fancy way of saying just one vowel (mono meaning one). Most words are like this, like bit, bat, bet, etc. In fact, even words that are SPELLED with two vowel LETTERS are often actually just one vowel SOUND. For example, even though beat is spelled with two vowel letters, “ea”, the sound is just made up of one vowel sound, the /i/ sound.

However, sometimes one syllable is made up of two vowel sounds combined together. These are called diphthongs — (di meaning two). 

There are five major diphthongs in North American English, and they are as follows:

  1. eɪ (cake, eight)
  2. oʊ (boat, rope)
  3. aɪ (hi, bite, right)
  4. aʊ (wow, about)
  5. ɔɪ (boy, avoid)

We are going to discuss some of the more common mistakes made by English language learners with these diphthong sounds and, more importantly, how to fix them!

 

THE FIVE DIPHTHONGS

Let’s start with the two sounds that I think will make the biggest difference for the vast majority of my students, regardless of what language you speak, and regardless of if you are a beginner or advanced: eɪ and oʊ

#1: eɪ (cake, eight, pay)

This vowel in many other languages is pronounced as simply /e/, but in English, it is almost always a diphthong /eɪ/. You can almost think of it having a little “y” or “i” at the end.

We do this by starting with a central front /e/ vowel, then transitioning to a high /ɪ/ vowel.

For Spanish speakers, words like “snake”, “late”, and “face” are pronounced like /snek/, /let/, and /fes/.

Practice saying these words, starting the vowel from a mid jaw position /e/ and transitioning to high jaw vowel /ɪ/. It can help to start off by slowly transitioning the vowels and then picking up the speed as you become more confident!

  1. A (the letter name): /e–ɪ/
  2. snake: /sne–ɪk/
  3. late: /le–ɪt/
  4. face: /fe–ɪs/

#2: oʊ (boat, rope)

A similar thing happens with /oʊ/, which is often reduced to /o/. This diphthong starts with a mid jaw height /o/ vowel, then moves up to a high jaw height /ʊ/ vowel. 

For our Spanish readers, think of the most stereotypical American accent imaginable when trying to say Spanish words, and you will notice the difference. 

Take a word like “peso”. In Spanish, you pronounce the “e” and “o” as monophthongs. When Americans who are new to Spanish try saying this word, they carry the English pattern of making the “e” and “o” into diphthongs. How do English speakers new to Spanish often pronounce “peso”? Something like “pay-sow”, right?

If you manage to incorporate this trick into your English, it will do wonders for how natural your pronunciation sounds!

Practice saying these words, starting the vowel from a mid jaw position /o/ and transitioning to high jaw vowel /ʊ/.

  1. oh: /o–ʊ/
  2. boat: /bo–ʊt/
  3. rope: /ro–ʊp/

#3: /aɪ/ (hi, bite, right)

This sound is made by combining an /a/, which is a low sound, with /ɪ/, which is a high front vowel. 

This diphthong can often be tricky for students when followed by a consonant, particularly for some students from Asian countries like China and Thailand. A common error in some of these languages is reducing the diphthong to just /a/, so that words like “time” become /tam/, where the diphthong /aɪ/ is reduced to the monophthong /a/. 

Practice saying these words, starting the vowel from a low jaw position /a/ and transitioning to high jaw vowel /ɪ/.

  1. eye: /a–ɪ/
  2. I’m: /a–ɪm/
  3. time: /ta–ɪm/

#4: aʊ (wow, about)

This diphthong is heard in words like “how”, “down”, and “around”. Like /aɪ/, it starts with the lower /a/ vowel, but then transitions to the high back vowel /ʊ/.

Also, like /aɪ/, this diphthong is often reduced to a single monophthong vowel depending on what language you speak.

Practice saying these words, starting the vowel from a low jaw position /a/ and transitioning to high jaw vowel /ʊ/.

  1. ow: /a–ʊ/
  2. how: /ha–ʊ/
  3. down: /da–ʊn/
  4. around: /ə.’ra–ʊnd/

#5: ɔɪ (boy, avoid)

Last but not least, for #5, we have /ɔɪ/, which is found in words like “boy”, and “point”. 

The key thing to remember for this /ɔɪ/ sound is that you start with /ɔ/ from a mid jaw position and the lips are slightly, but not overly rounded. You then move up to a high jaw position for the /ɪ/.

Practice saying these words, starting the vowel from a mid jaw position and slightly rounded lips /ɔ/ and transitioning to high jaw vowel /ɪ/. 

  1. oy: /ɔ–ɪ/
  2. boy: /bɔ–ɪ/
  3. point: /pɔ–ɪnt/ 

THANKS FOR FOLLOWING ALONG

That concludes today’s lesson! Hopefully, it was helpful for you, and you come away with more knowledge about English vowels and diphthongs. If you have any questions, you can ask in the comments below. If you liked this lesson and want to continue to improve your pronunciation, check out this post about 3 English Vowel Sounds for Better Pronunciation!

See you next time!

 

GET FREE ENGLISH LESSONS VIA EMAIL!

https://www.gonaturalenglish.com/email/

Picture of Gabby Wallace, M.Ed TESOL

Gabby Wallace, M.Ed TESOL

About the Author
Gabby Wallace is the Founder of Go Natural English, where you can quickly improve your confidence speaking English through advanced fluency practice. Even if you don't have much time, this is the best place for improving your English skills. Millions of global intermediate - advanced English students are learning with Gabby's inspiring, clear, and energetic English lessons. Gabby has a Masters Degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Boston University and 20+ years experience helping students become fluent through her online courses and membership program.

English Insiders Membership

Looking for something? Use the search bar below

Let's Connect

Business Professionals: Get Go Natural English fluency advice by email (free) and promotions on our premium learning options!

Learn More with Paid Options

English Insiders Membership

Get premium daily lessons (text, audio & quizzes for just $3 USD / month!

The English Fluency Formula Ebook

Get the most popular audio ebook online for quickly improving your English fluency.

The Fluent Comunication Program (50% off VIP Access to All Courses)

Don't waste time! Get an instant, all-access pass to hundreds of premium lessons. Organized and guided recorded video lessons with quizzes to give you everything you need for fluency, right now. Normally $997, you can join for 50% off for just $497 USD. This is a one-time payment with lifetime access.​

Alexandra from Italy
Alexandra from Italy
Read More
I would like to thank you for what you’re doing for me and thousands of people around the world, helping us improve our English with your amazing system. I’m sure that Go Natural English could help me becoming more fluent and confident when I’m speaking as well as when I’m listening. I’m usually listening to your videos while I’m driving back home from work, and let me tell you, I feel that my English keep getting better and better. Thanks again for all your help. I’m really enjoying your Premium Course.
Joao from Brazil
Joao from Brazil
Read More
In my home country Brazil I was not happy with English courses. When I came to the US, I thought classes would be different, but they were not. So, I found Go Natural English and I am very happy with the Premium Course!
Joanna from Malaysia
Joanna from Malaysia
Read More
With Go Natural English Premium Courses, I can answer my customer’s questions, talk to my son’s teachers and do business in English. I have learned phrasal verbs and pronunciation.
Previous
Next