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Question: How can I stop inserting schwas [ə] in my speech?

Question

How can a native Farsi speaker stop inserting a schwa [ə] sound before and after words? For example, “I’m going toUH the carUH so I can UHspeakUH to thatUH manUH overuH there.” Do you have pronunciation practice exercises for this? Particularly before s-words, and after v,d,k sounds.

Answer

This is a great question, and one I enjoy answering because my parents are native Farsi speakers! (Though I was born and raised in New York.) 

There are a couple of reasons for this phenomenon with native Farsi speakers inserting schwas [ə], the de-stressed “uh” sound, in English. 

  1. Native Farsi speakers don’t have consonant clusters at the beginning of their words in Farsi, so it’s completely unnatural for them to begin a word such as “brother” or “Christmas” without adding a schwa [ə] before the word or to break up the consonant cluster. For example, “Christmas” can become “kereesmas”. 
  2. Farsi speakers tend to blow a lot more air out of their mouths after pronouncing consonants. At the end of an English word with a [k] or [d] for example, native (U.S. and other) English speakers hold the sound and do not release it. Native Farsi speakers still tend to strongly release the air, as if they need that puff of air to finish the sound. Native English speakers simply hold their tongues, hold the sound or just barely release the air, such as when saying “bed” or “back”. 

My suggestion is to focus on connecting speech in English, so that the last consonant sound is clearly heard at the beginning of the following word. If this is done properly, one simply cannot release a schwa [ə]. The video lessons on connected speech provide a lot of clarity and practice on this issue. 

The speaker should also practice consonant clusters to train their mouths to get used to these new sounds and not need the extra breath to produce them. 

  • Connected Speech Video Lessons here. 
  • Consonant Video Lessons here.

Simply becoming aware of these differences in air and phonology alone should help! 

-Larissa

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