The Schwa Sound

by Ellen
(CA)

My first grader corrects me and says that I “shouldn’t make the schwa sound” when I help her learn her new vocabulary words. She tells me that “I’m saying everything wrong.”

I’m originally from MASSACHUSETTS and I’ve always spoken the same way, so can you tell me what they are told in the first grade classroom about the schwa sound? I don’t want to teach her the wrong way. Thanks for your help.

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The Schwa Sound
by: Lynda

Great question. I'll be glad to give you MY approach to the subject.

As you already know, the schwa is a sound.

Found in many dialects, the schwa makes an unstressed vowel sound. In the English language, the schwa is the most common vowel sound we hear. Often, it sounds like the short u sound and is pronounced as UH or ER.

In the dictionary, the symbol for it is an upside-down rotated e.

A schwa sound can be represented by any vowel. And while experts may vary in their opinions as to exactly what a schwa sound is, here are a few generally acceptable examples:

  • the vowel a is the schwa sound in (a)bout

  • the vowel e is the schwa sound in tak(e)n

  • the vowel i is the schwa sound in pres(i)dent

  • the vowel o is the schwa sound in choc(o)late

  • the vowel u is the schwa sound in b(u)t


Because the examples above include the schwa sound naturally, it is correct to hear the schwa sound in each of them.

The schwa is pointed out to children who are learning to read, often whenever they are learning the sounds of letters.

For the sake of clarity, here are two simple examples:

If you are teaching your child the b sound or the sound of b...

Say, B says b. (We do NOT say, B says buh.) You should cut off the UH sound or the ER sound, which make the schwa sound.

Say, C says sssss, and C says k. (We do NOT say, C says sssss, and C says kuh.)

Again, always cut off the UH or the ER sound, which make the schwa sound.

In the first grade classroom, I used the term schwa with my students only whenever I heard someone mispronounce a word because of the schwa. Again, this usually happens in the early stages of learning to read, when the child is learning to sound out words.

I would simply tell them to leave off the schwa sound and say the word this way ... Then, I would pronounce it for them and quickly move on.

Although I wanted them to know what a schwa was, I never went into much detail about it.

Yep, many folks from the NE add the schwa sound whenever they're pronouncing certain words, but they are not the only ones, of course. As you know, in every part of our planet there are many dialects.

So if I were you, I would be light-hearted about it and tell her that I understand --and I hope you do. Then, I would move on quickly.

Whenever she sees that you care, but that it is not a big deal, hopefully she will relax and move on, too. Besides, the schwa will be no problem for her.

How do I know? She already understands the concept because whenever you say the sound, she points it out to you.

I'm glad to share my opinion with you, and I hope this helps.

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