TOEFL iBT Pronunciation: Comparing Vowel Sounds “Rook,” “Rule,” and “Rut”–[U], [u], and [ʌ]

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To be intelligible in English, you must be able to pronounce your vowel sounds correctly. Since there are fifteen vowel sounds in American English, it is also important to differentiate among different vowel sounds. Three such vowels are the [U] as in rook, the [u] as in blue, and the [ʌ] as in rut.

Having intelligible pronunciation is especially important to your score in TOEFL iBT speaking since TOEFL iBT human raters will need to understand your pronunciation in order to give you a score on your six speaking tasks. The fewer problems you have clearly articulating the [U], the [u], and the [ʌ] vowel sounds, the better chance you have of getting a high TOEFL iBT score.

Nonetheless, it is difficult for non-native speakers to have clear pronunciation with these sounds. First, non-native speakers may be unsure which sounds spelling patterns represent which of the these vowels. Second, these same speakers may not know the phonetic difference among these three vowel sounds. Finally, these non-native speakers may not have had enough regular speaking practice with native speakers to know how to pronounce these sounds clearly. Do any of these characteristics describe you?

While it is too complicated in this post to explain the phonics behind these three sounds and while I cannot help you speak regularly with native-speakers (That is something you must choose to do!), I can explain how these sounds are different phonetically.

Articulation tip for the [U ] sound:

  • The [U] vowel is a high back rounded lax sound.
  • Unlike the [ʌ ] vowel, produce the [U] sound with rounded lips.
  • Unlike the [u] sound, produce the [U] sound with a soft tongue.

Articulation tip for the [u ] sound:

  • The [u] vowel is a high back rounded tense sound.
  • Unlike the [ʌ ] vowel, produce the [u] sound with rounded lips.
  • Unlike the [U] vowel, produce the [u] sound with a hard tongue.

Articulation tip for the [ʌ ] sound:

  • The [ʌ ] vowel is a mid central unrounded lax sound.
  • Unlike the [u] vowel, produce the [ʌ ] sound with a soft tongue.
  • Unlike the [U] and the [u] vowel, produce the [ʌ ] sound with unrounded lips.

For more information, go here:

Michael Buckhoff’s “7 Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT Exam!” 

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2 thoughts on “TOEFL iBT Pronunciation: Comparing Vowel Sounds “Rook,” “Rule,” and “Rut”–[U], [u], and [ʌ]”

  1. Pingback: Better TOEFL® Scores » Blog Archive » A Question from TOEFLer, “What pronunciation lessons do you have?”

  2. Pingback: Better TOEFL® Scores » Blog Archive » Improve your TOEFL iBT Speaking and Pronunciation Today!

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