Being one of the 7 metals of antiquity, silver has long been valued as a precious metal. As currency, a conductor or as decoration, it has been used by humans since prehistoric times.
And you may recall that we use the word ‘silver’ as our reference point for a particular vowel sound. In primary school they called this sound the ‘short i’ (as opposed to the ‘long i’ that you hear in white). But the sound is not always represented by the letter ‘i’ as in business, build and women.
And to make matters worse, you probably don’t have this sound in your first language, so you have to learn it. So, today I have a special treat for you. I asked my dear friend and colleague, pronunciation expert Peggy Tharpe, to give us some tips on how we can master this sound. Here is what she explains:
The first thing we have to be aware of is that in the place of the silver sound, you are using the ‘green’ sound. Say /Ey/ (the vowel sound in ‘green’). Your tongue moves up diagonally from the bottom of your mouth, coming to touch your bottom teeth. The lips and jaw are tensed. Repeat a few times until you can identify where your tongue is.
From this sound, Peggy takes us to what is called the schwa, or as I like to call it, ‘mustard.’ This sound is easy to make … imagine you arrive home from a long day at work, you plop down on the sofa and you say ‘uh.’ This is the mustard sound. Practice this sound a few times. The lips and jaw are totally relaxed and your tongue rests at the bottom of your mouth.
Now we can try the silver sound. Your jaw and lips are relaxed. Your tongue moves up to touch your top teeth. To help your tongue learn this new trick, try standing in front of a mirror and as you say the first syllable of the word ‘silver’ bring your shoulders up towards your ears. This action is what Peggy calls a ‘Body Buddy:’ a large muscle movement that coaches it’s little brother, the tongue muscle.
Peggy describes the tongue as a rebellious teenager who doesn’t listen to its parents … the brain. Intellectually, you can understand the concept, but the tongue itself resists cooperation. But for some reason, the tongue does listen to a bigger sibling. This is why the Body Buddy will help you.
Peggy’s website is chockfull of pronunciation solutions for speakers of many different languages so I guarantee you’ll find the answers you’re looking for:
Every cloud has a silver lining,