Analyzing the /w/ and /v/ Sounds in American English
If you were to run into a native Russian speaker on the street and engage them in a conversation in English, you might notice they rarely differentiate between /w/ and /v/ sounds and don’t pronounce them as two separate, unique entities. This is not because Russians are incapable of producing such sounds and therefore have to compensate as they learn how to speak English. It is a psycholinguistic issue. In these situations, two sounds, such as w and v, are seen by the speaker as being imperceptible variations on the same sound. As discussed in a previous article, native Russian speakers treat the English dark /l/ and light /l/ sounds in a similar fashion, even though the dark /l/ comes at the end of words and before consonants, whereas the light /l/ is commonly found at the beginning of words and before vowels.
Practice makes /w/ and /v/ Perfect
Russians studying how to speak English with a standard American accent can gradually learn the subtle pronunciation differences between /w/ and /v/ by working with their accent coach to create a drill sheet list of words featuring these letters that they have the most difficulty with. From there, one could practice reciting them on a regular basis, or until they feel as
though they can pronounce these sounds without having to make a conscious effort to distinguish between them. To pronounce the /v/ sound correctly, ensure there is only slight contact between the lower lip and the top row of the teeth. This will produce a short burst of air between the lips and and a revving type sound. By contrast the, /w/sound is strictly made via the lips rounding.
How to Speak English: Where to Learn More
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