Vowel Sounds in Unstressed Syllables. Most of the words you've practiced so far have been very short, usually just one syllable or beat in a word. For example, the words big, teach, and stop each have just one syllable. Of course, many words in English are longer. Second has two syllables, department has three, and professional has four. In each of these longer words, one syllable is stressed or pronounced more strongly. Can you hear the louder syllables when you say second, department, professional? The vowel sounds in those stressed syllables are pronounced clearly and distinctly. We might think of them as the true sounds of vowels. But the vowels in unstressed syllables are different. They're softer and less clear, and they often sound like /a/ the vowel sound represented by the symbol schwa. Second, department, professional. /a/ or schwa is actually the most common vowel sound in English, since there are so many unstressed syllables that use it. When you say /a/, your tongue is very relaxed in the middle of your mouth. If you relax your tongue and let your mouth open just a little, then make a sound, you'll probably be saying /a/. Try it, /a/. Now say these words that have /a/. Around, again, support, problem, freedom, magnet. It's important to make stressed syllables in a word stronger and longer, and the unstressed syllables weaker and shorter. Try saying these words and make the stressed syllables longer and stronger. Second, pencil, return, complete, department, professional. Lets practice some words with /a/ in unstressed syllables. Be sure to make the unstressed syllables weak. Sofa, alone, banana, pollution, dominant. Not all unstressed syllable sounds like /a/. Other vowels can be an unstressed syllables too, like /iy/ in monkey, /ow/ in follow, /e/ in separation, and /uw/ in attitude, and /ay/ and /I/ in scientific. These unstressed syllables also need to be small and weak. Now let's say these words. Monkey, follow, separation, attitude, scientific. Unstressed syllables that sound like /an/, /ar/, and /al/ sometimes change a little, especially when they're at the end of a word. Sometimes we can hardly hear the vowel part, just a stretched out consonant that fills up the whole syllable. For example, when we say button, the last syllable often sounds like just an /n/ sound rather than /an/. Button, saying either /an/ or /n/ is fine. Or when we say doctor, the last syllable sounds like just an /a/ sound rather than /ar/, doctor. When we say label, the last syllable can sound just like an /o/ sound rather than /al/, label. Let's practice saying these words with /an/, /ar/, and /al/. Certain, listen, mountain, raisin, sadden, labor center, father, bigger, rather, bottle, tunnel, able, trouble, simple. In this lesson, we've learned that longer words have stressed and unstressed syllables. To be understood easily, it's important not to try to pronounce every syllable with equal force. The stressed syllables need to be strong and clear, but let the unstressed syllables be weak and small, especially those with the /a/ sound, schwa. Keep practicing these syllables with schwa, the most common vowel sound in English.