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Best English Words to Practice as a Beginner: The Definitive List

This is a topic that I discuss with my students all the time. When deciding to learn a new language, it is important to know where to start. More than likely, you will start asking a bunch of questions.

What words are the most useful to know in the very beginning? What expressions are a must? Am I going to be able to pronounce all the different sounds correctly?

That being said, here is my definitive list of the best English words to practice as a beginner, along with their corresponding sounds, as mentioned in one of my previous articles, How to Speak English - The Ultimate Guide to English Pronunciation.

If you are unsure how to pronounce a specific word, just click on it to listen to its pronunciation.

Words with Vowels

Words with Vowels

As always, we're going to start with vowels. What is worth noting again is that all English vowels have a long, short, schwa, and a diphthong version of their sounds.

However, to make matters easier for you, I will only focus on the long and short sound versions for each individual vowel and have the schwa and diphthong sounds as separate ones at the end of the vowel list. Also, the letter y can sound as both a vowel and a consonant, so expect to find it twice on the list.

Let's get into it!

The long "a" sound /ɑ:/

Example #1: car

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Example #2: park

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Example #3: father

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Example #4: March

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Example #5: large

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Quick tip: Do not draw the "a" sound for too long, as you many end up saying something like "farther" (with the British English "r") instead of "father". It's the long "a" sound, not too long.

The short "a" sound /ʌ/

Example #1: cup

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Example #2: lump

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Example #3: bus

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Example #4: bulb

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Example #5: funny

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Even though the vowel "u" is predominantly used here, its specificity lies in its tendency to sound like a very quick, short "a" vowel sound when it is found in one- or two-syllable words.

The long "e" sound /æ/

Example #1: and

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Example #2: back

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Example #3: black

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Example #4: cat

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Example #5: clap

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Note: English does not necessarily have a long "e" sound, but more of a mix between "a" and "e". The phonetic symbol of this sound is /æ/. It may be very hard for some folks to pronounce correctly. However, practice makes perfect.

The short "e" sound /ɛ/

Example #1: hello

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Example #2: pet

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Example #3: chest

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Example #4: mess

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Example #5: yes

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Note: Even though the pronunciation difference between a long and short "e" sound is just a few milliseconds, the difference in word meanings is much greater, e.g. "pat" vs. "pet" or "bat" vs. "bet".

The long "i" sound /i:/

Example #1: ski

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Example #2: green

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Example #3: mean

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Example #4: clean

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Example #5: clear

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Note how the long "i" vowel sound rarely appears with the vowel "i".

The short "i" sound /ɪ/

Example #1: wish

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Example #2: clip

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Example #3: kitten

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Example #4: skin

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Example #5: milk

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Note: Just like in the case of long and short "e" vowel sounds, the same goes for "i". The difference in word meanings could be huge, e.g. "re-peat" vs. "pit" or "meal" vs "mill".

The long "o" sound /ɔː/

Example #1: afford

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Example #2: thought

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Example #3: lawn

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Example #4: naughty

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Example #5: lord

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Note: I've seen plenty of sources out there that label words such as "only" and "mode" as ones with the long "o" vowel sound. That isn't necessarily true because they don't contain just the "o" vowel sound but a diphthong with "o".

Anyway, we'll get into that in just a second. Sit tight.

The short "o" sound /ɒ/

Example #1: hot

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Example #2: not

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Example #3: sock

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Example #4: rock

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Example #5: top

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Note: Short words with a quick pronunciation - it's as simple as that.

The long "u" sound /uː/

Example #1: who

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Example #2: too

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Example #3: cool

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Example #4: school

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Example #5: move

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If you want to be cool, you have to know how to pronounce the word "cool". Hint: it's with a long "u" vowel sound.

The short "u" sound /ʊ/

Example #1: June

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Example #2: push

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Example #3: pull

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Example #4: sugar

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Example #5: book

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Note: Being that most short words with the vowel "u" are not pronounced with the "u" vowel sound, be careful not to confuse words such as "cup", "bus", "funny", etc. with the ones above, as they are quite similar on paper but totally different in pronunciation and meaning.

The "y" vowel sound

Example #1: funny

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Example #2: sunny

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Example #3: rainy

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Example #4: fly

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Example #5: sky

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Note: When it is found at the end of a word, particularly all adverbs ending with "-ly", "y" is usually pronounced as the vowel sound /i/ or as a diphthong.

As promised, I've saved the best for last. Now, let us cover the basic words with the schwa sound and a diphthong real quick.

The "schwa" sound /ə/

Example #1: the "a" in "about"

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Example #2: the "e" in "water"

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Example #3: the "i" in "pencil"

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Example #4: the "o" in "lemon"

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Example #5: the "u" in "nature"

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Despite being the only English sound that exerts zero energy to pronounce, the schwa /ə/ can be quite confusing at times, as it can act as any other vowel sound. Nonetheless, you'll get the hang of it through proper practice.

The Diphthong

A diphthong, by definition, is a combination of two vowels. Essentially, it is one vowel letter pronounced as two vowel sounds. The list of examples here can go on for days, but I'll keep it sweet and short for you, just like with any other sound here today.

Example #1: "light" with /aɪ/

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Example #2: "sky" with /aɪ/

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Example #3: "fake" with /eɪ/

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Example #4: "no" with /əʊ/

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Example #5: "town" with /aʊ/

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Note: You don't necessarily notice diphthongs when pronouncing a word because it is something you automatically do, but it's definitely worth knowing that there is not just one vowel sound there, but two.

With that being said, let us now travel to the world of English consonant sounds and their corresponding words.

Words with Consonants

Words with Consonants

Unlike vowels, English consonants are much easier to get around. The following word list does not contain any huge variations, speficic cases, or exceptional rules. It's actually pretty straight-forward. Let's get into it.

The "b" as in "beach"

Example #1: book

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Example #2: brick

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Example #3: black

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Example #4: beautiful

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Example #5: back

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The "c" as in "cook"

Example #1: cry

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Example #2: come

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Example #3: clean

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Example #4: cookie

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Example #5: cap

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The "c" as in "civil"

Example #1: ceiling

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Example #2: cement

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Example #3: cedar

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Example #4: cinnamon

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Example #5: police

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The "ch" as in "church"

Example #1: catch

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Example #2: chair

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Example #3: chase

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Example #4: chapter

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Example #5: champion

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The "d" as in "daddy"

Example #1: Monday

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Example #2: dear

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Example #3: dance

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Example #4: glad

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Example #5: danger

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The "f" as in "far"

Example #1: soft

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Example #2: fly

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Example #3: Friday

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Example #4: find

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Example #5: giraffe

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The "g" as in "big"

Example #1: glory

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Example #2: gate

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Example #3: strong

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Example #4: plague

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Example #5: gig

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The "g" as in "giant"

Example #1: gentle

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Example #2: generation

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Example #3: original

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Example #4: Germany

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Example #5: apology

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The "h" as in "home"

Example #1: house

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Example #2: behave

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Example #3: hand

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Example #4: his

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Example #5: history

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The "j" as in "joke"

Example #1: January

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Example #2: just

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Example #3: enjoy

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Example #4: journey

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Example #5: subject

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The "k" as in "keep"

Example #1: book

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Example #2: kiss

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Example #3: market

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Example #4: make

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Example #5: kick

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The "l" as in "land"

Example #1: clean

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Example #2: low

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Example #3: like

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Example #4: fall

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Example #5: salt

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The "m" as in "mom"

Example #1: money

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Example #2: information

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Example #3: number

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Example #4: woman

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Example #5: family

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The "n" as in "no"

Example #1: never

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Example #2: man

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Example #3: question

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Example #4: new

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Example #5: funny

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The "kn" as in "know"

Example #1: know

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Example #2: knife

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Example #3: knee

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Example #4: knight

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Example #5: knit

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The "p" as in "people"

Example #1: put

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Example #2: problem

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Example #3: place

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Example #4: opinion

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Example #5: help

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The "q" as in "queen"

Example #1: quick

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Example #2: consequence

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Example #3: request

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Example #4: quality

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Example #5: question

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The "r" as in "red"

Example #1: right

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Example #2: rule

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Example #3: car

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Example #4: marry

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Example #5: round

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The "s" as in "send"

Example #1: past

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Example #2: sit

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Example #3: see

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Example #4: pass

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Example #5: post

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The "sh" as in "crash"

Example #1: sheep

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Example #2: shark

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Example #3: sunshine

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Example #4: posh

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Example #5: wash

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The "t" as in "take"

Example #1: top

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Example #2: gate

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Example #3: mountain

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Example #4: tree

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Example #5: hot

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The "th" as in "think"

Example #1: thought

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Example #2: Thursday

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Example #3: everything

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Example #4: three

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Example #5: month

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The "th" as in "this"

Example #1: there

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Example #2: another

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Example #3: together

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Example #4: father

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Example #5: mother

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The "v" as in "vision"

Example #1: view

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Example #2: love

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Example #3: vehicle

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Example #4: visit

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Example #5: never

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The "w" as in "wait"

Example #1: water

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Example #2: swim

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Example #3: win

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Example #4: always

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Example #5: wow

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The "x" as in "tuxedo"

Example #1: box

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Example #2: fox

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Example #3: extra

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Example #4: mix

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Example #5: expect

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The "y" as in "yellow"

Example #1: you

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Example #2: year

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Example #3: yes

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Example #4: yesterday

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Example #5: young

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The "z" as in "zero"

Example #1: zebra

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Example #2: size

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Example #3: zone

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Example #4: zoo

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Example #5: crazy

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Conclusion

Okay, that's been about it! I certainly hope that your first steps as an English learner are going to be that much more secure and easier to have with these hand-picked word choices.

Now, all you have to do is practice, practice, pratice... and memorize.

Once you do that, I suggest you check out The Ultimate Guide to English Pronunciation to really master all the tips and tricks for achieving native-like English pronunciation through proper tongue placement, lip movements, and all that. Hope it helps!

I will be patiently waiting for you at the next stage. Until then... happy learning!

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