V & W - Mother Tongue Influence Reduction Tips for Indian Speakers of English

V and W are two letters and sounds that are clearly distinguished in American English. V and W are often not distinguishable in many Indian languages, with one letter/sound that almost combines the two English sounds into one. The image to the left shows the v/w symbol in most major Indian languages including Hindi, Tamil. Malayalam, Bengali and others. 

Because of this, when many Indians speak English with American (or other Western) native English speakers, the native speakers are not able to hear the pronunciation clearly. This post will provide some tips to help reduce the Mother Tongue Influence (MTI) regarding these important sounds.  

Some examples are: 
When saying “vest”, “van”, or other words starting with a “v”, the v sounds like a w. Sometimes, the Western speaker cannot identify the word even within the context of the sentence. 

What does a native English speaker hear?
When the v comes in the middle of a word, the v often sounds like a w or as though it's absent. 

This image shows one transliteration
of "stove" on Malayalam.
Transliteration: gyas sttou (gas stove).
For example:
  • Mover becomes mower or mooer.
  • Stove becomes stow (another word in English) or stovvah (with Malayalam accent)

We can see that sometimes when the sound changes, the native English speaker hears a totally different word (mower for mover, stow for stove) or a non-existent word (mooer or stovvah).

Let’s learn some techniques to say and spell these two letters correctly.

Below the written tips are a few video tutorials from other tutors. To understand if you are creating the right sounds, ask an American or Western English speaker to listen and critique you. People also hire me to teach them how to make and refine these sounds.

V – English Pronunciation Tips W - Enunciation Tips
  1. Top set of teeth touch bottom lip slightly
  2. Lips lie flat on face
  3. Lips do not open wide or high, small opening
  4. Tongue stays on the bottom of the mouth
  5. Vibrate vocal cords.*
  1. Teeth stay inside of mouth, do not touch lips
  2. Lips – rounded, protrude away from face, like a fish face (pucker lips)
  3. Tongue stays on the bottom of the mouth
  4. Do not vibrate vocal cords

Saying/Spelling the letter “V” Saying/Spelling the letter “W”
When spelling a word with the letter “v”, we will say the letter as it sounds followed by “ee” – “Vee”.

Example: Spell “Vivek”

Vee- eye- vee- eee- kay”

When spelling a word with the letter “w”, the letter does not sound like the sound at all. “Double u”

Example: Spell “West Bengal”

“Double u- ee- ess- tea, bee, eee, en, gee, ay, el”

*Test vibration with one of these two tricks; place one hand on your neck to feel the vibration or place both hands over your ears to feel a vibration and an echo in your head.

Test lip position two ways:

Transliterating the Malayalam, it says "joollaree workks."
1. Keep your hand in front of your mouth.
  • For “v”, your hand will be against your face, if needed, push your lips against your face. Lips should not protrude away from your face. 
  • For “w”, as you pucker your lips, they will come away from your face, and your hand will naturally move away from your face.
2. Look at your side profile in a mirror.
  • For “v” your lips will remain flat to your face. 
  • For “w”, you will see your lips pucker and move away from your face. At first, you may want to exaggerate this movement, just so your facial muscles can get used to it.

Here are some videos to help you on your way.

This video will show you how to make the V sound.
Click here to see this on YouTube

Differences in pronouncing V and W with pictures, descriptions and practice.
Click here to see this video on YouTube.

Listening comprehension and diction practice. Words with V and W in various positions of the word. Do you notice if the ease of making the sound differs based on the position of the sound in the word?
Click here to see this video on YouTube.

Wishing you all the best in clear communication with your American counterparts. Thank you for spending your time here. Have a wonderful day.

Author Jennifer Kumar, based in Kochi, India, helps improve clarity in communication between Indians and their American counterparts, stakeholders and colleagues through innovative training programs in Accent, meeting communication and etiquette skills and others. Sessions are available locally in Kochi or via webex as requested. Contact us for more information today. 

This article is the intellectual property of Authentic Journeys Consultancy Pvt. Ltd. Copyright ©2012, Updated 2012, Jennifer Kumar. All Rights Reserved. Do not reprint without permission. 

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