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    Welcome to Authentic Journeys - ഓതെന്റിക് ജെർനീയ്സ് - US-India Cross-Cultural Training

July 15, 2015

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. 
V and W in languages of India

In fact, some people find this blog by searching for "Why can't Indians pronounce the v sound?" While this may appear to be a valid question, there are debates online that suggest that there are some people from some parts of India who could possibly make this sound, while others confuse it with other sounds. However, once we learn how to make this sound with our teeth, lips, mouth, and voice box, it may be possible that this sound does not exist in many, if any, Indian languages (video tutorials at the end of this post will be helpful in demonstrating this). 


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. 

For example:

  • Mover becomes mower or mooer.
Gas Stove- written in Malayalam Script
This image shows one transliteration
of "stove" on Malayalam.
Transliteration: gyas sttou (gas stove).
  • See the photo above for the next lesson.
    Stove becomes stow (another word in English) or stovvah (with Malayalam accent)

    The photo below says "gas stove" in Malayalam, but actually transliterated says "gyaas stou" which sounds to an American like "gas stow." Stow is an English word, and so is stove. In some cases, stove can also be written in Malayalam with a double v. All of these spellings are transliterations of English into Malayalam (so yes, below, for those who can't read Malayalam it actually says "gas stove" in English!).


    Veggie Shop in Malayalam

  • See the red highlighted portion of the photo above for one more example
    The Malayalam here again is actually English words transliterated into Malayalam. It says 'veggie wash'. Note, that in English veggie starts with a v and wash starts with a w, but since Malayalam (and many Indian languages) use the same letter to represent v and w, veggie and wash actually start with the same first letter - വ. Due to this, we need to improve the enunciation between these two sounds when speaking in English to reduce the MTI influence.

    Cultural note- if you are in the US in a Subway and want to order a veggie sandwich. Instead, ask for a vegetarian sub. Why? Veggie is not a word typically used in the U.S., and also since the v may sound like a w to an American, you may get funny looks when asking for a 'weggie sandwich' which will sound like a 'wedgie sandwich.' (Wedgie is a slang meaning pants caught in the behind!) 
    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

    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.*
    W - Enunciation Tips

    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
    V vs. B mouth positions

    Some speakers of Bengali make this mistake in India. Why? Because it appears that the mouth positions are the same, but they are actually different in one critical way - notice the v mouth position. The top teeth are touching the bottom lip. With b, there is no need to use your teeth. For V the lips will not touch or vibrate off each other as they do with B (some Spanish speakers make this same mistake).  Note that V and F are pronounced with the same mouth position in English, the only difference is V is voiced (with sound) and F is voiceless (air only). See videos below for tutorials). Image taken from slideshow on B vs. V tutorial here
    Saying/Spelling the letter “V”
    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”

    Saying/Spelling the letter “W”
    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.

    Transliterating the Malayalam, it says
    "joollaree workks" (jewelry works).


    Test lip position two ways:


    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. Not made by Authentic Journeys or Jennifer Kumar.



    This video will show you how to make the V sound.

    Differences in pronouncing V and W with pictures, descriptions and practice.


    Here are some videos to help you pronounce words with V or W in them made by Jennifer of Authentic Journeys.

    Listen to this tutorial, starting at the word for "Available" 

    See blog with tutorials of about 60 words techies can pronounce more clearly in English.

    Jennifer Kumar (in the video above in the Park City t-shirt) works with expats and international teams working with US Americans or in the US. We help you communicate more effectively with US Citizens on virtual teams and across cultures. Contact us





    This article is the intellectual property of Authentic Journeys Consultancy Pvt. Ltd. Copyright ©2012, Updated 2012, 2017, 2020, Jennifer Kumar. All Rights Reserved. Do not reprint without permission. 

    Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

    We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.