How to Say "Squirrel" with an American English accent, Step by Step
Updated: Feb 16, 2020
Many American English learners have told me that "squirrel" is a difficult word for them to pronounce. It’s one of those words that we don’t generally use often, but knowing that we can say “squirrel” when we need to say it, can certainly build our confidence.
I asked my Instagram followers in a poll which word they wanted help pronouncing, mentioning that I would do a video for the word that got the most votes. “Squirrel” won by a huge majority! So, it was "Lights, Camera, Action!" for me. Click play below to see the complete video, then continue reading for a description of the transcript and specific images used in the video.
Description of video portions:
The first thing to note is that the spelling of squirrel doesn't correspond exactly with how we pronounce it. Using the International Phonetic Alphabet can help us understand the pronunciation of squirrel a little easier. In American English, we transcribe "squirrel" in phonetics, like this:
I've noticed that many American English learners have difficulty with the middle and ending sounds of this word, so I suggested starting with the ending sound, the "Dark L".
The Dark L
The Dark L is made in two movements. First, the tongue lowers to make a sound like "uh". Then, at the same time, the back of the tongue rises to touch the soft palate, and the tongue tip rises to touch the alveolar ridge. TIP: We use the Dark L when the L comes after a vowel in the same syllable.
Beginning /skw/ and lip rounding
After teaching the Dark L and using images of the mouth, we then moved to the beginning of the word, which is the /sk/ blend. We have to round our lips on /k/ to prepare us for the next sound, /w/, which has lip rounding. Have a look in the mirror as you practice saying /skw/ with lip rounding on the /k/. I certainly looked in the mirror several times as I thought about how to teach this word!
The infamous "ER" sound
The next sound of the word sounds like "ER" as in "teachER". It's one of the most difficult r-colored vowels in American English, so I included how I produce my ER sound as there are a couple options. My tongue is elevated, bunched back, and is touching the inside of my top teeth around the middle of the palate. You can see me pointing inside my mouth to give you reference.
In this "How to" video, I described transitions between sounds, including from /skw/ to "ER". Here's a visual to compare how the lips relax between the /w/ and "ER" sounds.
We finished the video connecting "skwer" to the dark L, and ta da! You have now pronounced "squirrel" with an American English accent.
I recognize that a 5-minute "How to Say Squirrel " video may not be a permanent solution for many American English pronunciation learners, so I am available for online and in-person accent training. Whether you are trying to master the Dark L, the "ER" sound, or improve your overall American English accent, we are here for you at Prime Time Speech: Accent Modification Services.
Lilly Lichaa is an Accent Coach specialized in teaching the American English accent. She has a background in speech-language pathology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.