Does your tongue twist when you have to pronounce the word ‘tourism’? My students regularly ask me to explain how to say words that end in -ism. Therefore, in this short article, I will explain you how to pronounce words that end in -ism.

The difference between Spanish -ismo and English -ism

Spanish words that end in -ismo are actually quite easy to say because the there are two vowel sounds, one before ‘sm’, and the other after it. However, in English we don’t have the luxury of an ‘o’ sound to help us say ‘sm’. Luckily, the solution is very easy: we have to connect ‘s’ and ‘m’ with an extra sound. This sound is ə, called the schwa. There is no letter for the schwa in the alphabet, therefore we have to use its phonetic symbol, the ə.

Listen to the schwa: /ə/

What is the schwa?

The schwa sound is arguably the most important vowel sound in the English language. We use it many different situations:

  • It helps us to connect or bridge two consonants.
  • Any vowel sound can turn into a schwa.
  • It’s very common in unstressed syllables.
  • It helps us speak faster by reducing the sound, especially in function words.

How to make the schwa sound?

It is often called a ‘lazy sound’ because you don’t have to open your mouth much. It is made in the back of the mouth by using the back of your tongue. It is made between the Spanish ‘o’ and ‘a’ sounds.

Try to say ‘o’ and ‘a’ in Spanish. The difference is quite big, isn’t it? Now, say ‘a’ first. Then close your mouth just a tiny little bit and raise the back of your tongue a little, too. Can you feel the difference?

Listen and repeat: /a/ – /ə/

It can be found in many words in which you can already pronounce it very well.

Listen and repeat: teacher, church, speaker, amazing, fewer, the, sofa

Pronouncing -ism

Now that you know how to say the ə sound, let’s look at -ism again. Although we write only three letters (ism), we pronounce four sounds by putting a schwa between the consonants. Therefore, -ism becomes -i-s-ə-m.

Listen and repeat: -ism = /ɪzəm/

Practice -ism in words.

Listen the audio and repeat the words in a loud voice.

  1. modernism
  2. racism
  3. tourism
  4. alcoholism
  5. capitalism
  6. journalism
  7. cannibalism
  8. nationalism
  9. communism
  10. fatalism
  11. hedonism
  12. organism
  13. activism
  14. nepotism
  15. feminism
  16. feudalism
  17. pessimism
  18. criticism
  19. terrorism
  20. mechanism
  21. minimalism
  22. scepticism
  23. favouritism
  24. egoism
  25. autism