Day 3 of the UCL Summer Course in English Phonetics brings a lecture for the first time on SCEP by globe-trotting EFL teacher and travel blogger Sam Wood.
Sam’s surname begins with /w/ and his middle name, Victor, with /v/. These two sounds can be problematic for non-natives whose L1 (mother tongue) lacks the contrast between them. I find this a good example of how powerful the influence of L1 is, because /w/ and /v/ are not very hard to make, and English spelling is pretty reliable in distinguishing them. /w/ and /v/ don’t even look alike. This is /w/:and this is /v/:Anyone with lips and teeth can make those gestures.
(I should point out before he sues that those pictures are of me, not Sam.)
English /w/ is a semivowel approximant, like a short version of an ‘u’ or ‘o’ vowel (‘o’ is a better reference for speakers of Japanese, which has a rather unusual ‘u’ vowel). The lips are pushed forward and the tongue is pulled back, as when you whistle your lowest-pitched note. English /v/ on the other hand is a fricative, made with more friction noise than many non-natives produce. Here are Wood and Victor, followed by their initial sounds: