Australia workshops this month

Teachers workshops in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

I will be facilitating three Sound Foundations teacher training workshops on the Physicality of Sounds and Using the Pron Chart.

1.. Wed 17th Sept. From 1 – 4pm at the Crown Convention Centre Melbourne. This is one of the pre-Conference events for the English Australia Conference taking place 18th/19th Sept.

2.. Mon 22nd Sept. From 3 – 6pm at CQ University, Sydney, a workshop on pronunciation. And in the morning I will run a workshop “Developing a Learning Organisation” at the same venue

3.. Tues 23rd Sept From 3 – 6pm at Brown’s English Language School in Brisbane, workshop on pronunciation. And in the morning I will run a workshop “Developing a Learning Organisation” at the same venue

I will also be giving other workshops/talks on Demand High, and on Quality in Professional Learning at the English Australia conference. Check out the conference programme here.

These are all sponsored by English Australia and IELTS. I am looking forward to seeing some of my Australian friends. Do come along to one of these workshops if you are anywhere near. Hope to see you!

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Observations on the American English chart … and the vowel /ɑː/

Beatriz Cabrera Portillo asks about the American English chart, and also about the vowel sound /ɑː/. She says:

1) When comparing your magnificent two phonemic charts in both BrE and AmE, I’ve realised that a “long a” is not included in the American chart. Parallel to this, the group of dipthongs ending in “schwa” are not inserted in the American chart either.

2) As the “a” sound is not analysed in your blog and after researching in several resources, I am a bit doubtful about the position of the  mouth in the vowel articulation of words like but as opposed to it in words such as car. Is it possible to say that both sounds share the same mouth position with the only difference in the length? Thanks in advance. Beatriz

Thanks for your comments Beatriz. Yes, it’s interesting to compare the BrE and AmE charts. There are several noteworthy differences, two of which you have pointed out.

Length marks are not normally indicated in AmE learner dictionaries, (eg the Macmillan English Dictionary) not because AmE vowels cannot be long, as they certainly vary in length, but because length is considered a less predictable way of identifying a vowel sound as being one phoneme or another. So, as you point out /ɑː/ on the BrE chart becomes /ɑ/ on the AmE chart. Furthermore the sound /ɒ/ (as in hot) on the BrE chart does not appear on the AmE chart, that sound merging mostly with AmE /ɑ/ and occasionally with /ɔ/.

The three ‘weak’ diphthongs of BrE, that is the ones that glide to schwa /ǝ/, likewise are not considered part of the phonemic set of Standard AmE and so do not appear on the AmE chart. Again, see the MED for learners of American English.

Regarding BrE / ʌ/ and /ɑː/, no they do not share the same mouth position. Length is a factor, but the vowels have a different acoustic quality. Put briefly, the centre and back of the tongue needs to be lower for /ɑː/ than for / ʌ/ . Thus the tongue is positioned differently, and consequently /ɑː/ has a greater volume of vibrating air in the mouth above the tongue.

I intend before too long to get onto the remaining vowel sounds in the continuing Story of Sounds …. Meanwhile, I hope this is of use….      Adrian


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The problem of explaining sounds to learners

This is a really great question from Ruth about the problems of explaining sounds to learners. I hope my answer opens up a different but doable line of action.I have put this on the front page as I think it may be of interest to everyone. Please add your thoughts.

Ruth says:   I was in Oxford in Oct 2012 when I heard and watched you present these ideas – really fun and engaging. My main issue is how to explain what happens in the mouth if the students aren’t yet au fait with the English of explanations: relax the sides of the tongue to allow air to escape. I’ve practised demonstrating to the wall (!) how to move, say, from an /n/ to an /r/ , using my fingers to yank parts of my tongue around to demonstrate what I’m saying. As I’m about to teach some elderly Japanese ladies the actual difference between /r/ and /l/, they may be put off! Any ideas?
Do you supply an internal diagram of the mouth? Or, have any other practical ideas?
Many thanks, Ruth

Hi Ruth. Thanks for your comments. I’ll try to gave an answer to your question, though first I’ll answer another question which may throw a different light on yours, and that is “How do learners come to know what is going on in their mouths when they make they sounds of a (new) language?” And my reply is that while a variety of different activities and insights help, the most important is the one that is neglected in our methodology, namely learning to sense kinesthetically the movement of lips, tongue and jaw, and to sense or feel their position in relation to each other and to the palate and teeth. This is not the same as cognitive ‘knowing about’ that we get from books and university courses, which is what gets emphasised if the teacher over-intervenes with pictures and explanations. This has a place but if it is the primary intervention by the teacher it can distance the learner from the direct internal kinesthetic awareness of the position and movement of the muscles and parts of the mouth which make the sounds. The best word for this process, as I say elsewhere on this blog, is proprioception.

Of course we and our students already use most of these pronunciation muscles in speaking our L1, movements which became automotized in early childhood. But when we learn another language later we need to reconnect with those muscles in order to loosen the mother tongue phonetic grip and set up new movements and positions, which in turn will gradually automotise too. This is no big deal and we face this when learning to knit, or type, or play a musical instrument, or dance. I use the metaphor of dance because it has both individual positions and steps, and a connected up flow which is the purpose of it. This is like language.

But to teach dance it is not enough to dance well, you have to know what you are actually doing with your body and be able to transmit it in terms that help the student do it too. And it’s no good spouting the theory of dance, or just describing the movement in words that are heard by the student’s cognitive mind.

First you the teacher need to know what your body is doing, for which you need internal proprioceptive insight and intelligence, which, second, places you to know what the student’s body is doing. You know this through your own proprioceptive empathy, and what you can see and hear. Now you are well placed to help the student make the changes needed.

To come back to your question Ruth, I’m less concerned with explanations of how sounds are made (though that can be a useful back up) than with directions for experimenting with lip, tongue and jaw movement, which is already embedded in playing with the different vowels. So if they have not much English I will get them to experiment playfully, perhaps by watching my mouth / lip movements, and I will catch a student who makes a sound different from L1, or similar to L2, and help them to experience that new position by asking them to say it louder, softer, longer, shorter, with a consonant etc, all the time noticing it and feeling it to try to fix it in proprioceptive memory. If it is on the chart I point to it, to give it a ‘name’. Then maybe I get them to say another sound and then see if they can return to the one they have just discovered; and so on.

I don’t use internal diagrams much. I have nothing against it, but my priority is always to build up an experienced internal proprioceptive map, for which the chart itself is a sort of suggestive, two dimensional prototype.

With your ladies, I would always work from what they do. Get them to play with words with /r/ and /l/ initial, medial and final. See what they do. Ask what they think about it and what they notice. My most frequent, in fact my magic, class instruction is ‘change it’. Which is brilliant because it puts the ball in their court to feel what they are doing and to find some way to make a small change. And that is the beginning of proprioception. Also have a look here for a few activities on a similar line

So to conclude, I am not trying to transfer a lot of information, but to cause them to experiment. And like all teachers I find a way to do it that with the language they already have. I hope the above helps, even if it is not quite the reply you had in mind!

Posted in The chart and physicality | 3 Comments

NEW! Pronunciation Skills videos with Adrian Underhill

Macmillan have just launched my series of 35 short videos with the first three videos, available online here

Each video is approx 3 minutes, but packed with ideas and info

A practical, physical and visible approach, designed to help teachers and students to discover easily how to make Standard British English sounds, what is going on in the mouth, how to correct mistakes, and above all how to find the ‘pron muscles’ that make the difference.

While we emphasize the importance of teaching skills like grammar and vocabulary, teaching pronunciation is often something we neglect in the classroom. In this exclusive series of short videos about pronunciation, pronunciation learning and how to teach pronunciation, I offer practical advice to help teachers teach their students the different sounds of the English language.

In Video 1 I introduce the series and explain why it’s important for native and non-native teachers to take a practical approach to teaching pronunciation.

In Video 2 I introduce the phonemic chart, showing why the chart is a useful starting point for teaching the 44 sounds of British English, from vowels and consonants to words and connected speech.

In Video 3 I explore the different monophthongs, diphthongs and consonants which make up the phonemic chart, demonstrate the layout of the chart and show how the layout corresponds to the way we produce sounds in our mouths.

 These first three videos available on line now, here

The following 6 videos will explore ways of helping learners to discover and make the required new sounds of the new language

Then there will be 12 videos on vowels and diphthongs and another 12 videos or so on consonants, how to teach by knowing what’s going on in your mouth, and how to use any single consonant as a point from which to discover others.

I made these short videos in Macmillan’s studio earlier this year, and am very pleased that they are being made available online now.

Please post your feedback on what you like and how we can improve them!

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Pronunciation Workout: From Sounds to Storytelling – with Adrian Underhill

A 2-week teacher training course for teachers starting 29th June 2014 at Bell Teacher Training, Cambridge UK

This will be a unique experience, linking together sounds, connected speech and personal presentation through story telling  Click here for details

In the first week we will have a complete work out on teaching and correcting the pronunciation of individual sounds, words and features of connected speech and intonation. We will use my Sound Foundations chart and you will become familiar and confident in using this both with in your class and to train other teachers. There will be teaching practice everyday.

In the second week you will develop your own style of personal presentation through meaningful connected speech. Everyone will receive a different traditional tale to work on during that week using a range of group and solo activities and coaching. This will provide a vehicle for rehearsed and spontaneous expression, personal projection, and developing the art taking an audience or a class with you. We will explore the art of enchantment, making full use of all aspects of pronunciation, intonation, and charismatic delivery.

The course will culminate with our own mini story telling festival! My job will be to teach and coach you throughout the two weeks, and to ensure delight, engagement and success in equal measure. The course which is suitable for native and non-native speaker teachers of English, will help you develop skill and confidence in teaching and training all aspects of pronunciation, and in your own ability to speak engagingly and with presence.

I know that many of you cannot get to UK at this time, but I hope to be able to offer this programme in other countries in the future. Let me know if you are interested in offering this at your institute.

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The Story of Sounds: Episode 21: Discovering the vowel /e/

It’s a lot of fun working with the vowel /e/. Just about every language has one or more versions of this sound. In English it is one of the more frequent vowels sounds, probably in third position after /ǝ/ and /ɪ/. When you look at the Sound Foundations chart you can see that /e/ is located on the far left of the chart, below /iː/ and above /æ/. This already tells you something…. for example it tells you:

1.. that /e/ is formed with the tongue at the front of the mouth

2.. that the jaw is a bit more open than for /iː/

3.. and a bit more closed than for /æ/

In other words for /e/the jaw is, so to speak, half way open, and the too tongue is neither up nor down, but in ‘mid’ position.

Let’s take three exploratory journeys inside to help you find out what you are doing so you can help your students

Journey 1 starting from /iː/ and sliding to /e/  

Using the clues given by its location between /iː/ and /æ/on the Sound Foundations chart, try this:

1.. Say /iː/and notice that your lips are a little spread and your tongue is forward (check in a mirror or with your finger tip)

2.. Notice that the tip of your tongue is not touching your top front teeth, because to do so would stop the air flow and the sound.

3. Also notice that the tip of your tongue may be touching, or is near to, your bottom front teeth.

4.. Now say /iː/, make it quite long, and slowly slide to the sound/e/. So you are doing this /iː …… e/

5.. As you do this notice that you have to lower your jaw a little.

6.. Notice too that as your jaw lowers, so does your tongue, and that the tip of your tongue remains either touching or near to your lower front teeth. This means that jaw and tongue move together, like one unit.

7.. So this is the territory of/e/, and it is around here that different languages make their different varieties of/e/

8.. Now you can continue this journey by sliding to /æ/ and you notice that the same thing happens, your jaw and tongue drop a little further, and your tongue remains close to or touching your lower front teeth.

Conclusion? This helps you and your learners to locate the territory of /e/ and it also gives you a way to get there, by sliding between /iː/ and /æ/. Now let’s try a couple of other journeys.

Journey 2

1.. Say (your version of) the sound /e/ and experiment with changing it a little, by moving tongue, lips or jaw to a slightly different setting. Just try to change the sound a little. If your L1 is not English, then say this sound in your own language. How is it different from English? Sometimes I ask any Spanish speakers in my class to say/e/ in Spanish, then in English and to feel the difference.

2.. Here are some instruction I use, try them on yourself and your students. “Say it with less energy…” because learners often lose the sound by over-energising the English, trying too hard. Or for the Spanish speakers I say “open your mouth just a little and use less energy…”and this may help them get from Spanish /e/ to a more English /e/. Or I might just say “Change it….” This is perhaps the most useful instruction of all, as it requires students to connect with their muscles (lips or jaw) and make some small alteration that changes the sound perceptibly. And once free from the grip of the L1 sound they are able to look for a different muscular setting.

Journey 3

1.. Another approach is to hear the sound/e/ in your inner ear, your ‘mind’s ear’, and when it is clear inside, then say it aloud, noting any ways the external sound is different from the internal one.

2.. You can do this with your learners by giving them a single model of the sound/e/ which they must not repeat aloud, but only listen to internally. And though you say it only once they listen several times on their internal ‘tape loop’.

3. And only then do you ask them to say it aloud, and to compare that with what they heard internally.

4. It is also interesting to ask them to listen round the class to the other versions of the sound, and I say “Listen to the differneces…” (which validates everyone. “Can you hear the differences?” “Yes, they usually say”. From this I may choose one of the versions and ask the class, “Can you say it like her/him?”

 Other simple instructions which can help learners to experiment and let go of sounds they have got stuck with are “Slower”; Faster”; “Less energy”; “More energy”; “Make it longer”; “Make it shorter”; “Relax”; “Whisper it” and so on.

Have fun experimenting!


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Introducing the pronunciation chart at beginner level

A question from Kathryn Irwin

Hello Adrian, I just wondered if you have any tips or advice about introducing the chart to beginner or elementary level students? What kinds of activities would you recommend in the first few lessons?

I understand that you prioritise the physicality of making the individual sounds over teaching the symbols themselves but surely students also need to come to grips with which  sounds are represented by each symbol, if you know what I mean. This can seem a little overwhelming to students in the beginning, especially to those who do not have a Roman script, such as Arabic, Chinese or Korean learners.

Something which I also find challenging with any level of class is the fact that in my current teaching situation I get a new class of students every 4 weeks and, even at higher levels, some students may never have seen the phonemic chart before whilst others are very familiar with it and can recognise any transcriptions I write on the board. I just wondered if you have any advice for dealing with this kind of situation where it is not possible to gradually build up a knowledge of the chart due to lack of continuity with the same class.

Hi Kat: There is a post on my blog on introducing the chart that gives a dozen different ways of doing it. Click here for that particular post. Here for example is no 7 from that post, introducing the chart with students’ names.

1.. Instead of using vocabulary items, ask students to say their own names, with an English pronunciation (as an English speaker might say it). You can help them.

2.. Ask each to count the number of sounds in their anglicised name

3.. And then to come to the pron chart and point out their name on the chart. Other students say the sounds as pointed

4.. This time of course everyone knows what sound the student is looking for, but still the same rules apply: the class say whatever is pointed at, wrong or right, while the person pointing does so silently, enabling them to hear what the class are saying and to correct themselves if necessary

Regarding learning symbols, look at it like this. The symbols are names (in this case visual) for an experience (which needs to be physical as well as auditory, or else it is not much of an experience). When you have the experience, ie the sense of a muscle posture coupled perhaps with a certain movement or release, and an acoustic sensation, then to name it (associate sound with the symbol) is easy. If however you don’t have the experience and you try to learn the symbol, you’re just at sea and confused, because you are trying to learn the name for an experience you don’t yet have.  If you try to learn the names of a new group of students before meeting them it is very difficult as there is no experience to which to attach the names. If however you meet them and get to know them then in due course to attach a name to your experience (of each individual person) is no longer a problem, in fact you welcome it since it gives a label for the experience which enables you to refer to this person, to remember and think about them.

In summary, all I’m saying is once you have the experience of a sound then to learn the symbol is free of charge. If you try to teach symbols without experience of the sound, which I never do nor ever have done, you and your students will get into a mess.

So, I don’t teach the chart, or the symbols. I think many teachers perhaps may go wrong here. What I do is to introduce the chart, or more accurately, put it into circulation, so that it is available as a tool, and pretty soon the students learn the symbols anyway through simply using them, but not through me teaching them.  But I don’t mind if the students never learn the symbols, That is not what it’s about.  The chart is a tool for discriminating sounds. It is the whiteboard of pron, that’s all.

And regarding phonetic symbols, you don’t need those particular symbols, it could be a colour or a number or an abstract mark, it doesn’t matter, but you need some kind of name for the sounds, just like you need a name for students in your class.  In English it cannot be a letter of the alphabet even if some of the symbols look like it! Of course in another language letters of the alphabet may work instead of phonemic symbols (eg Spanish). I have even used this same chart with no symbols, just empty boxes. And it works just as well! In this case students simply relate sounds to the location on the chart. But of course that doesn’t help them when they look in a dictionary!

Regarding rolling enrolment to your class, have a look at the tips here. Hopefully this will suggest some ideas to experiment with.

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Is it best to teach pronunciation during early childhood?

Here is another interesting question from the Oxford TEFL Online Diploma course I was involved with last month, this one from Clare Sheppard:

Hi Adrian,   Kelly says that after childhood our ability to adopt an unfamiliar set of sounds diminishes somewhat (p.4). Therefore I wonder whether it is best to teach pronunciation during early childhood. How would you approach teaching pronunciation to very young learners, and could the chart come into play at all with such a set of students?  Thanks!

Hi Clare,   I think it is always helpful to have pronunciation in circulation as an available focus of challenge, from the very start of the course at whatever age and throughout every lesson. Pron is the physical aspect of language. Without this physical connection the learning process can get stuck in our cognitive mind processes. Sure pron is easier at the younger age, but it is necessary all the time and for all ages, whether more difficult or not.  We must do what needs to be done, regardless of perceived difficulty, at any age and for any learner. Without the physical discipline of pronunciation the different parts of the language cannot hang together and support the learning of each other. Without pron the integrity of the language is eroded. If students are always practising pron as it comes up in the lesson that means they are all the time practising and whatever the language of the moment is. Whenever you practice pron you also rehearse vocab and grammar, so you practise pron kind of free of charge! And the bonus is that repeating is not really repetition, because though they might have the right words in the right order, the pron can always be challenged by immediate feedback from the teacher inviting the student to say it faster, slower, clearer, more connected, more expressive, containing stress, containing delight, clarifying word endings, more relaxed, and so on according to the different needs of each student. So the language is being practised while the pron is being challenged.

The chart is not something to teach. It is a help for the process of learning. The chart is to pron what the white board is to grammar and vocab. Use the chart with kids just the same. They love it. If you don’t have a chart arrange their shoes at the front of the room for the twelve vowels and gather round and practice, or distribute the twelve vowels to 12 pupils like this:

“So, who want to be /i:/ today?…. You? OK, So, who are you?”

“I’m /i:/”

“ OK, who’s she?”

“She’s /i:/”

“Yes, now, can you point to yourself on the chart?”

“Ok, so now, who’s going to be /u:/ today?”

…..and so on… and then:

“Ok here is the word me, what’s the vowel?”

“It’s /i:/….”

“Right, so, who is that?… ok stand up if you think it’s you….?”

……and so on….

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Do teachers need a detailed knowledge and understanding of articulatory phonetics to teach pronunciation effectively?

Three weeks ago I was a guest tutor on the Oxford TEFL Online Diploma course.  They run this and other teacher training courses throughout the year. Click here for info. The participants were asking a range of interesting pron questions, to which I was trying to make useful responses. Happily I have permission to reproduce a few on this blog. Here is one.

Greg Black’s question:  To what extent do you think that teachers need a detailed knowledge and understanding of articulatory phonetics to teach pronunciation effectively?

My response:  I think teachers do need a certain kind of knowledge. But in my view it is not primarily a theoretical or descriptive knowledge they need, such as is usually taught through books, and is certainly useful, but rather the ability to experience the physicality of the sounds and sequences of sounds in their own mouths, muscles and breath. If they can learn or be in the process of learning the physicality of the sounds, words and connected speech they are making, then they know at first hand what it is they need to do to help their students and they can set about finding the best ways to do so

This way, teachers do not even need to remember their explanations and techniques, almost better if they don’t in fact, because this means that rather than give a neat remembered piece of information, probably the same as they gave last time, they are going to look and sense within themselves in real time and in front of the students. And this brings about a quite different learning relationship. It’s like when a dance teacher tries out the step she wants you to learn, not merely to demonstrate it, but to see for herself just what you need to do and where your difficulty might be, and what she needs to do to assist you. And you learn even from her process of learning. I use a term from neurology proprioception to describe this process. It means sensing the movement of your muscles, knowing what they are doing.

As one develops this knowledge and this habit for on-going physical inquiry, I think one builds up a knowledge that is responsive, robust and helpful to the learner. And then suddenly all the theory falls into place, quite effortlessly. I tried to use this approach when writing my book Sound Foundations, that is to help the reader to start with a direct and physical experience of producing the sound (or word or stress or intonation), and then it is much easier to label it and discuss it. For example, once you have direct experience of your students you can more sily learn their names and talk about them and remember them. But it’s difficult to learn their names until you meet and experience them. Same with pron.

In my view the real knowledge a teacher needs comes from experiencing pronunciation physically, and observing that experience in order to help students replicate something similar.

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The Story of Sounds: Episode 20: Discovering the vowel /ɔː/ starting from /ɜː/

The vowel sound /ɔː/ is what I call an ‘extreme vowel’ of English, because it requires two fairly extreme movements that seem to be ‘off the map’ of many of my students’ experience. This is because the lips are further forward and more rounded that they expect, and the tongue is further back than they expect.

One way I help students to find this sound in their mouths is to build on three awarenesses that are already in circulation, three things they have already been experimenting with and which are now perhaps well established, as described in Episodes 14 – 19. They are:

1.. That the learners have worked on /ɜː/

2.. That they can locate button 1, lips forward and rounded, or back and spread

3.. That they can locate button 2, tongue forward or back.

So try this:

Journey 1

1.. Find /ɜː/. Feel the lack of muscle tone in lips and tongue in this relaxed, central, neutral position.

2.. Say a long /ɜː/ and as you do so round the lips and push them forward, which will modify the sound. It will no longer be /ɜː/ in fact it will not be any standard English vowel. Keep saying this modified sound while you also bring the tongue back, probably further than you expect. This will modify the sound even more… and….

3.. This should bring you into the region of /ɔː/. And now to fine tune this vowel sound here are a couple of things you can do

Journey 2

1.. Check how your /ɔː/ relates to /uː/ which is just above it on the chart. Say both.

2.. Sliding from /uː/ to /ɔː/ several times

You should notice that the forward and rounded lips do not need to change much between the two sounds,  but that the jaw may drop a little, and the back of the tongue also moves down and further back in the mouth as you move towards /ɔː/.

3.. A second check is to see if your tongue is back enough. Take the position you have got for /ɔː/ and suck air in through the mouth. You should feel and hear a rasping sound coming from friction between the back of the tongue and the back of the soft palate. This shows how far back the back of the tongue is. If you do not hear the rasping sound, try drawing your tongue a little further back.

And now just experiment with these variables.

This is a good example of using a known sound position to discover an unknown sound position, or a more familiar to discover a less familiar. And all the time I am trying to help learners to navigate around new sounds primarily by re-connecting with their muscles in order to dissolve the grip of the L1 habitual / automotised position. And they are hearing self and others experimenting. And sometime hearing me too. But copying me and repeating after me is not for me a primary way of teaching as it tends to obliterate rather than enhance this inner search for new muscle positions and awareness.

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