Welcome to the Sound Foundations pron chart website

This website is for teachers who want to develop their use of the Sound Foundations phonemic chart in their English language classroom, in order to make pronunciation an attractive and successful activity that integrates with and inspires all other language work.

This website is also about the search for a different and more successful way of learning and teaching pronunciation in English language classes.  Topics covered include:

  1. Guided tours of the chart
  2. How to introduce the chart and use the embedded learner information.
  3. How to help learners find “the muscles that make the sounds”
  4. Techniques and tricks for using the chart
  5. Responding to learner problems ‘on the wing’
  6. Using the chart to integrate pronunciation into all language work
  7. Working with sounds, words, and connected speech
  8. Developing your confidence and insight into pronunciation

For a quick overview of the thinking behind this site, scroll down

 Pronunciation infuses all language activity, including thinking

Clearly pronunciation is part of speaking. And when we start to learn a second or third language we may notice the ‘grip’ of mother tongue pronunciation, the learnt and automotised neuro-muscular connections of our L1 pronunciation.

Pronunciation is also part of listening, and we quickly find that the discernment of sounds of the new language is strongly influenced by this grip of the mother tongue. And pronunciation is present in reading silently when we ‘hear’ the words internally. This is especially the case for learners. Pronunciation is also present when we are writing, as we first formulate word sequences internally. Pronunciation is present in short term memory, as for example when I read a phone number and then go to the phone and dial it, or read a sentence which I then transcribe in my notebook. In these cases I retain the information in a kind of internal phonological loop. Pronunciation is often involved in thinking, wherever that involves internal speaking in my head, and it is an integral part of the learning and retrieval  of vocabulary items.

Conclusion from this? That pronunciation is everywhere, in everything and is being reinforced or rehearsed all the time. Whatever we are doing in life, we are probably doing pronunciation as well, internally if not externally.

We bring two (unnecessary) complications to the teaching and learning of pronunciation

 Complication 1: Pronunciation comes to be seen by the learner, perhaps the teacher too, as rather mysterious, endless, conceptually elusive. It lacks a thinking tool or map or sense making mechanism.

Solution 1: Use a properly constructed pronunciation chart. It provides a map, a thinking tool, a complete gestalt. It gives the cognitive mind what it needs by presenting it with a map that shows what has to be done, how sounds fit together and how they are made physically. The Sound Foundations chart offers such a map which brings all this together in one visual sweep. This map is not only a map to look at. it also constitutes the pronunciation whiteboard, on which problems solutions and experiments are tracked and worked on by students and teacher.

For more on this explore The chart and physicality under the Topics sidebar

Complication 2: Pronunciation is cognitively taught (perhaps like a university phonetics course) when it should be physically taught. Or if physically taught it is usually by repetition, which in effect practises and rehearses the already embedded mother tongue grip, without helping the learner get free from that grip.

Solution 2: Teach pronunciation physically, like dance. Help learners to reconnect with the muscles that make the difference. Learning pronunciation is more like learning a dance than it is like learning grammar or vocabulary. Indeed, pronunciation is the physical aspect of language, it brings language into the world, otherwise language would remain stuck in our minds, unable to get out, unable to manifest in the world.

To liberate learners from the muscular grip of their mother tongue pronunciation think of yourself as a dance teacher, helping learners to discover a set of new movements beyond their normal habitual repertoire of movements. To teach pronunciation is to teach a subtle inner dance. I have found that the conscious rediscovery of as few as four ‘muscle buttons’ is enough to navigate almost anywhere amongst the new vowels and consonants:

  1. Tongue (moving forward and back)
    2. Lips (spreading and bringing back, or rounding and pushing forward)
    3. Jaw + tongue (moving them up and down)
    4. Voice (turning it on or off, to make voiced or unvoiced sounds)

To do this you the teacher have got to re-connect with these muscles in yourself, and to really get to know what you are doing when you make sounds and connect them together.  To help you do this I have written the Story of Sounds which puts you right in touch with what you are doing, and thereby enable you to help your students to change what they are doing whenever necessary. This applies equally whether you are a native or non native speak of English. It makes no difference.

For more on this explore The Story of Sounds and The chart and physicality under the Topics sidebar


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24 Responses to Welcome to the Sound Foundations pron chart website

  1. Rysia says:

    I enjoyed your webinar very much. Looking forward to reading your blogs! 🙂

  2. Adrian Underhill says:

    Thanks for joining the webinar Rysia! I have just posted the first short article.

  3. Annette says:

    I work at a language institute in California. Students are international. The context is intensive English courses. The phonemic chart is always visible in the classroom. Students and I use it as an ongoing reference matching words to sounds as pronunciation difficulties arise during the lesson. I dedicate lessons to familiarizing students with chart. Once they get to know it, I find they start refering to it.

    I mainly concentrate on vowels during dedicated lessons. Some useful tips that come to mind:
    a) Show the position of the vowels in the mouth by using (Adrian’s) marker on the end of the tongue trick. I think this is explained in Sound Foundations. Rest the marker on the tip of your tongue as you make the vowel sounds and students will see the markers move. Excuse me if I am repeating anything mentioned in the Webinar as I haven’t watched it all yet.
    b) Ask students to make up sentences to help them remember the vowel sounds (L-R. T-B). Eg. Put your teeth in, would you?

    Look forward to reading everyone’s ideas.

  4. Adrian Underhill says:

    Thanks Annette for your reply and your tips. Good to know that you use the chart to deal with pronunciation difficulties as they arise during the lesson.
    Could you say a bit more on how you use the chart in these two activities?

  5. Hi Adrian

    Welcome to the blogosphere! I wish you lots of fun. I’m sorry I missed your recent Macmillan webinar. I will make up for it by following your blog posts very closely, as I know I will learn a huge amount about how to integrate pronunciation into my classes more effectively.

    I will never forget the presentation on the phonemic chart you did at a conference I attended a while back. You had the audience eating out of the palm of your hands, totally mesmerised. There were hundreds of people there and I remember your session was so energetic and memorable.

    I really look forward to reading more of your blog posts.

  6. Adrian Underhill says:

    Hi Janet
    Thanks for your welcome …. this is my first time as blog host! My hope is that we’ll find ways to bring pronunciation in from the cold …. by dealing with some of the reasons why it is sometimes not integrated. I think the chart itself provides a powerful approach to integration, and I’ll develop this idea in the next post.

    And it will be interesting to hear the experiences of teachers who already use a chart, like Annette, so we can learn from that too.

    Glad you enjoyed the chart at the conference! Are you in a position to use it in your class?

  7. Hi Adrian

    Thank you for your reply. I’m afraid I don’t actually have a class at the moment, but I will be teaching on a Teacher refresher course in the Uk soon and there will be a big poster of the phonemic chart on the wall.

    I will try to integrate it into the sessions as and when pronunciation issues arise, or maybe use it specifically for some fun, short warmer activities to highlight some of the sounds.

    Eg I could point to one of the phonemic vowel symbols on the chart and then elicit as many words from the students using that sound as possible. It’s fun to blow up a balloon and ss throw it to each other and the student who catches the ball has to say a word and then throw it on to another student. It’s a quick-fire activity and would certainly re-energise them.

  8. Adrian Underhill says:

    Thanks Janet for your example of a chart activity which is so simple yet does so much. You describe two steps:
    1. You point to a sound
    2. You elicit words containing that sound

    And it’s interesting to look at what a student has to do just in order to do those two steps:
    1. You point to a sound:
    – In fact you point to a visual symbol, and the student supplies the sound, which they have to recreate internally and then hear internally and ‘say’ in their inner voice, and validate internally and then say in their external voice, and then modify etc etc. And if we (teachers) know that internal representation is going on we can be ready to encourage it
    2. You ask for words that contain the sound:
    – While holding the sound ‘in memory’ learners have to test it against words that they recall. They accept/reject the word as matching the sound or not. They then say the selected word aloud, and in so doing its pronunciation may get modified by the articulatory muscles and so sound different from the internal rendering, so they have another go. Then you the teacher step in, or not, and perhaps invite them to say the sound again and the word to see if they match, and so on….

    So the simple instruction leads to multiple inner moves which, if the teacher is aware of it, can make for a richer pronunciation micro- event!

    What other ‘simple’ things do any of you do with the chart in your classes?

  9. Clementine says:

    Hi Adrian!

    I’m a huge fan of your chart – I love using the chart for the ways you mention – and I’ve found that this is often for ‘listen and repeat’ on an interactive whiteboard- simple but effective!

    One thing I’d like to experiment more with is using video to show the sounds in conjunction with your chart….I find that often students can’t all see my mouth clearly at the same time. I have tried making a quick 3 second video of me saying one of the sounds which I then project (with the sound turned down) and ask students – which sound do you think I’m making? They try and make it and then find it on the chart, which went down quite well. Some sounds are easier to see than others!

    I have also wondered what it would be like to have all the symbols on a chart linked to a 2 sec video of a person making that sound?

    Just a final note

  10. Adrian Underhill says:

    Hi Clementine
    I think the activity you describe with the video is really great, and as you imply it’s a wonderful area to experiment with. I would encourage all teachers to think about the fact that underlies this point, namely that pronunciation really is a physical activity – that works by causing muscles to move, and the movement is (more or less) visible. We know that deaf people in any culture can see what their friends are saying by watching the movements of their mouths, lips and tongue. So let’s use that in language teaching. After all, if you want to learn a dance the best way is to watch it. And pronunciation is like a dance of great subtlety.

    I like to mime the movements of a sound to the class, and usually I do it silently, without the voice, in order to focus the students’ attention more on the movement. Is that how you do it Clementine? I think the idea of making a brief video clip of the movement is fantastic, and then to file that behind an interactive chart (which you could do on an interactive white board) would provide a powerful learning resource.

    It is perhaps worth pointing out to anyone that does not know it, that
    the Sound Foundations chart (click ” The Sound Foundations Chart → ” at the top of this blog to see it) is not just a list of symbols, it is actually a map which has information embedded in it about HOW and WHERE sounds are produced. For the vowel box in the top left, quadrant and for the consonants in the lower half, the front of the mouth is to the left of the chart, and generally speaking these front sounds are the ones that are more visible! Neat isn’t it! I’ll say more about that in a future post. Meanwhile, thanks for that Clementine.

  11. mcargobe says:

    Hi ADRIAN,
    I’m CARMEN GÓMEZ and I teach at the State School of Languages in Valencia (Spain)I´ve been a great fan of you and your chart for about 20 years, after attending one of your talks. I read your book years ago and I´ve been carrying the hard cardboard chart going with it for years. Of course “pronunciation is the neglected Cinderella of the English language”.
    As for the way I use it, I´ve always tried to follow all your tips, but wy I found really useful is trying to attach a “funny miming” to each sound in such a way that whenever there´s a mistake I use the mime and the students remember the sound.
    Looking forward to your next post

    • Hi Carmen. Good to hear from you, and thanks for your comment on mime which reminds us of the importance of the physicality of pronunciation, for learners to see the visible parts of pronunciation with their eyes, since that informs their muscles in ways that verbal descriptions cannot do. (Those who are not sighted have other ways of engaging with this physicality). And teachers need to be aware of this resource. Providing an oral model of a sound or word is different from providing a visual model, and each does a different job. As I said in reply to Clementine I like to mime a sound or word silently to focus attention on the movement.

  12. Hello Adrian,

    I’ll be following your blog very closely. I am looking forward to reading your posts more thoroughly this afternoon.

    Meanwhile, depending on the level of our students, we introduce them to IPA chart usually by the Intermediate level of General English. However there is no consistency among approaches and some of our teachers cannot use the charts and symbols at all. Certainly our beginners and elementary students are exposed to the symbols several times in their text book throughout the courses and also through any activities provided by our teachers, such as minimal pairs activities. I am keen to see what more we can do.

  13. sophie says:

    Hello Adrian,

    I have noticed that lots of teachers are afraid of phonetic symbols and so don’t integrate them into their teaching. Also, unfortunately some of the pronunication activities published have been tedious and this hasn’t helped the cause.


  14. Yes, thanks for this Sophie and your point Vernon on the same issue. The vexed question of teachers not being able to use the symbols constantly recurs, and I am sympathetic to it. But I think the root problem lies not in the complexity of the symbols (there are only 44, which is nothing to the human brain, and anyway half of them are predictable) but in the fact that the teacher has not a clear internal representation of the (muscular) posture of that sound. The problem is not the symbol, but the meaning of that symbol, a lack of conscious experience of what it symbolises. And that makes it all seem mysterious and fearful. This is the outcome of an approach to pronunciation that is essentially cognitive … imagine training for football through lectures rather than engaging the body, or learning dance without seeing it. No wonder it becomes tedious. This is one reason why I maintain that a physical approach is a necessary part of the way ahead…

  15. Timea says:

    Hi Adrian

    It’s great to see that you’ve started this blog. 🙂
    I really enjoyed your seminar in Parsberg and I look forward to reading your articles …


    • Adrian Underhill says:

      Thanks Timea. Nice to hear from you! There;s another post going up today. Are you using the chart in your lessons?

  16. Caterina Pavesi says:

    Hi Adrian,
    I have two pronunciation labs this year and I will use your chart and your method. I watched the webinar twice, to make sure I remember all the tricks and tips. I know I will be a bit nervous to start with, but as you say it’s better to learn it with the students. The only problem is I will be working in computer labs… with screens in front of them, I am afraid some students might not have a good view of my miming. I’ll try and move around as much as I can. Well, wish me good luck. I’ll keep you posted…
    Thanks again

  17. Adrian Underhill says:

    I wish you and your students a lot of fun with the pron labs! Yes, pron work is an interactive skill, so you learn along with the students. Anyway, you’re not trying to deliver a performance, but to get them interested and curious in what they could do with their pronunciation. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves (and on our students) when we imagine that the aim of a pron session is to ‘fix’ their pron or ‘make’ them much better at it in a few minutes. More realistic and more fun is to work with what they do and help them to see and feel and hear differences that are possible. Once they get insight, the rest follows in time. Let us know Cat how you get on in the computer lab, I think that will be relevant to many of us….

  18. imelda morice says:

    I work with 11 to 15 year olds in France and I have felt the need for a more structured way of teaching pronunciation. Since September and before coming across your work I Have been using gestures and facial mouvement more than previously and finding it very successful. The pupils imitate the mouvment and the sound happens. With your chart and a lot of practise I should be able to move forward, I’m looking forward to it. I am wondering how to deal with my accent and the sounds (I’m Irish), I don’t always remember the “correct” sound and in ordinary speech the sound I make is often quite different. Thank you for any comments.

  19. Hello Imelda
    Thanks for your question. You say: “I am wondering how to deal with my accent and the sounds (I’m Irish), I don’t always remember the “correct” sound and in ordinary speech the sound I make is often quite different”.

    This is a very topical concern. And in this era of global Englishes we find statements like: “There is not one brand of English that is more correct than any other. Anyone who uses English, whether native or non-native speaker, is entitled to use it in the way they wish and with the accent they find appropriate”. And while lots of people are busy saying things like that, lots of other people are asking us “Which is the ‘correct’ English to learn?”

    My view is it doesn’t help much to think in terms of a ‘correct’ English (though in some settings there may be a preferred ‘target’ accent) but it is more helpful to think of many different varieties, one of which I (the teacher) speak. Then it becomes my responsibility with the help of course materials, media, films, the internet, the accents of other colleagues, etc. to say to the students “Listen to these different pronunciations, mine for example, and that other teacher you have, and your favourite movie actor, and the two on this course book dialogue… Ok now let’s try one or two of these, because there is no fixed best accent, but from these choices you can experiment and in some sense ‘choose’ how you want to speak…”

    Now this may sound idealistic especially if you subscribe to a behaviourist account of learning (you learn by forming a habit through lots of repetition) which may conclude that learners can only manage one new accent at best, and so you the teacher had better choose the right one and speak it yourself. However, if you conduct a more conscious approach to learning with exposure to different accents and discussion and reflection and experimentation with the differences, and if you give students the tools they need to make changes to pronunciation, it may be that students can become able to comprehend a variety of accents.

    My advice to you? Speak your accent boldly with your students, point our where you are from, expose them to another accents all the time and get them notice the difference between yours and the ones in the dialogue you are using. Get them to try both, to see that they can, and to imitate their stars. Have fun with pron and it begins to unlock.

    And the phonemic symbols are relative for us teachers and learners rather than absolute. For example, the same dictionary can be used by speakers of different varieties (Irish, Australian, West Indian etc) who all open the same dictionary and look at the same definition and see the same symbols for the pronunciation and they all say something different (and ‘correct’). So there is negotiation involved in deciding what is the model that will be attributed to the symbol in that setting.

    I’ll be interested to hear what you think about this…. And let us know how you get on with gestures and facial movement!

  20. Cristina Maria MERONI says:

    Hi Adrian! I’m your admirer since your Milano seminar, years ago. I’ve got your sounds book, the green one. I habitually use some of your impressive triks, while teaching pronounciation. I think I’m going to meet you quite soon! See you!

    • Good to hear from you Cristina. I hope that over the next few months we will be able to share on this blog some of the different techniques that teachers and students have found useful with the pron chart. What do you think has been one of the most helpful ways you have found of using the chart?

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