In my last posting I suggested that by having a mental map of pronunciation and by making pronunciation physical we can demystify it, and have it as an ally in bringing language alive. In this posting I will take you on a short guided tour of the chart, to show how the chart can be a map that contains information about HOW and WHERE sounds are made embedded into its design. Then I’ll introduce the some thoughts about teaching the physicality of pronunciation. At the end I recommend you take a look at my webinar in order to see and hear how this works.
The chart as map: The twelve vowels
Open the chart (see link above) and look at the TOP LEFT QUARTER of the chart. You will see the 12 vowels.
Imagine that you are looking at a cross section of the mouth, from the side:
The FRONT of the mouth (and the lips) are at the LEFT of this quadrant on the chart.
The BACK of the mouth is at the RIGHT.
The TOP of the mouth is along the top of that quadrant, and the BOTTOM of the mouth is the bottom.
Straight away you can see the HIGH vowels (along the top line) and the LOW vowels (along the bottom line). And you can see the BACK vowels (to the right) and FRONT ones (to the left), and finally the two central vowels /∂/ and /3:/ in the centre
This is helpful because the terms front and back refer to whether the tongue itself is front or back in the mouth, and high and low refer to whether the tongue is higher or lower in the mouth. This also corresponds with the jaw being more closed or more open. Now experiment a bit and see if you can relate the position of the vowels on the chart to their position in your mouth when you say them. Remember too that neighbours on the chart are neighbours in the mouth.
Now look at the first two rows of consonants below the vowels. There are 8 consonants in each row. Once again, the consonants made nearer the FRONT of the mouth are at the LEFT, and those made further BACK in the mouth are to the RIGHT. Note also that in these two rows the sounds are in unvoiced / voiced pairs.
That’s probably enough for the moment. Tell me how you get on and we’ll take this further n the next posting.
The physicality of pronunciation
When you learn sport or dance you become more attentive to subtle muscular movements that you may not be aware of in ordinary activities.
Pronunciation is no different. Here too we must help students connect with the muscles that make the difference. So, one of my first tasks during the first lessons with a new class (beginners, intermediate or advanced, teacher or student, native or non-native English speaker, it’s all the same) is to help them (re-)discover the main muscles that make the pronunciation difference, to locate the internal buttons that trigger the muscle movements. I do this starting with the vowels, and you can see and hear this at the link below. At the beginning it is enough to help students identify 4 such buttons (physically as well as cognitively) which enable them to get around the mouth and consciously find new positions of articulation. These muscle buttons are:
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)
This is the basic muscle kit you need to navigate round vowels and diphthongs, and it also transfers neatly to consonants and gets you round most of them.
Now, to see and hear a demonstration of how I introduce the chart and this physicality click on Pronunciation Webinar under Blogroll on the right of this blog and you’ll find my webinar half way down the page.
If you would like to comment on these ideas, or on how you get on with the experiments above, or how you introduce the chart, or how you make pronunciation physical, please do so, and we’ll get a conversation going. Have fun! And I look forward to reading your comments.