The Story of Sounds: Episode 11: /f/ and /v/

Let’s have a look at /f/ and /v/. As always, getting insight into HOW you make these sounds, I mean actually sensing the flesh, blood and breath of these sounds, gives you insight into making many other sounds as well as into the general terrain of the mouth. The learning of any sound goes further than the learning of that sound…. You are creating a system which soon makes all the sounds easier. So, please do the following activities as you read….

Now, what have we got here? The first thing to note is that /f/ and /v/ are made right at the front of the mouth. mouth (so they are an the left side of the pronunciation chart). And this means they are nicely visible, so to draw attention to the physicality of these sounds I can easily mime them (ie demonstrate without sounding them, forcing students to use their eyes to see what I am doing and then to search for the corresponding physical position within themselves).

Journey 1

Miming /f/ and /v/. One way is you take the posture of /f/, point to your lip and teeth, and gesture the air coming out between them. And then invite the same sound from the students. For /v/ I continue the same mime but indicate the ‘voice button’ (see episodes 8 and 9) that converts /f/ to /v/. Almost the first question I ask students once they have more or less got a sound is “what are the two surfaces …?” And this again focuses their attention on what is happening inside their mouths, the idea being that most consonants are formed by a restriction on air flow through the mouth caused by one surface closing against another. They may reply “Lips, Teeth….” So I say “Which lip?” and get them to touch the lower lip. And “Which teeth?” and get them to point at the upper teeth. Perhaps I’ll ask “Can you make this sound with lower teeth and upper teeth?” so they try that which means they again explore the mouth terrain actively and consciously. (And you can almost make /f/ that way too!)

Journey 2

Say /f f f f f/ and push teeth and lip harder together to try to stop the airflow. Hear how the sound changes. Again say /f f f f f/ and this time let the teeth and lip move a little apart, perhaps by inserting finger tip or pen. Note how the sound changes and disappears, and all you have left is a silent exhalation of air. The learners are discovering the parameters of friction of this sound. It is most important for students and teachers to explore around the edges of sounds in this way.

Journey 3

Say /f f f f f/. Now whisper it. Is there any difference? No. Say /v v v v /. Now whisper it. Is there any difference? Yes of course, the voice stops. But are you left with /f f f f/? Well, yes, but try this. Whisper first /f f f f / and then whisper /v v v v/. Are they the same? Not necessarily…. Whisper the words few and view. Are the two initial sounds excactly the same? Perhaps not….We’ll return to this another time.

Journey 4

What other sounds can be discovered from /f/ and /v/? You are about to make an interesting discovery, maybe for the first time:

Say /f f f f/ and as you do so slowly let the tip of your tongue move forward until it replaces the bottom lip as the point of contact against the upper teeth. Now it is tip of the tongue and the upper teeth that regulate the air flow. Read this carefully and do it slowly until you get it. The movement is very small. But what happens? You transform /f/ into /θ/. Isn’t that amazing? Such a small easy movement and you can change a simple consonant into one of the more challenging consonants. So here is a new way for your students to discover /θ/. And of course in the same way /v/ transforms into /ð/. Once you can discover a sound by starting from another you begin to see how interconnected and how simple the system is, and also that you can do it!

To conclude, let me remind you of something I have often said before: the major difference between making vowel sounds (upper half of the chart, above the line) and consonant sounds (lower half of the chart, below the line) is that with vowel sounds there is no obstruction to the air flow, while with consonants there is some kind of obstruction to the air flow, caused by two surfaces being brought together. Which surfaces (tongue, teeth, lips etc) and how they are brought together determines which consonant sound you get. There are one or two exceptions to this which I’ll look at in the next Story of Sounds episode.

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2 Responses to The Story of Sounds: Episode 11: /f/ and /v/

  1. Sana says:

    Thanks Prof. You are great.

  2. Dear Adrian,

    I loved this post! I think it\’s very interesting to find several activities to go through differences between sounds and clarify it to students.

    I\’m also writing to you because I want to ask for some advice. I\’m starting a course of general English with younger learners of around 9 years old, and I would like to know what\’s the right approach that I should take to start teaching the Phonemic Chart, as they probably don\’t know about it. I\’ve thought about flashcards and relating the phonemes to pictures rather than to words, as they might get confused with the pronunciation and the way they write the words (as it is a monolingual class of spanish speakers).
    I was also reading some articles and I found out that with younger learners it is better to start with \’continuous\’ sounds (like /m/, /f/, /l/, /s/, etc.) and then to move on to \’quick\’ sounds (like ( /p/, /b/, /k/, /t/, etc.) Is this true? It makes some point, as children may find it difficult to identify the \’quick sounds\’, whereas with sounds like /m/ or /s/ they can find them more easily in their mouths by doing /mmmm/. What do you think? How could I do it the right way?

    I would really appreciate any tip you could give me and thanks a lot for all these amazing posts!

    Sebastian.

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