Here is a guided tour of the Sound Foundations pronunciation chart, so the mind can see what is involved. And an approach to the physicality, so the body is involved. I also offer suggestions about teaching the physicality of pronunciation. At the end I recommend you watch my webinar to see how this works. Unlike grammar and vocabulary, pronunciation is a physical activity, and it makes sense to learn pronunciation with mind and body.
The chart is designed to tell you HOW and WHERE sounds are made
The 12 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 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 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 that neighbours on the chart are neighbours in the mouth.
The 24 Consonants: 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 of the chart, and consonants made further BACK in the mouth are to the RIGHT. Note that in these two rows the sounds are in unvoiced / voiced pairs.
The physicality of pronunciation
When you learn sport or dance you become more attentive to the subtle muscular movements in your body.
Pronunciation is no different. Teachers must help students to connect with the muscles that make the pronunciation difference. 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) I help learners to (re-)discover the main muscles that make the pronunciation difference, to locate the four pronunciation muscle buttons that trigger the muscle movements. I start with the vowels, as you can see at the link below. At the beginning it is enough to help students identify 4 such buttons which enable them to get around the mouth and find new positions of articulation. These 4 muscle buttons are:
1. Lips (spreading and bringing back, or rounding and pushing forward)
2. Tongue (moving forward and back)
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.
You can watch a demonstration of how I introduce the chart and the physicality, in order to teach and learn pronunciation with mind and body. Click on Pronunciation Webinar under Blogroll on the right of this blog and you’ll find my webinar half way down the page.
I fully agree with the concept of the physicality of pronuniciation, like doing a sport.
Thank you for a brilliant webinar!
This might sound off-topic, but speaking about the physicality of pronunciation, I think that both you and everyone who follows this blog could find a new source of inspiration in Karlheiz Stockhausen’s ‘Stimmung’. If you think you could bear a capella singing in general, give it a try and re-discover the origins of sound and speech!
Or have you probably heard it already?
Thanks for your fascinating comment. It is great to hear from someone making this connection with pron as it is something that has also fascinated me for a long time. I am familiar with overtone chanting, and with the concept of natural harmonics, and I too am a fan of Stimmung. As an improvising musician I have long been curious about the ‘contrived and unnatural’ equal temperament musical scale we use in the west, which basically means that all notes except octaves are slightly out of tune! And I have explored and used various more natural harmonic scales, which led to me practising overtone chanting, and also to studying the middle eastern ney, though I do not play it now.
Unlike consonants, vowels are all voiced and all produced with no obstruction to the airflow. So how do we distinguish one vowel from another? The answer is that each vowel requires its own distinct shape and volume of the mouth (set up by tongue, lips and jaw) and this creates a distinct harmonic pattern of overtones for each vowel (this harmonic fingerprint is not affected by the individual speaker’s voice tone or gender). And we tell vowels apart by this pattern of harmonics in just the same way as we distinguish between a violin and a trumpet and a trombone and an accordian. So one might say, with a little licence, that speaking and distinguishing vowels is in itself a form of overtone chanting…. Which is perhaps what your comment was hinting at in the first place? This is a subject for a whole other blog….
Hi Adrian! Thank you for a very insightful comment.
Truth be told, I’ve never been taught solfège or musical theory. I intuitively discovered some kind of similarity between your teacher training videos and the Stimmung. Thanks to your comment, I now understand the true reasons for this similarity. By the way, there’s another parallel that comes to mind. Arkady Shilkloper (http://www.jazz.ru/eng/pages/shilkloper/) sometimes takes part in voice and diction trainings here in Moscow, where people sit in circle and simply produce and enjoy different sounds, and these trainings also resemble your sessions.
Is there a way to hear the music you play? Are there any recordings available?
Thanks Chris for your affirmation! There are of course several reasons why pronunciation learning and teaching may be neglected, and I have identified what seem to me to be the two main ones above. Barney Griffiths, in his excellent 2004 article Integrating pronunciation into classroom activities (google it or go to British Council Teaching English website) identifies two reasons why pronunciation may be neglected: lack of clear guidelines and rules available in course books, and the low impact of isolated once a month exercises. I agree with him on both of those, and I think that my suggestion of the map may provide the beginning of a wide-ranging and simple solution to his first point. But the notion of a real focus on practical physicality offers I think a high level solution to a series of other problems afflicting learners and teachers of pronunciation, and is an approach less often identified in our discussions on EL teaching. It would be interesting to know what is behind your statement Chris, and whether you too have experience of this.
I would like to get more webinars in pronunciation
Thanks Gonzalo. What is it that you need from further webinars? What would you like to develop or do differently in your pronunciation teaching?