A new way to discover /r/

In Episode 5 we saw how /r/ can be discovered by approaching it from /n/. In Episode 7 we find another surprising short cut to articulating the English /r/ sound.

One advantage of using a chart with a map-like, geographic layout is that you keep making new discoveries about how to help learners to find and say new sounds. Here is one discovery I made while helping a student to locate /r/:

Journey 1

Re-visit and try again the three journeys in Episode 6 where you connect the three sounds /θ/ /s/ and /ʃ/ by just sliding the tip of tongue back a little in the mouth, letting the air exit over the tip of your tongue, between tongue and tooth ridge or palate.

Journey 2

Now do exactly the same thing but this time you voice the three consonants. So instead of saying the unvoiced trio of /θ/ then /s/ then /ʃ/ (going back in the mouth) you are producing the voiced trio of /ð/ then /z/ then /Ʒ/. It is the same small backwards movement of the tip of your tongue (which shifts the point of the airflow between tongue and tooth ridge) except it is voiced, and this is enough to make these three sounds different from each other.

Journey 3

Repeat Journey 2 to produce the voiced trio /ð/ then /z/ then /Ʒ/, but this time when you get to /Ʒ/ continue the backwards movement of your tongue across the palate, raising the tip of the tongue a little further. Notice how the distance of the tongue tip from the roof of the mouth increases as you take the tongue tip back, and as this happens so the friction between tongue and palate disappears, and you should find you have arrived at the clear, continuing and frictionless sound of /r/. You’d better try this a few times!

We have now found two quite different ways of helping learners to arrive at /r/. And if you look at the 7 Episodes so far in this story maybe you can begin to appreciate just how all these sounds are connected together, how they interrelate, and how each can be used as a starting point to discover another.

 As I keep saying, only by sensing your own ‘mouth muscles’, by knowing from the inside how you make all the sounds yourself, can you be fully versatile and fluent in the way you guide your students around this territory. This is why I think it is so important to work with pronunciation as a physical activity, like the movements of a dance. In the end this knowledge is physical rather than cognitive.