In October 2010 in my third post on this blog, I wrote about helping students to connect with the muscles that make the pronunciation difference. I said that I have found it helpful for students to identify 4 internal muscle buttons (physically as well as cognitively) which enable them to get around the mouth and consciously find new articulations. These muscle buttons are:

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

I proposed that this basic muscle kit is sufficient to navigate round vowels and diphthongs, and most of the consonants. The point about these 4 buttons is to learn to move each at will. They already operate as part of the habit of the learner’s mother tongue, but to learn the new moves of the new sounds of a new language learners need to move these muscles free of the grip of the mother tongue habit. That is, from choice. So part of what follows consists of turning a habit into a choice.

And we start with The Voice Choice. I will show how I introduce button number 4, the Voice Button, during the process of discovering consonants.

The Voice Choice

As you know I like where possible to introduce new sounds through mime, as by using their eyes the learners immediately focus on the muscle movements involved

  1. I silently mime the sound /s/ with my lips, while also performing a wriggly snake movement with my hand and arm (see video). Amazingly all the students I have encountered in any part of the world start to say /sssssss/. I point to /s/ on the chart
  2. I then mime /z/ with my lips and with my arm perform a pestering bee or mosquito. Students start to say /zzzzzzz/ and I point to  /z/ on the chart
  3. I then stop the mime and slide the pointer back and forth between /s/ and /z/ on the chart, and students make the sounds correspondingly.
  4. Then I indicate to them to touch their fingers flat against the front of the throat, where the Adam’s apple is located, and again to alternate the sounds as I slide the pointer on the chart.
  5. I ask ”What do you notice?” and they all say things like voice, vibration…  etc. I agree and suggest we call it voice.
  6. I then say “This is a voice switch, and we can put it on or off.” I show it in ‘on position’, my fingers flat against my throat, and in ‘off position’ my fingers moved by 90º. On, off, on, off. “Like a light switch” I say.
  7. Then I indicate /s/ on the chart and they say it, and I get them to continue the sound /sssss/. While doing that I move my hand (the voice switch) from the off to the on position. Now they make /zzzzz/, then off and they make /sssss/ and so on several more times.
  8. So they are now intentionally and consciously switching their voice on and off simply in response to the visual cue of me moving my hand onto and off my throat. I now know, and so do they, that they have made the conscious rediscovery of their voice button.
  9. Now we can apply this new resource to the discovery and discernment of various other pairs of consonants.

 In the next Episode I will show how the new resource of the Voice Button can be used to help students discover unknown consonants and to see, very often for the first time, the close relationship between the 8 voiced/unvoiced pairs in English, contributing to their growing awareness that all the sounds of English are made with a relatively small repertoire of movement, and that it is not very mysterious.