Julian Regan was teaching some Turkish students, and was exploring ways to work in individual sounds. He asked me:

JR Could you give me a quick tip to help my Turkish students pronounce /w/ correctly, rather than /v/? Thanks!

AU OK Julian, as always the first thing is to start with yourself, so let me do a tutorial with you right now: First you have to keep making the two sounds /w/ and /v/ yourself in your own mouth to see 1) how they can be confusing, and get yourself into that mindset, and 2) what the key differences are.

So, do this now, with your mouth and tongue etc, as you read this……… Slow both sounds down and say them. What does that tell you? Can they both be slowed down? Well, yes, you find that /v/ can be slowed down, and /w/ sort of can but is itself the product of a glide and therefore cannot be sustained in the way /v/ can. And you also notice that both sounds are voiced. Now, the main question to ask of consonants is “which are the two surfaces in the mouth that come together to make the sound?” So, for /v/ what are the two surfaces? OK, it’s the lower lip and upper front teeth. Notice how they touch lightly, enough to make friction with the airflow, but not enough to stop the airflow. Alright so far? You don’t need any theory or book to do this….

Now what are the two surfaces for /w/?  Well you notice that it’s the two lips pouting slightly and moving approximately from / ʊ / to / ǝ/. And you can also notice that the tongue doesn’t do anything in either of these sounds. It is just lying quietly in the bottom of the mouth, the tip probably not even touching the lower front teeth.

So now you know what to do for your students because you have been there yourself. You know that in terms of muscle buttons it is button 1 (lips) in both cases, lower lip plus upper teeth for /v/ and both lips for /w/. For /v/ practice also /f/ and play with the move from /f/ to /v/ and back, which is simply the addition and removal of voice. And this tells you and the student something else, and gives a further fix on the sounds we’re after.

Now with your students, you can take sequences that are bound to produce /w/, eg /oooeeee/ and do that quickly and slowly. For /v/ do almost the same thing with /v/ in the middle eg /oooveee/ Mime the two sounds visibly and clearly so that you are silent and the sts have to watch your face and to discern which one you are making. Get them to do the same with each other.  Miming draws attention to the muscle movements for both speaker and listener. Then get one student to the chart, give her a pointer, say either of the sounds yourself. Can she point to the right one? Do the class agree? Then take the pointer and ask her to do the same for you, so you point at what she says and note the problems. Then work with words containing either or both sounds.. And you can get them to find the words. So try this, and the variations that suggest themselves and see where that gets you. How they do will tell you what to do next. No need to focus on you or your student being right, Focus instead on seeing what is going on first in your mouth, then in the student’s, and help them to see it too.

Hope these ideas can get you started on a new way of helping your students by exploring the sounds yourself.