Let’s look at the task I proposed at the end of Episode 14/

1.. Isolate the two different vowels in the words me, you. The symbols are  /i:/ and /u:/.

2.. Say each vowel separately. Notice, and sense from the inside the different position that your lips and your tongue adopt to produce the two vowels.

3.. Now take a long slow glide from one vowel to the other  /i: ː……… u:/ and then slide back again. You can do this two ways, by switching suddenly from /i:/ to /u:/ or by moving slowly in which case you reveal a range of other in-between vowel sounds. If you are not used to this you may at first find it difficult to sense this movement. So, take the next step:

4.. Place your forefinger vertically in front of your two lips, so it is touching both lips, and repeat the glide a few times. What do you notice? You should feel your lips moving forward and back. Are your lips forward for /i:/ or forward for /u:/?

5.. OK, so your finger tells you that your lips are forward for /u:/ and back for /i:/.  Now place the tip of your forefinger on one corner of your lips and the tip of your thumb (same hand) on the other corner.

6.. Repeat the glide between the two vowels /i:/ and /u:/ Now what do you notice? Your finger and thumb should now tell you that when your iips come forward for /u:/. the corners of your mouth come closer together and your lips make a rounded, pouted shape. And also that when your lips go back for /i:/ your lips spread, like a smile. So, you have just used your fingers to help you rediscover what your lips are doing.

7.. The next step is to notice the same thing without the help of your fingers, but through direct internal sensing instead.  So, repeat this vowel glide /i: ……… u:/ without the help of your fingers. Put your attention in your lips and feel the lip movement from forward and rounded /u:…../  to back and spread /i: ……/.

8. So what you are discovering here is what I call button no 1, the ‘lip button’, ie you are discovering the conscious and intentional movement of the lips between forward/pouted/rounded and back/spread/smile. I do these same steps with my students, and I tell them “Now you have found button no 1…”

Of course they make this move unconsciously and habitually in their own language all the time, but to be able to find new sounds, outside their L1 set, they need to be able to make this movement consciously, at will, deliberately.

Breaking the muscular habit of L1 is the only way to find the new sounds of the second language. And to break the habit, teachers and learners need to sense what their muscles are doing (proprioception) so that they can require their muscles to do something different. I referred just now to ‘breaking the muscular habit’. It might be useful to talk about ‘breaking into the muscular habit’. Not destroying it, but getting inside it, moving around, and rearranging a few things for later use. And then exiting, leaving the habit in tact, but also leaving behind the possibility of another movement which is free from that habit.

In the next episode of The story of Sounds we’ll use the same two vowels to locate button no 2, the ‘tongue button’, and then we can build on that to discover the rest of the vowel sounds.