Why are there no example words or pictures on the chart?

Question: Do you think associating the symbols to words or pictures can be useful or is it better to focus on the sound itself and how it is made before giving it a name?

Reply: Yes, finding example words to illustrate sounds, and identifying the sounds in words are crucial activities in developing the awarenesses learners need of the different sounds, how they hit the ear, the feel of the muscles as they make them, and how they manifest in connected speech.

Not associate symbols with single example words

However I would not associate the symbols with example words or pictures to represent a sound permanently on the chart.

First let me offer you my reasons why there are no example words or pictures on the chart and then suggest some activities that precisely address the issue of example words in a way that fosters deeper learning – in my view.

Take the word tree as a mnemonic for the sound /i:/

Suppose you decide to take the word or picture tree as a mnemonic for the sound /i:/ (some charts that have copied mine do this)

  1. The sound /i:/ in tree is not necessarily the same as the sound /i:/ in other words, because the phonetic context is different.
  2. What if a student has some difficulty with the word tree (perhaps because of the /r/ that precedes it) or has mislearnt the word tree in the first place? Then tree may not serve as a good example.
  3. Or, if the chosen example word has some phonetic interference from the learner’s L1 then again its use as a mnemonic may be misleading.
  4. The word tree is in fact not easy, having the ‘English r’ sound, immediately before the vowel, and having /t/ before the /r/ leading to the consonant cluster /ʧ r/. Probably the word tree was chosen because the picture is easily recognisable, not for its phonetic implications.
  5. Pictures themselves are not unambiguous to all people, esp across cultures.
  6. If the word is written, rather then having a picture, then you immediately emphasise a certain sound – spelling link. In this example it is ee = /i:/
  7. And the seventh reason…. Ok, you may think the six reasons I have given do not add up to a big deal for why there are no example words or pictures on the chart. But … here my killer reason: As soon as you give learners a sample word they are likely to abandon their search for the inner muscular posture of the new sound, and its impact on the ear, and the discovery of the inner criteria that make the sound different from the nearest ones in their own language. Instead the learner can think “Ah it’s tree. Yes I know that. Now I can stop looking….” And instead of learning the new sound the student recalls a word they have already learnt. In this way what is new is reduced to what it known. What needs to be a physical search is hijacked by a cognitive memory of something already known. And this methodological malaise of making everything cognitive, even physical things like pron, is exactly what I am banging on about the whole time in pron learning. You can’t learn pron cognitively just as you can’t learn a dance cognitively. Pron is not like grammar!
Getting learners to identify example words – 3 activities
  1. Invite students to search a text they have been studying to find any words containing a certain sound. Perhaps you ask for words with /i:/. The you all compare the words they have identified. Then do it for /a:/ or / ʃ / or / Ʒ / etc. This is a great exercise because they have to hold the given sound in the inner ear while they simultaneously hear the sounds of the words in the text as they look for a sound match.
  2. Make a blank grid 4 x 3 squares on a big sheet of paper to represent the 12 monophthongs (the top left quadrant of the chart). But leave the squares blank. Put this grid on the wall in front of the class for a good number of lessons. As each lesson proceeds and new words come up in the course material that need to be checked for their pron, invite the class to collect their own example words to go in each of the 12 vowel boxes, and to write the words (themselves) in the appropriate box. Gradually a class created chart of sample words is built up.
  3. Give the learners a similar blank grid for the 12 monophthongs, but in A4 size and ask them to collect their own sample words for each of the 12 boxes, perhaps as a homework activity. As a source they could re-use a text they have already worked on in class. in the next lesson ask them to compare their findings in small groups and eventually in the class. Pay special attention to their mistakes which tell you what needs working on. Get them to add to their own chart each day, each building up their own personalised chart of example words.
Learners must discover muscular/acoustic posture

So that’s why there are no sample words or pictures on the chart. And in conclusion I’d say, as the questions implies, that learners need to discover for themselves the muscular posture, linked to the acoustic result of that posture, and only then associate it with a position on the chart, or a symbol. And once that process is underway, with example words.