The weekly column
Article 26, August 2000
Proposal for a Demonstration of a Teaching Method: "Beautiful and Ugly Vowel Sounds in English"
By Steve McCrea
I will demonstrate a method for teaching the "long" and "short" vowel sounds of English. Without creating special phonetic symbols, most of the vowel sounds can be taught by using "it sounds like" and a lot of "teacher demonstration" to show the position of the tongue during pronunciation.
I teach at a language school in Fort Lauderdale where most of the students come from Brazil, Argentina and Europe. Most of the students have been exposed to the International Phonetic System (IPS) but most are not comfortable in using the system.
I introduced to my class the "long" and "short" vowel sounds to help them use U.S. dictionaries, which use the long a (with a line over the a) and the short a (with the short hat or "u" over the vowel). One of my students said, "The short sounds are so ugly" and I was hit by the simplicity of the concept of "beautiful vs. ugly." It is possible to say hat, pet, bit, hop, cut and extend the vowel sound, thereby confusing the student ("Is that long or short?"). But emphasizing the "ugliness" of these words (by pronouncing them with a slightly gutteral emphasis) can help students hear the difference of hate, Pete, bite, hope and cute. So this title is dedicated to Aida, my student from Venezuela who observed the "ugly" sounds of English (that don't appear in Spanish).
1. Check that the students know all of the letters in the alphabet. Look for confusions for J, K, G, H, Y, W, Q. My students often mispronounce these letters.
2. Check that all of the students agree with the "pure" or "beautiful" sounds of the vowels. "What are the names of the vowels?" is a good start.
3. Teacher preparation: Be sure that YOU know how to write words in this "Spanicized" alphabet. "he iiir" = hair.
I aa iii
O ooo u
U uuuu (blue) or iuuu (university)
1. Announce to the class that they will learn the 13 most often used vowel sounds in English.
2. Explain that five are beautiful, five are ugly and three are different.
3. Create a chart similar to Exhibit A
4. Fill in the chart with words (Exhibit B gives some typical words that most intermediate or lower intermediate students will know. For beginners, you might want to reduce the number of words. Try to use single syllable words to help focus on the target sound.)
5. As you fill in the words, ask the students to say the words. Ask them to give you words that have similar vowel sounds but different spellings.
Night, lite (lite beer), buy, why and sky
6. Write them phonetically na iit la iit ba ii u a ii ska ii
7. Then give the ugly sounds.
Grunt from A to U
mat, pet, bit, hop, cut "These are ugly" (Put a little hat over the letters, the small "u") "You can see that there is a small "u" over the vowel to show that it is ugly."
Extend the lesson
After the students are comfortable with the five beautiful and five ugly, it's time to move on to the three "other" sounds that often give students problems: AU, AW and [oo].
One other vowel sound
I welcome your comments and hope that you will help me refine this method so we don't need to write upside down V for "up" and capital I for "it". It just makes more sense to learn the relationship between two vowel sounds that can be changed often by adding or taking away a silent e (mat, mate) or doubling a letter (title, little).
You can write to me at TALK International School of Languages, Suite 200, 2455 East Sunrise Blvd., Suite 200, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304, telephone 1+ 954.565.8505, fax 954.565.8718, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are in Fort Lauderdale, please stop in and visit our school.
Beautiful or ugly?
A hat, hate, mat, mate, day, rain
E Pete, pet, sweat, wheat, sheet, sea, see, meet, met, read, past read (red), key, me
I bite, bit, it, light, buy, written, write, my
O hope, hop, father, hot, car
U cute, cut, blue, but, shoe, shoot, shut, enough, rough, smooth, blood, food
[oo] cook, look, put, foot, good
A special note about r "rrr"
For the next step in this system, note that "r" can alter the vowel sound.
Car = ugly o, like hot. Sounds like the a in father and the o in hot.
Stern = st rrrr n
Bird, sir = brrrrr d, srrrrr
Or = "AW rrr" (like the baby dog)
Turn = trrrrr n
Notice that er, ir and ur all appear to be pronounced only with "rrr", so that's what I write on the board. Good contrasting words are beer, beard and bird (biir, biirr d and brrrrd).
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