VOWEL PROBLEMS “While the Spanish and English consonant systems show many similarities, the vowelsystems and sentence stress are very different,and these can cause great difficulty for Spanish-speaking learners of English. European Spanish speakers, in particular, probably find English pronunciation harder than speakers of any other European language.” Swan and Smith, Learner English. 1996
Tricky words /ɪ/=• Enough /ɪ.ˈnʌf/• Maid /meɪd/• Sausages /ˈsɒs.sɪ.dʒɪz/ NA / ˈsɑː.sɪ.dʒ IZ /• Woman /ˈwʊm.ən/• Live(v)/ Live (adj.) /lɪv/ /laɪv/• Epoch /ˈiː.pɒk/ NA/-pɑːk/• Women /ˈ wɪm.ɪn/• High /haɪ/• Parachute /ˈpær.ə.ʃuːt/ NA /ˈper-/
• Which of the sounds (Consonants and vowels) in Underhill’s phonemic chart are completely new for Spanish speakers?• Which of the vowel sounds would present the most problems to Spanish speakers?• What is the best way to help the learner accurately reproduce unfamiliar sounds? E.g. Teaching for understanding initially and later developing the ability for SSs productive skills?• What techniques do you use to teach phonemic script?• What are the drawbacks of the methods you discussed?
What sounds does English have that Spanish doesn’t have?“Spanish has five pure vowels , namely /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/and /u/ and anywhere between 5 and 12 diphthongs.Length is not a distinctive feature, as in English.Consequently, learners find difficulty in differentiatingbetween English vowels, especially where length is apart of the difference. Typically, at least two Englishvowels share the phonetic space occupied by oneSpanish vowel, so one-to-one correspondences arepractically impossible.”(Swan and Smith 1996)
What sounds does English have that Spanish doesn’t have?As for diphthongs, there are four that are similar in English and Spanish (except that the second element in Spanish tends to be stronger than in English): /au/, /ei/, /ai/ and /ɔɪ/.
What sounds does English have that Spanish doesn’t have?
Which of the vowel sounds would presentthe most problems to Spanish speakers?1. /i:/ and /ɪ/ correspond to Spanish /i/, so seat and sit, sheep and ship, etc. are confused. . 2. /ɑ:/, /æ/ and /ʌ/ correspond to Spanish /a/, so words such as cart, cat and cut are confused in perception.3./ɔ:/ and /ɒ/ correspond to Spanish /o/, so caught and cot, etc. are confused.4./u:/ and /ʊ/ correspond to Spanish /u/, so pairs like pool and pull are confused.
Which of the vowel sounds would presentthe most problems to Spanish speakers?5. English /ɜ:/ and /ə/ have no similarity to Spanish vowels. / ə/ is normally replaced by the strong pronunciation of the written vowel, so /abaut/ for about, etc. /ɜː/ is replaced by /i/ or /e/ plus flapped /r/, so /birt/ for bird; /bert/ for Bert, etc.6. The English /əʊ/, however, is often not distinguished from /ɔ:/, so coat, cot and caught are confused, for example.
Why teach the phonemic chart?A study by Pekka Lintunen at the University of Turka, Finland (2004) showed that the teaching of the phonemic script has been shown to highly effective in improving learners’ pronunciation, especially where students’ L1 has a close phoneme-grapheme relationship.Other studies by Koet 1990, Š uš tarš ič 1997 and Dufva & Vauras 2002 have also shown that teaching phonemic script improves learners’ pronunciation
Underhill’s chartSection a contains vowels, b diphthongs and c the consonants.
“The characteristic sound of a vowel depends on the shape and size of the resonant space in the mouth” -Underhill 1993•The horizontal tongue position i.e. ‘Backness’ e.g.Front-Centre-Back•The vertical tongue position i.e. ‘Height’ e.g. High-Mid-Low•The lip position i.e. ‘Roundedness’ e.g. Rounded-Neutral-Spread•And there is a fourth characteristic not dependent ontongue or lip position: Vowel length (indicated by acolon on chart)
• We will examine these in turn and through these discovery activities we will be able to see how we are using these variables when you make vowel sounds.• This will enable the EFL teacher to build up his or her collection of techniques for helping learners to shape or reshape their vowel sounds.
Firstly, We will look at HORIZONTAL vowel position ‘Backness’• While facing your partner, alternate between the sounds /i:/ and /u:/ i.e. / i: ...u: ... i: ... u: .../ Do this slowly at first, then more rapidly. Try in a loud voice and in a whisper. (Let’s call this pair i)• Try the same thing with (pair ii) /e/ and / ɔː/ /e... ɔː....e...... ɔː/• Finally try the exercise with the last pair (pair iii) /æ/ and /ɒ/
• What internal physical movements do you notice when moving between the sounds in each pair? –Try whispering them to get a clearer idea.• What do you hear when shifting between the sounds in each pair?• What can you see in your partner’s face when moving between the sounds in each pair?• What about the difference in jaw and tongue positions between each of the pairs?
Commentary• You probably notice two distinct areas of movement when shifting between the sounds in each pair.• (1) The movement of the lips from a spread position to a rounded position• (2) The movement of the tongue sliding backwards and forwards in the mouth.
Isolate lip movement• Repeat each of the pairs again and as you do put the tip of a pencil in contact with the tip of your tongue.• You should notice the tip of the pencil has to move further into your mouth when articulating the second sound.• This exercise should help you mask the sensation of the lip movement and make detection of horizontal tongue position easier to recognise.
Commentary• These two discovery activities highlight the role of backwards and forwards tongue motion in determining vowel sound.• We have explored three sets of pairs, each consisting of a vowel with the tongue forward in the mouth and a vowel with the tongue back in the mouth.• Vowels produced with the tongue forward in the mouth are called front vowels and the other vowel in each pair is a back vowel.
Discovering the in-between vowels• Now repeat the glide of pair i again. As you move in the continuum between /i:/ and /u:/, stop and see what other sounds you meet.• There are many sounds possible but two in particular correspond to RP phonemes.• You will find a sound like /ɪ/ shortly after starting. You will have to shape it and shorten it to give it its RP quality.• As you draw your tongue further back you will come across a sound corresponding to /ʊ/. Again, it will need to be shortened to give it its RP quality.
Discovering the in-between vowels• Repeat the same process with pair ii and pair iii and see what sounds you come across.• Between /e/ and /ɔː/ you should locate the schwa /ə/. For this phoneme in RP the tongue is in a neutral position and both the tongue and mouth are relaxed. This sound is short and requires little energy.• The next sound on this line is the /ɜː/. The may be found in the same position as the schwa or a little further back. This is the longer, stressed cousin of the schwa. The tongue and mouth are relaxed but the sound itself has more force.• Rhotic accents such as General American and Hiberno- English give these phonemes an /r/ flavouring, which can be represented using the following phonemes /ɚ/ and /ɝ/.
A SPECIAL NOTE ON SCHWA “And the Lord said unto them, let there be schwa. And it was so.”• /ə/ is bit far the most frequent sound in in continuous speech.• It never carries stress.• It is schwa’s unstressed nature that contrasts with stressed vowels to contribute to the rhythmical nature of English. i.e. You can’t have stress without unstress.• Its correct usage is crucial to the smooth rhythmical quality of spoken English.
Discovering the in-between vowels• Now try the continuum between /æ/ and /ɒ /• Here the tongue is in a low position and the jaw is open. As you move you should find a sound corresponding to the wedge /ʌ/.• As you continue to move back you should come across /ɑː/
Commentary• The point of this activity is to show the learner which sounds neighbour which others and what you have to do to change a sound into another.• Lip position is important to ‘tune’ the sound made by the tongue position.• You will find that the movements involved are very slight but as you keep your attention on it, you will find that it becomes more perceptible.• Our aim is to gain insights that will qualify us to guide the learners
To continue the description of a vowel, we mustnext consider the position of a tongue on a vertical axis. To describe this the labels ‘high’, ‘mid’ and ‘low’ are used. • Say /iː/ and hold it. Slowly raise your tongue until it meets the roof of your mouth at the alveolar ridge. • Do this again while whispering until you have a clear sensation of the movement. You’ll notice that when you try to raise your tongue, you get friction perhaps producing something like the nasal consonant /n/ sound. • This shows us that in /iː/ the tongue is as high as it can be without producing friction.
• Now repeat the exercise, starting at /æ/ and moving up. You should find that the gap is much wider. /æ/ is in the low tongue position.• Now do the same exercise at the second, third and fourth column. i.e. /ʌ/ to /I/, / ɑː/ to /ʊ/ and /ɒ/ to /uː/
We can also try this demonstration of jaw position by Duncan Ford;(1)Put your forefinger onyour nose(2)Put your thumb on yourchin(3) Articulate the continuumbetween /æ.....i:/ as shownin the screenshots(4) Repeat the process forthe three other columnsThis shows the learner thatthe jaw closes as you go upthrough the chart.
Commentary• These activities are used to demonstrate the high-low pairs of vowels.• The high vowels require the tongue to be as high as possible without causing audible friction against the roof of the mouth.• The low vowels require the tongue to be relatively distant from the top of the mouth. These are the sounds that the dentist might ask you to make when he wants to look inside your mouth.• High can also be referred to as closed, as the jaw is closed and low vowels may be referred to as open.• You might also repeat use Duncan Ford’s activity to discover the mid position vowels. i.e.
Energy in the Jaw• The energy stored and released in the jaw muscles during the articulation is an important factor.• The setting of the jaw muscles in English is characteristically less tense then for most other European languages i.e. Spanish, Italian, French, German• Put your hands around your jaws and say a sentence in English. Try to register the sensation of tension and Energy. Keeping your hands where they are, say a sentence in Spanish.• What do you notice? What implications does this have for learners?
Lip Position• The lip position can modify the size and shape of the resonating space, and provide a kind of acoustic tuning to the fundamental sound produced by tongue position.• The difference that rounding can make will be demonstrated in the following example...• French and German distinguish between rounded and unrounded vowels. Consider the French “La Lune” said in a ‘bad’ English accent: /lun/ and now in a ‘proper’ French accent: /lyn/ . You’ll notice that it uses a high front rounded vowel. This is the shorter tense rounded equivalent of the English /i:/Also note for the learner that:• Lip position is easier to detect physically• And the movement of the lips is easier for some learners to sense internally than the movement of the tongue.
Lip Position• Say /ɜː/ Notice the lip position- relaxed and neutral. There shouldn’t be any tension. This lip posture is characteristic of vowels in a central position.
Lip Position• Say /i:/ Notice the lips spread with some muscular tension. This position is characteristic of English vowels where the tongue is in a high-front position.
Lip Position• Say /uː/ Notice the rounded position of the lips and the internal sensation of the muscle tone. This lip posture is characteristic of vowels in the high-back position.
Lip Position• Say /æ/ Your lips should be open and spread. This posture is characteristic of vowels in the low-front position
Lip Position• Say /ɔː/ Rounding of the lips is not as tight or as forward as /uː/ but nevertheless very obvious. Pay attention to the contrast between forward position of the lips and backness of the tongue. This lip posture is characteristic of vowels in the mid-back position.
Lip Position• Try using a mirror and silently whispering the sounds to pick up on muscle tone, visual lip position and unvoiced characteristics of the vowel.• It’s important to become sensitive to all the visual clues of pronunciation, they will help you to know what your learners are trying to do, which will in turn allow you to help them.
Cardinal vowel system• Cardinal vowels are a set of reference vowels used by phoneticians in describing the sounds of languages.• For instance, the English phoneme /i:/ can be described with reference to cardinal vowel 1, [i], which is the cardinal vowel closest to it.• We use [square brackets] to denote cardinal vowels as opposed to English phonemes where we use /slashes/• A cardinal vowel is a vowel sound produced when the tongue is in an extreme position, either front or back, high or low.• The current system was systematised by Daniel Jones in the early 20th century.
Cardinal Vowels• Three of the cardinal vowels, [i], [ɑ] and [u] have articulatory definitions.• [i] is produced with the tongue as far forward and as high in the mouth as is possible (without producing friction), with spread lips.• [u] is produced with the tongue as far back and as high in the mouth as is possible, with pursed lips. This sound can be approximated by adopting the posture to whistle a very low note, or blow out a candle.• [ɑ] is produced with the tongue as low and as far back in the mouth as possible.
Cardinal Vowels• The other vowels are auditorily equidistant between these three corner vowels, at four degrees of aperture or height: close (high tongue position), close-mid, open-mid, and open (low tongue position).• These degrees of aperture plus the front-back distinction define 8 reference points on a mixture of articulatory and auditory criteria. These eight vowels are known as the eight primary cardinal vowels
Diagram for the relative highest points of the tongue for Cardinal Vowels
Daniel Jones’ Pictures of the eight Primary Cardinal Vowels
Cardinal Vowels• The lip positions can be reversed with the lip position for the corresponding vowel on the opposite side of the front-back dimension, so that e.g. Cardinal 1 can be produced with the rounding for Cardinal 9, etc.; these are known as secondary cardinal vowels.• The French high front rounded vowel that we looked at earlier is one of these. [y]
Jones also pioneered a trapezium tosystematically arrange the vowels in the mouth
By definition, no real vowel sound can be plottedoutside of the IPA trapezium, because its four corners represent the extreme points of articulation.
• We can plot the English Phonemes on Daniel Jones’ trapezium• Where do they go?
The Diphthongs• In phonology, a diphthong, pronounced /ˈdɪf.θɒŋ/or / ˈdɪp.θɒŋ/, (also gliding vowel) (from Greek δίφθογγος, diphthongos, literally "two sounds) refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable.• Diphthongs contrast with monophthongs, where only one vowel sound is heard in a syllable. Where two adjacent vowel sounds occur in different syllables, as in, for example, the English word re-elect, the result is described as hiatus, not as a diphthong.• Diphthongs often form when separate vowels are run together in rapid speech during a conversation. However, there are also unitary diphthongs which are heard by listeners as single phonemes.• In the International Phonetic Alphabet, monophthongs are transcribed with one symbol, as in English sun /sʌn/. Diphthongs are transcribed with symbols, as in sign /saɪ̯n/ or sane /seɪ̯n/
In Underhill’s chart the diphthongs are arranged as follows: The 1st column shows the diphthongs that glide centrally to a schwa
The 2nd column shows thediphthongs that glide to a highfrontal position of a /ɪ/
The 3rd column shows thediphthongs that glide to a highback position of a /ʊ/The top box shows the primaryand secondary stress markers.And the arrows represent thefour principal intonationPatterns. i.e. Ascending,descending,ascending-descending anddescending-ascending
Try to plot the glides of the eight RP diphthongs on the trapezium using my coloured markers /eɪ/
The movements of the Diphthong glides can be represented on the trapezium
Games to help your students practice (A few of my favourites)• Hot seat• Blind man’s phonemes• Battleships• Phonemic Crossword• Join the dots• Hear/Say• Minimal pair line jump• Blockbusters• Say it right• Phoneme Bingo• Hancock: Pronunciation in Use 2003 USB stick!!• What are your favourites?
Useful websites for learning the Phonemes• http://www.onestopenglish.com/section_flash.asp• http://www.uiowa.edu/~acadtech/phonetics/#• http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/try/resources/• http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglis
My Sources• John McWhorther: Linguistics-The science of Language 2006• Michael Drout: A History of the English Language 2006• Adrian Underhill: Sound Foundations 1994• David Crystal: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language 1995