An introduction to the
phonemic chart - taken from the November 2000 Newsletter
The phonemic chart
has been around for quite a while & in the not too distant
past the chart constituted the sum of pronunciation in the
classroom. We used to spend lots of time teaching the sounds
& trying to iron out difficulties with minimal pairs. In recent
times we have come to realise that phonemics is only a part
of pronunciation development.
Phonology can be
seen in terms of suprasegmental aspects & segmental aspects.
The former includes intonation & the latter, the bits, the
individual sounds. In terms of communicative effectiveness
the suprasegmental aspects are vital for successful communication
- get the intonation wrong & there could be a breakdown.
As to the segmental
side of things, the context will probably sort out any sound
problems. So the time we used to spend on sounds has diminished
& increased on intonational aspects because of this recognition
of what is more useful.
That's the theory
anyway. I suspect that not much has really changed. Working
with sounds is relatively easy when compared with working
on intonation - there are some that say that you can't teach
intonation. It is difficult as much of it is very much context-bound
& intuitive. The phonemic chart is easily definable & teachable
- safe for both the learner & the teacher. Moreover there
are still very solid reasons for dealing with the phonemic
- it helps students
perceive the differences between sounds - it helps in the
overall awareness of phonology
- it helps the teacher anticipate some problems
- it helps when used as a reference for correction
- it helps with sound/spelling difficulties
- it is a valuable study aid used in dictionaries & coursebooks
thereby encouraging learner independence
- it helps with the recording of vocabulary
In this section
so far is the phonemic chart, a key
to the different sounds & a chart with the voice & unvoiced
sounds marked. There are also two linked pages of phonemic
activities, some of which are mentioned below, as well
as a page which gives an
introduction to some features of sounds in combination.
It took me a long time to get around to learning the chart.
After several years of existing in the classroom guiltily
without it, I was fortunate enough to have someone to teach
it to me. I found that I didn't need to remember the word
that highlighted the sound as it was easier to learn the sounds
in relation to each other.
I have put example
words below the chart on the site for those of you who are
on your own but if you do have a colleague who knows the sounds
then get them to teach you. It shouldn't take long. Another
approach is to learn the sounds gradually as you introduce
them to your students.
Here are a few
sounds gradually. If you go straight into teaching the whole
chart you'll overload the students, demotivate them & put
them off any future development. Begin with the schwa & expand
with the monophthongs as they crop up in different contexts.
With a beginner class on day one you can introduce the schwa
- highlight it in the vocabulary you introduce & work on production
from the start. Use the easily identifiable consonant sounds
in conjunction with the vowel sounds. Review the sounds you
have covered with short warmer, filler & cooler activities.
2.Work on recognition
first - the students have to be able to actually hear the
sound. Then move to discrimination so they can tell the difference
between the sound you are looking at & other similar sounds.
After this you can safely move to production. The message
here is a lot of listening.
3.Use mouth visuals
to show what is happening when the sounds are made. You can
use your hands or pictures to show what is happening to the
tongue & lips.
to remind your students of a sound e.g. mime showing a baby
in your arms for the sound
5.Use the sounds
& the phonemic chart as a reference for corrective work &
be aware that your students are going to have problems & that
it will take time to overcome them. Explain this to your students
& ask them to be patient.
voiced & unvoiced distinction early on. Here are three ways
to help students differentiate:
a. Put your hands over your ears & say the sounds. You'll
hear the voiced sounds.
b. Put your hand on your throat. You'll feel a vibration with
the voiced sounds.
c. Put a piece of paper in front of your mouth & you'll see
it move with the unvoiced sounds.
This distinction will then be useful for discrimination &
correction & also if you want to introduce the plural & 3rd
person singular ending rule & the past tense ending rule -
see the sounds' activities
7.Work on the features
of sounds in combination as they crop up in context - weakening,
linking, intrusion, elision & assimilation. You can find their
definitions on the sounds
in combination page.
on sounds with other aspects of your lessons. For example,
when teaching vocabulary, highlight difficult sounds, mark
them under the word & get your students to copy them down.
If the students cannot see the relevance then they will lose
use. If the sounds are known to your students they can be
fairly autonomous with new vocabulary with a good dictionary.
Don't forget to teach them how to use the dictionary effectively.
Above all, make
learning the sounds fun & don't take it too seriously!
A few links connected
For a directory of where you can get the phonemic symbol fonts
to install on your computer.
The web site of the International Phonetic Association
The Phonemic Inventory of Modern Standard Vulcan
A Vulcan Academy Linguistics Department Web Booklet
A run through of all the sounds together & in isolation. For
each sound there is a mouth & lip diagram, a recording of
the sound, recordings of the sound in isolated words. For
teachers & students alike to get to grips with the sounds.
Check out the 'New Randomizer' - minimal pair man/men
Lots of activities on sounds at this mammoth site.
IATEFL Pronunciation SIG - good for links & there's a collection
of articles on phonology.
A couple of recommended
Foundations - Adrian Underhill (Longman)
A teacher awareness book that takes a systematic approach
& has lots of practical ideas.
Clearly - Rogerson & Gilbert (CUP)
More for the learner & very well built up in simple & clear
the phonemic chart page
the sound activities
the sounds in combination page
To the phonology index