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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 chart.

Among these:

- 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 guidelines:

1.Introduce the 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.

4.Use gestures 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.

6.Introduce the 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 pages.

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.

8.Integrate work 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 interest.

9.Develop dictionary 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 to phonemics:

http://www2.arts.gla.ac.uk/IPA/ipafonts.html
For a directory of where you can get the phonemic symbol fonts to install on your computer.

http://www2.arts.gla.ac.uk/IPA/ipa.html
The web site of the International Phonetic Association

http://www.jccc.net/~sepstein/vald/phonology/
The Phonemic Inventory of Modern Standard Vulcan

http://www.lasatha.org/vald/
A Vulcan Academy Linguistics Department Web Booklet

http://www.engl.polyu.edu.hk/MATERIALS/Pronunciation/1a-index.htm
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.

http://www-writing.berkeley.edu/chorus/call/cuttingedge.html
Check out the 'New Randomizer' - minimal pair man/men

http://esl.about.com/homework/esl/cs/pronunciation/index.htm
Lots of activities on sounds at this mammoth site.

http://members.aol.com/pronunciationsig/
IATEFL Pronunciation SIG - good for links & there's a collection of articles on phonology.

A couple of recommended books:

Sound Foundations - Adrian Underhill (Longman)
A teacher awareness book that takes a systematic approach & has lots of practical ideas.

Speaking Clearly - Rogerson & Gilbert (CUP)
More for the learner & very well built up in simple & clear stages.

To the phonemic chart page

To the sound activities

To the sounds in combination page

To the phonology index

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