Here is a guided tour of the Sound Foundations pronunciation chart, so the mind can see what is involved. And an approach to the physicality, so the body is involved. I also offer suggestions about teaching the physicality of pronunciation. At the end I recommend you watch my webinar to see how this works. Unlike grammar and vocabulary, pronunciation is a physical activity, and it makes sense to learn pronunciation with mind and body.
The chart is designed to tell you HOW and WHERE sounds are made
The 12 vowels: Open the chart (see link above) and look at the TOP LEFT QUARTER of the chart. You will see the 12 vowels.
Imagine that you are looking at a cross section of the mouth, from the side:
The FRONT of the mouth (and the lips) are at the LEFT of this quadrant on the chart.
The BACK of the mouth is at the RIGHT.
The TOP of the mouth is along the top of that quadrant, and the BOTTOM of the mouth is the bottom.
Straight away you can see the HIGH vowels (along the top line) and the LOW vowels (along the bottom line). And you can see the BACK vowels (to the right) and FRONT ones (to the left), and finally the two central vowels /∂/ and /3:/ in the centre
This is helpful because the terms front and back refer to whether the tongue is front or back in the mouth, and high and low refer to whether the tongue is higher or lower in the mouth. This also corresponds with the jaw being more closed or more open. Now experiment and see if you can relate the position of the vowels on the chart to their position in your mouth when you say them. Remember that neighbours on the chart are neighbours in the mouth.
The 24 Consonants: Now look at the first two rows of consonants below the vowels. There are 8 consonants in each row. Once again, the consonants made nearer the FRONT of the mouth are at the LEFT of the chart, and consonants made further BACK in the mouth are to the RIGHT. Note that in these two rows the sounds are in unvoiced / voiced pairs.
The physicality of pronunciation
When you learn sport or dance you become more attentive to the subtle muscular movements in your body.
Pronunciation is no different. Teachers must help students to connect with the muscles that make the pronunciation difference. During the first lessons with a new class (beginners, intermediate or advanced, teacher or student, native or non-native English speaker, it’s all the same) I help learners to (re-)discover the main muscles that make the pronunciation difference, to locate the four pronunciation muscle buttons that trigger the muscle movements. I start with the vowels, as you can see at the link below. At the beginning it is enough to help students identify 4 such buttons which enable them to get around the mouth and find new positions of articulation. These 4 muscle buttons are:
1. Lips (spreading and bringing back, or rounding and pushing forward)
2. Tongue (moving forward and back)
3. Jaw + tongue (moving them up and down)
4. Voice (turning it on or off, to make voiced or unvoiced sounds)
This is the basic muscle kit you need to navigate round vowels and diphthongs, and it also transfers neatly to consonants and gets you round most of them.
You can watch a demonstration of how I introduce the chart and the physicality, in order to teach and learn pronunciation with mind and body. Click on Pronunciation Webinar under Blogroll on the right of this blog and you’ll find my webinar half way down the page.