miércoles, 2 de noviembre de 2011

Nothing Compares to U

In this post, I'll be looking at the relationship between the spelling and sound of the letter U, and trying to make sense of it.

This post is the second in the series that started with I Don't Claim to Be an A Student.

Have a look at this cross below, and the phonetic symbol in each part. Do you remember the sounds they represent?

Try to place each of the following words in the right quarter:

slum, curse, ruse, rush, cure, buck, sure, mule, curl, puny, fur, lure.

Your answers will depend on your own accent, but if we take RP (standard British English) as our model, we'll probably say:

/ʌ/ - slum, rush, buck
/uː/ - mule, puny, ruse
/ɜː/ - fur, curl, curse
/ɔː / - lure, sure, cure

Of course, life (and English spelling) are never THAT simple! Even with RP, there are two complications:

In the /ɔː/ part (with R and magic E) older speakers and northerners tend to say /uə/ rather than /ɔː/.

And in the /uː/ section (with magic E) it's by no means clear when we say /juː/ rather than simply /uː/.

But as discussed in the other post, I strongly feel that some fairly good rules with exceptions are a hell of a lot better than nothing at all :)

My classroom procedure is fairly simple:

On the board draw the cross and the 4 symbols. Elicit/check and practice the sounds on their own. For many many learners of English, all four sounds are absolute buggers to get right, so it may take some work and some patience on the part of everybody.

Write (or spell out) the above list of words, and simply ask the students in pairs to take a few minutes to try and place them in the right quarter. Of course, you may be able to add appropriate words from your own coursebook or notes: basically any word whose stressed syllable - or sole syllable - includes u.

If you do try it out, let me know how it goes. Lots of luck to U.

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