This is my third visit to the problematic area of sound-spelling relationships in English. As before, I'm going to try to show that the link between a written vowel and its sounds, though not perfect, is far from arbitrary. Our students can learn at the very least to make an educated guess about the pronunciation of a written word, and an educated guess about the spelling of a word they hear. I know that we do a lot of the former in class, but very little of the latter. As a language learner, I find it really useful to mentally visualise the written form of a word I hear.
Today, boy oh boy, it's O! The Big O!
This time, we're going to start modelling the pure sound. Adrian Underhill seems to favour this, rather than practicing syllables, words or phrases, at least at lower levels. I've tried this method out in class, and it does focus attention marvellously.
So, here we go. Today we're only going to contrast two sounds:
ɒ - lock, bottle, song
əʊ - show, coat, phone
Practice this yourself first if you don't feel very comfortable with pronunciation. ;)
Make sure your students get it spot on. If you think you can get away with it, do it Silent Way style - you can mime or wave your arms around, but not a sound. This forces your students to find the sounds themselves. Search for Adrian Underhill on youTube to see a couple of extracts of him presenting sounds.
Make it clear that əʊ is a diphthong. In other words it's a sound that starts in one position and glides towards another. Note that if you're uncomfortable about finding the schwa yourself, don't hesitate to use the Standard American version ɔʊ. I've given Roy Orbison the American version below.
And that's the hard bit done!
|ɔʊ prɪti: wʊmən!!!!!!!|
Now that they can make a really good approximation of the sound, they'll find it easy to relate to the IPA symbols. I like to get my students practising drawing huge versions of them on the board or leftover paper.
Now write up a few transcriptions like these:
fəʊn rəʊz bəʊt lɒk sɒŋ pɒt
Ask the students (maybe in pairs) to decide what they sound like. (Ask them not to worry about the meaning at this stage.) Elicit their versions and model/correct if you really have to. Remember you can still do it Silent Wayly.
Now do they recognise any of them?
You can give them some clues:
transport on water; a flower; something musical; a common gadget; something to keep a door closed; a container for cooking.
Please note that I write up one or two IPA transcriptions on the board in pretty much every class, and model them, so my students will already have a minimal familiarity with IPA symbols. Simply doing this exercise I've shown here in isolation will have less impact if you don't follow up with tiny regular doses of IPA.
Oh! A footnote. This is Adrian Underhill doing his other thing...