Pronunciation Matters
 

Phonological Explanations

This free, downloadable PDF document provides explanations of how all the various sounds that Pronunciation Matters units focus on are made.

If you cannot produce a sound correctly through simple imitation of your teacher’s model or the one on the audio recordings, or if you cannot figure out what you are doing wrong when you mispronounce a sound, you may want to go through the step-by-step explanations provided in this section.

Teachers may also use these explanations as resource material when explaining the production of sounds to individual students or larger groups.

Hints for Checking Your Pronunciation

Often it is difficult to tell whether your articulators (lips, tongue, teeth, jaw, etc.) are in the proper position because they are difficult to see or sense. The same is true of stress and the pitch of your voice. Most of us are not used to paying attention to such things. For these reasons, in many of the phonological explanations in this section, references are made to “hints” that will help you know if you are making a sound properly.
Hints 1-12 below are techniques that provide visual or tactile feedback. Such guidance may make it easier for you to check your pronunciation by noting the position of your articulators or your manner of articulation. Hints 13-15 help you temporarily ignore vowels and consonants so you can concentrate on stress, intonation, and pausing.

Hint #1 While pronouncing a vowel or consonant, “freeze" or "lock" your tongue in position. Then inhale (breathe in, instead of out). You should feel a cool spot at the point of articulation, where the articulators (tongue, lips, teeth, palate, etc.) are closest. This “trick” is especially useful for checking vowels and consonants made with two articulators near one another or touching, such as [iy], [l], [r], [k], and [g].

Hint #2 Place the tips of your fingers on your cheeks just behind the corners of your mouth to feel whether your cheek muscles are tensed and your lips are spread or rounded. (See Hint #4 for another way to check lip spreading and rounding.) This “trick” is especially useful for checking vowels made with spread or rounded lips, such as [iy], [I], [uw], and [U]

Hint #3 Place the tips of your fingers on your upper and lower lips to feel how rounded and/or protruding they are. (See Hint #4 for another way to check lip rounding.) This “trick” is especially useful for vowels such as [ow], [uw], and [U].

Hint #4 Hold a small mirror in front of your mouth (or look in a larger mirror) to see how spread, rounded, or protruding your lips are. This “trick” is especially useful for checking vowels such as [iy], [I], [ow], [uw], and [U]. (See Hints #2 and #3 for other ways to check lip spreading, rounding, and protrusion.) Using a mirror in this way, you can also check on the location of your tongue when making the interdental consonant sounds [T] and [D]. The tip of your tongue should be visible between your upper and lower teeth.

Hint #5 Place your thumb beneath your chin and press upward firmly while pronouncing a sound in order to feel whether your tongue muscles are tensed or relaxed. As they are tensed, your thumb will be pushed downward. This “trick” is useful for distinguishing between vowels that are tense, such as [iy], [ey], [ow], and [uw], and those that are relaxed, such as [I], [E], [A], and [U]. It is also useful for checking the [r] pronunciation in [A]-[Ar] and [´]-[´r]. The movement of your tongue when pronouncing the [r] will push your thumb downward.

Hint #6 Place the tip of your finger lightly on the front of and/or between your upper and lower front teeth. With your fingertip you will be able to feel the slight differences in how open your jaw is while pronouncing similar vowel sounds, such as [iy], [I], [E], and [Q]. Also, when you pronounce a dipthong like [ey] or [ow] properly, your mouth will open or close slightly and you will feel your teeth move. Using your fingertip in this way, you can also check on the proper location of your tongue when making the interdental consonant sounds [T] and [D]. You should be able to feel the tip of your tongue between your upper and lower teeth.

Hint #7 Place your fingertips lightly on the front of your throat to feel the vibration, or voicing, when you pronounce voiced consonants like [z], [b], [v], and [g]. Keep your fingers in the same place while producing the voiceless counterparts ([s], [p], [f], and [k]). You should feel no vibration from these voiceless consonants. (See Hint #8 for another way to check voicing.)

Hint #8 Use your fingertip to plug one ear in order to hear the voicing in consonants like [z], [b], [v], and [g] more clearly. For an even stronger effect, you can plug both ears. (See Hint #7 for another way to check voicing.)

Hint #9 Hold your index finger horizontally and place it lightly between your lips or next to your upper lip. This “trick” is useful for distinguishing between bilabial consonants (made with your upper and lower lips touching), such as [b] and [p], and labiodentals (made with your lower lip touching your upper teeth), such as [v] and [f].

Hint #10 Place a clean pen or pencil horizontally across the inside of your mouth, between your upper and lower teeth. Then, when you pronounce consonants such as [l], [r], and [n], notice the position of the tip of your tongue. For [l] it will be below the pencil, for [r] it will be above the pencil, and for [n] it will probably be pushing against the pencil.

Hint #11 Hold a small strip of paper (approximately 4 inches long and 1/2 inch wide) about 1/2 inch in front of your mouth. (A strip of facial tissue is especially sensitive, but plain notebook paper will do.) When you pronounce an aspirated consonant, like the [p] in pin, the paper will move. When you pronounce an unaspirated consonant, like the [b] in bin or the [p] in spin, the paper will not move. (For an even more dramatic effect, see Hint #12.)

Hint #12 Hold a lighted match or candle in front of your mouth when practicing aspirated and unaspirated consonants (see explanation in Hint #11). When you produce the puff of air that distinguishes these two types of consonants, the flame will flicker or even be blown out. When you pronounce an unaspirated consonant correctly, the flame will remain steady and barely move.

Hint #13 Clap your hands together, once for each syllable as you say or hum a word, phrase, or sentence. Clap very softly for non-stressed syllables, normally for lightly stressed syllables, and loudly for strongly stressed syllables. If clapping is not appropriate where you are practicing, try tapping on your table or desktop with your finger or a pencil. Use the same soft or loud technique for non-stressed, lightly stressed, and strongly stressed syllables. This “trick” is good for practicing both stress and rhythm.

Hint #14 Instead of speaking normally, hum or play a kazoo (a toy humming instrument) as you say a sentence. This “trick” will mask out the consonant and vowel sounds, and make your intonation much more obvious. It can be used together with Hint #15.

Hint #15 Hold your hand horizontally in front of you at about chin level. Then, as you say or hum a word, phrase, or sentence, move your hand up or down to match the rising or falling intonation.

For phonological explanations, please click here to download the PDF version of the chapter.