When is comes to learning English pronunciation, many students have neither the time nor the inclination to learn all the symbols that make up the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). I mean it’s hard enough to learn one foreign language, without having to learn another. Not only that, but when students see words spelled out in the IPA symbols it can be completely overwhelming. Seriously, where do you start and how are you supposed to remember them all?! Well, the great Canadian educator Judy Thompson came up with a wonderful system to help students identify, learn, and remember how to pronounce English vowels. It’s called the EPA (English Phonetic Alphabet) Vowel Color Chart, and I use it all the time. In this video, I explore her chart and also provide some brief instructions on how to pronounce most of the vowels.
Rather than force students to spend hours learning all the IPA symbols, Judy Thompson used only letters that already exist in the English alphabet and one symbol on the English keyboard. Then she reduced the number of vowels to 16 from the IPA’s (I believe the number is) 22, and associated each vowel with the name of a color. As a result, she’s made the learning of English vowel pronunciation so much more accessible: faster to learn, easier to remember, and generally less intimidating. Since students often learn the names of colors very early on when studying another language, they’re already familiar with most of the colors. By linking a color with the vowel in the stressed syllable in any multi-syllable word, students get a really vivid sense memory of how to pronounce the word correctly.
For sure, there are still some vocal mechanics to be learned. Some vowels are usually more difficult to pronounce than others. For almost all nationalities, of course, the /a/ in black is particularly troublesome, as is learning to distinguish between certain vowel sounds like the long /Ey/ in green and the short /i/ in silver. But now there’s a quick and easy reference guide to return to for help.
Judy Thompson’s excellent and entertaining book on English pronunciation English is Stupid. Students are Not. can be downloaded for free. She “demystifies” the whole process and takes the fear out of learning our fantastic, and often frustrating, language.
Her EPA Vowel Color Chart has revolutionized the learning and teaching of English vowels. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
See for yourself.
And, of course, you can also download the transcript of my video here [An Easier Way to Learn English Vowels], for listening practice.