Thursday, July 29, 2010



Today we learned more about stress in English words. We talked about three kinds of syllables. The author of my favourite pronunciation book calls them: stressed, unstressed and reduced. The vowel sound in a stressed syllable is long and clear. The vowel sound in an unstressed syllable is short and clear. The vowel sound in a reduced syllable is schwa. Schwa is very short and unclear.

We practiced listening to some words and crossing out the vowel that is reduced to schwa. We also practiced repeating many words like "America" and "Canada." There are three schwas in America and two in Canada.

Please note: some people pronounce America with only two schwas - the two As. Other people say it with three.

Next we spent some time on the Two Vowel Rule in multi-syllable words and the One Vowel Rule in multi-syllable words. We learned that the two rules still work in long words, but only in the STRESSED syllable. We looked at words like remain, repeat, arrange and so on.

Finally we played a little game in pairs with two sets of maps. Partner A had one version of a map where the names of some businesses were filled in. Partner B had another version of the same map with the names written in for the other buildings. In other words, each partner had missing puzzle pieces for the other person.

The instructions were to sit facing one another but hold your map up to your chest or behind a book so your partner could not peek. Then we practiced asking one another where things were using "Excuse me, where is the....?"

The tricky part of this game was that the street names were hard to pronounce correctly unless you followed the Two Vowel Rule and One Vowel Rule. There was Ceiling Street, Selling Street, Feeder Way and Fedder Way, Oater Road and Otter Road.

Most of you found the exercise easy or not too difficult.

I hope you enjoy your long weekend. Maybe you could watch TV or a movie and pay attention to the schwa sound.

See you Tuesday!

P.S. Someone asked if "schwa" was an English word. It comes from Hebrew.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Introduction to Word Stress


During Wednesday's class we learned about stressed syllables. In every English word of more than one syllable, one syllable is the strongest. It has the most stress. This means:
  • the vowel sound is longer
  • the vowel sound is clearer
  • the voice is a bit louder
  • the pitch is a bit higher

We practiced saying multi-syllable words while focusing on longer vowel sounds in stressed syllables. We also practiced saying words while focusing on clearer vowel sounds in the stressed syllables.

We did an exercise with minimal sentences. First we practiced as a class, then we practiced this with our partners. One example was:

What's in the desert? Answer: sand

What's in the dessert? Answer: sugar

Everyone did really well with only a few problems to talk about.

Finally, we looked at acronyms. In acronyms, the final letter is stressed the most. We did a pairs exercise with a list of acronymns like BC, BBC, CNN. Then we thought of some more on our own, like YMCA, FBI and CIA.

On Thursday we will talk about schwa! Bye for now.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Computer Lab Day

Hello, students,

Are you done using Ellis?

You may use any of the websites in my sidebar (the links on the right). Have fun!

If you want to watch a funny teacher explaining the TH sounds, click here. That is Teacher Dave. He also has a good lesson about the SH sound. Try not to laugh at his hair, okay?

High intermediate students, you might want to try "Listen and Read Along." You can stop the audio whenever you want. You can click a line of text to play it again. Please notice which words the speaker stresses. Also notice which syllables are stressed in the words. Call me if you need help.

Very advanced students, you might want to try watching a TED Talk. Many of them have been translated into your language. You can read the text in your first language, then you can watch the lecture while reading the English text. This is good practice in listening, but it is very advanced. If you decide to try this, call me and I can help you learn your way around the website.

Monday, July 26, 2010



Today we began our unit on the music of English--the patterns of rhythm, pitch, volume and speed that native speakers use. During this unit, we will learn about word stress and sentence stress. Things like stress, intonation and pitch are also called prosody. That is not a common word. That is a word for English teachers.

Before we study English prosody, we need to learn how to count syllables.

Today we talked about poetry. Rhythm is important for poetry. Rhythm is also important when you learn a new language. You need to use the rhythm of that language. If you speak English using Arabic rhythm or Chinese rhythm, people may find it difficult to understand you.

For our first exercise, we did some listening. We listened to words with one, two, three and four syllables. We also did some oral practice with contrasts like: prayed / parade; clone / cologne; state and estate.

Then we looked at four very short poems and counted the syllables in each line. Every poem had a pattern of five, seven and five syllables. This is called a haiku. It is a very old form of poetry from Japan. The most famous haiku poet was Basho.

Finally, we got into groups of three and wrote our own haiku poems. One person from each group came up to select a picture or piece of artwork to inspire the poem.

Ina, Wen and Layla chose a picture of a father in a park with his baby in a stroller.

Florin, Bashar and Ghadeer wrote their haiku about a snowy scene. That painting was done by one of the Group of Seven artists. They are very well known in Canada.

Angela, Annonciata and Lina wrote their haiku about a little girl holding a toy rabbit and looking through a window.

That was fun!

See you in the lab on Tuesday!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Voicing and the -S Endings


I hope you're enjoying the weekend. On Thursday we once again reviewed voiced and voiceless sounds. By the time we are done with voicing, you will be able to teach this unit!

The sounds we practiced are the voiceless / voiced pair /s/ and /z/. First we did some listening, then we practiced orally using minimal pairs and minimal sentences. The Spanish speakers had a lot of trouble with the /z/ sound. It's hard when you don't have that sound in your first language. I suggested you start by saying the ssssssssss sound, then add the voicing. Suddenly you are saying zzzzzzzzz. Does that work for you?

We listened to a dialogue about a picnic and tried to identify the different ways the underlined -S endings can sound. We then put those words into one of three columns: /s/, /z/ and /Iz/ or /əd/.

We practiced the dialogue orally. For our last activity, we did a chain story about going on a picnic. We took turns adding to the long list of items we will bring on the picnic; everyone had to say all the previous items plus the one they were adding to the list. We said we were taking: blankets, oranges, racquets and birdies, Frisbees, etc.

Thank you for visiting the web log! I hope to see you Monday.

More Voiced / Voiceless Contrasts

Hello, Students!

I got a bit behind in my writing here, didn't I?

On Tuesday we reviewed voiced and voiceless sounds. Then we learned how to make the voiced TH sound. This is the sound in "the," "then," "they" and "than," isn't it? We did some listening work and some work with minimal pairs with partners. At the end of the class we looked at some intriguing photographs from magazines and talked about them with our partners using "I think..." to practice voiceless TH and words like "the," "they" and "that" to practice voiced TH. For example, "I think the woman is a mother. I think the doorbell is ringing. I think the baby will be in trouble."

On Wednesday we again reviewed voicing. I asked you to give me voiced sounds as I listed them on the whiteboard. Across from those we listed the voiceless sounds that are made the same way in the mouth. We came up with: /b/ and /p/, /g/ and /k/, etc. We also listed a few consonant sounds that do not have any voiceless counterpart in English, like /r/, /l/ and /y/.

Then we focused on the voiced/voiceless pair /d/ and /t/. We did some listening and recognition practice before speaking practice. We read a story and tried to identify the three ways that the regular past tense ending can be pronounced. We came up with /t/, /d/ and /Id/.

We took all the verbs from the story and placed them into one of three columns. Then we tried to find the pattern or rule. We decided that when a verb ends in a /t/ or /d/ sound, the past tense ending sounds like /Id/. Otherwise, a final voiced sound makes the past tense ending /d/ and a voiceless final sound makes it sound like /t/.

For our final activity that day we interviewed our partners to find out what they used to do "always, sometimes, or never" when we were children. For example, one question was, "When you were young, did you kiss your mother goodbye in the morning?" The answer would be "Yes, I always kissed her goodbye," "Well, I sometimes kissed her goodbye," or "No, I never kissed her goodbye." I noticed that you helped each other figure out how to say the past tense endings and made notes for yourselves using the phonetic symbols. That's great!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Voiceless TH

Hello, students!

Today we talked about voiced and voiceless sounds. We said that we all have an organ in our throats called a larynx. That is the medical word for it. Most people just say "voice box."

Inside your voice box there are vocal cords. When you talk, they vibrate. Guitar strings also vibrate to make sound.

We do not use our voice for all sounds. As an example, we talked about Florin's name. We do not use our voice when we say the F in his name. F is a voiceless consonant. We use our voice for all vowels. We use our voice for the rest of his name: L-O-R-I-N.

Put your fingers on your throat and feel the vibration. You can't feel any vibration when you whisper.

What are some voiced consonant sounds? How about:

/b/ /d/ /g/ /v/ /z/ /ʒ/ /dʒ/ /l/ /m/ /n/ /r/ /w/ and /y/.

What are the voiceless consonant sounds? They are:

/p/ /t/ /k/ /f/ /s/ /ʃ/ /h/ and /tʃ/.

Don't worry, you don't have to remember all of that now. We will talk more about this on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Today we practiced the voiceless 'th' sound. This is the sound in the words: thin, think, thanks, thirsty and Thursday. Can you think of some more?

After some exercises repeating the words orally, we worked in pairs. Ina and Florin used the exercises for Romanian speakers. Annonciata helped Wen do the exercise for Mandarin speakers since Jin Long was not in class. Angela and Ana did the exercises for Spanish speakers.

Bashar and Lina said they have the -th- sound in their dialect of Arabic. That's great! They were able to help out with the class. Layla came late, but Bashar got her up to speed. Thanks, Bashar!

We practiced the /θ/ sound in a dialogue, first as a class and then in pairs. Finally, we practiced the sound with a partner by correcting some false statements.

Partner A said: "There are 500 metres in a kilometre."
Partner B said: "Are there? I thought there were 1000."

You can say the correction two ways. "I think there are 1000 metres in a kilometre." Or: "I thought there were 1000 metres in a kilometre."

It was fun! On Tuesday we will work with the voiced -th- sound, /ð/.

Oh, did you watch the video of this funny teacher yet? He exaggerates the TH sound.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Vowels and the Following Consonant

Today we learned that ALL vowels are longer before voiced consonants. Many native speakers of English do not know this! But if you give them the list of words and listen, you will see!

We looked at words such as:

bus / buzz
back / bag
buck / bug
ice / eyes

We did a lot of practice in pairs with sentences.

If partner A said "He wants peas," partner B said, "Not carrots?"
If partner A said "He wants peace," partner B said, "Not war?"

Some of us had trouble with voiced th, voiceless th and also with /v/. Don't worry, we will work on these soon. In the meantime, you can watch this funny teacher's video about voiceless and voiced TH sounds. Click here.

Have a great weekend! See you Monday!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Vowel Sounds in Late and Let


Are you at home relaxing? Checking your email?

Today we practiced the vowel sounds in late and let. We worked in pairs to help each other with the pronunciation of these sounds using minimal sentences such as "Put it in the shade" and "Put it in the shed."

A shed is a small, very simple building. A tool shed is a place in your backyard where you can store your lawnmower and tools.

We also practiced a dialogue about Jay Davis, who was waiting for a train at the train station.

During the last part of class, we asked each other these questions:

Are you usually early or late?
Do you know how to bake a cake?
When is your birthday?
Which do you like better, trains or airplanes?

Hey, nobody asked ME the questions! I am usually early. I know how to bake a cake. My birthday is July 22nd. I like both trains and airplanes.

Tomorrow we will learn something interesting about vowels. Next week we will start a new subject.

See you!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Vowel Day in the Lab

Hello, students!

Today was a great day in the computer lab.

First we used the site Ship or Sheep - Vowel Practice.

Next we visited Phonetics Flash Animation Project. Remember, you do not need to practice /ɔ/ because we do not have that vowel sound in Canadian English. When I was a little girl, I had that vowel sound in my speech. But now I don't have it, because I have lived in Canada for eleven years.

The Flash Animation site is good for watching the tongue move, isn't it?

Next we tried American English Pronunciation Practice. I noticed many of you taking the quizzes. I saw some very good scores. Annonciata had a perfect score, and Ana practiced the /iy/ and /I/ sounds 100 times!

The next site was Pronunciation and Listening Lab. This site also has tests you can take. I don't think anyone tried speaking into the microphone in the conversation section or tongue twisters section. That's okay. Next time we will use Ellis software. We will sit far apart so we can record our voices.

Finally, some of you tried signing up for VoiceThread. Jinlong was successful. I see a little car icon with his name on it. But the voice recording didn't work. Maybe he will try again from home.

See you tomorrow!

P.S. Thank you, Florin, for changing the clock!

Practice the Vowel Sounds in Ship and Sheep

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tense and Lax i Sounds

Hello, class!

Almost everyone was in class today. Thank you! Today we got a new student in our class. Welcome, Samir!

Today we practiced our listening skills with the sounds /iy/ and /I/. We played Pronunciation Journey four times. Each time a player arrived at the correct city, she or he got a star. If you got three or four stars, you are now ready to play the game with a classmate.

We spent the last part of the class practicing the /iy/ and /I/ sounds in conversation. I gave each pair three conversation prompt cards. Some sample questions were:

  • Do you like cheese on your pizza?
  • Do you peel a peach before you eat it, or do you eat the skin?
  • What is the most interesting thing in your city?
  • Do you like dill pickles?

Tuesday we will continue working with vowel sounds in the computer lab.

Stay cool!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Lax U Sound - /ʊ/

Hello, students!

Today was a scorcher, wasn't it? I hope we get more rain to cool things off.

Today we finished practicing our coffee shop dialogues from yesterday. Each student wrote a dialogue for ordering at Tim Horton's. Then we recited our dialogues aloud.

Florin used a useful phrase in his dialogue: "keep the change." He gave the server a tip.

During the second part of the class, we learned another vowel sound. This is the lax "u" in the words book, cookie, would and should. The phonetic symbol looks like this: /ʊ/

We practiced the sound using a variety of activities.

Finally, we practiced giving advice using the following phrases:

Maybe you should...
You could...
Maybe you shouldn't...
You should....
If I were you, I would...

Florin took the first role playing card. It said:

"I have a 16-year-old son. Yesterday I found cigarettes in his room. What should I do?"

We gave him some advice on that.

Wen took the next card. It said:

"My child learns bad words at school. What should I do?"

One idea was to call the school and talk to the teacher. The teacher could have a talk with the children.

Have a good weekend and stay cool! Don't forget to do the homework on the back of the coffee shop dialogues sheet.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Vowels and the Culture of Timmy's

Today we got familiar with five more vowel sounds in Canadian English:
/æ/, /ɛ/, /ɪ/, /ɑ/ and /ʌ/. We call these the relative vowel sounds. They do not have an off-glide.

We learned the One Vowel Rule for relative vowel sounds. The rule: If there is only one vowel letter in a short word, it is pronounced with its relative vowel sound.

Like yesterday's Two Vowel Rule, the One Vowel Rule does not work 100% of the time. However, a rule that works most of the time is better than no guideline at all, no?

After some listening exercises, choral repeating and individual repeating with corrections, we had fun with a few minimal pair sentences. Then it was time to practice the sounds in a real world context.

We learned some vocabulary for one cornerstone of the Canadian cultural experience: ordering at Tim Horton's. When recently arrived Florin asked, "What's a Timbit," I was ready. We passed around napkins and enjoyed the unofficial national snack food of Canada.

We talked about the meaning of such terms as steeped tea, ham & Swiss sandwich, and regular. Lina explained to us the meaning of "double double." Annonciata said that in Tanzania, you can pick coffee beans right off the bush! Angela said you can do that in Colombia, too. Florin said Canadian coffee is weak. Coffee is stronger in Romania.

Then we worked together to group the terms by vowel sounds. Here was the result:

black, apple, ham, salad, crackers, chamomile.

egg, peppermint, English Breakfast, honey lemon.

Timbit, Swiss, chicken, stir stick, lid, cinnamon, peppermint.

hot chocolate, coffee, water.

donut, muffin, mug, double, honey.

When the students wanted to know the meaning of chamomile, I passed out seven tea packets, one for each kind of tea offered at Tim's. We opened the chamomile and smelled it. Florin and Ina quickly agreed on the Romanian word for it while Ana and Fermin were also able to name it in Spanish.

Finally, we practiced some dialogues for ordering at Tim's. These included such phrases as "for here or to go" and "can I help who's next, please?"

We did not finish working with the dialogues, so on Thursday we will finish up those before starting the next pronunciation lesson.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Vowels 1 - The Alphabet Vowel Sounds

Today we began the unit on vowels.

We started with the five alphabet vowel sounds: /ey/, /iy/, /ay/, /ow/, and /uw/.

On the last day of the last term, some students expressed a wish to have more guidance when it comes to the connection between spelling and pronunciation. So today we learned the Two Vowel Rule. Many Canadians and Americans probably remember a little rhyme or song from grade school: "When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking. When two vowels go walking, the first one says its name."

That's pretty cheesy, isn't it? I don't often give silly children's songs to adults, but sometimes silly things are easy to remember.

If you want to listen to the vowel song, click here. It is very catchy!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Pronunciation Day 1 - Course Intro

Hello, students. Welcome back! I hope you all enjoyed your break.

I was surprised to see nine familiar faces and only one new face today.

Today we talked about what we will learn over the next three months. We will cover: vowels, syllables, word stress, sentence stress, linking, consonants, intonation/pitch, and relaxed speech.

In response to the feedback form we did on the last day of the last term, I will be including more material on the correspondence between spelling and pronunciation.

We will be going to the computer lab to use pronunciation software every other Tuesday beginning next week.

Computer Lab Tuesdays:
July 13
July 27
August 10
August 24
September 14
September 28

Today we learned the phonetic symbols that we will be using in this class for CONSONANTS. We went over them together orally. Then we took three minutes to memorize the difficult ones. Finally, we played two rounds of tic-tac-toe to see which team could do a better job of remembering the symbols. The O team won twice!

Here are the symbols we learned today:

/b/bad, job
/d/dog, food
/f/foot, half
/g/good, dog
/h/hat, behind
/k/kid, sick
/l/less, pool
/m/moon, some
/n/nice, open
/p/pen, cap
/r/right, car
/s/see, rice
/ʃ/show, nation
/t/tea, stop, seat
/tʃ/church, watch
/θ/thanks, bath
/ð/that, father
/v/van, have
/w/water, away
/y/yellow, onion
/z/zipper, those
/ʒ/beige, pleasure
/dʒ/jump, judge

One of these symbols was left off the sheet I gave you! The symbol /ŋ/ is missing from your sheet.

For homework, I asked you to study the parts of the mouth.