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ESL forum > Ask for help > The importance of English vowels    

The importance of English vowels


The importance of English vowels
Dear friends,

I would like to hear your opinions.

Why should we teach English vowels in class? and How?

Thank you very much!

Have a nice day!

Le Xuan Thinh

10 Jul 2012      


phonetic dictations (when the ss listen to a number of words pronounced by a native speaker and they have to differentiate between two sounds and tick the sound they hear at that moment)

Why teach sounds (not just vowels)? In my opinion, mainly because they differ from the student s native language and because that is what will make his/her speech comprehensible to the native speakers of English, which will make communication possible and isn t that the main purpose of studying a foreign language? Not only they will be better understood but they will struggle less with spelling and will have a better understanding while listening to fluent speakers and authentic materials. (sorry for the run on sentences:)

10 Jul 2012     

Czech Republic

Sophia said it right. I would only add:
There is a big number of minimal pairs - words pronounced in a similar way. So students should learn the different sounds to be able to understand spoken English - TV, film, radio, audiobooks, conversation...

Minimal pairs of wovels - long and short - x e,   x a,  x ʌ,   a x e,,  e x i,
ʌ        e        eɪ      ɪ  i:      ɜ:  ɔ:       ɑ:  ɔ:   

long x  short a / e /  i / o   -  make x mack,,  meet x met, ran x run,  bloke x block, and x end, ...

ai x a (maid x mad), a x e (bake x bike),  a x e (bike x beck) ...
e x (end x and), e x ee (met x meet), oi x ee (oil x eel), o x i, (bored x bird), x ʌ (hat x hut)
short and long i  (ship x sheep), i x e - tin x ten

Minimal pairs: th x s, b x p, x e x a, x ʌ,  a x e,,  t x d,  -ng x -nk,  z x s, θ x - voiced x voiceless th, w x v, d x , sh x ch, sh x s, ch x g, ...

For Example: think x sing, thigh x thy, bin x pin, pen x pan, end x and, met x mat, den x ten x then x zen, seal x zeal, sing x sink,  wash x watch, she x sea, work x walk, run x ran, van x won...
long and short vowels
- this x these, ship x sheep, mill x meal,
cap x cape, jock x joke, pip x pipe, Mick x Mike,


Lots of minimal pairs:


10 Jul 2012     

United States

I completely agree with moravc about minimal pairs; in fact, I made some tables with minimal groups, in which the only difference among the words is the vowel. (Click on my name if you are interested; I don t want to clutter with 5 links.) For example, there are 17 different words with 13 different vowels and diphthongs that begin with b and end with t: beat and beet, bit, bait and bate, bet, bat, but and butt, bite, bout, beaut and butte, boot, boat, bought, and bot. I like to use Tic-Tac-Toe/Noughts and Crosses to practice, but there are other activities you can use, as Sophia pointed out.

After the monster list I just wrote, it should be obvious why it is so important to teach vowels: to promote better understanding. The English vowel system is so much more complicated than that in many, maybe most, other languages. Small differences in sound that are perceived as the same in many languages are perceived as different in English. It takes a lot of practice to both hear and produce these differences, just as it takes a lot of practice for English speakers to hear the difference between /p/ and /ph/. That is easy for Vietnamese speakers.

10 Jul 2012     


Dear colleague,

Thanks a lot for your ideas. It helps me have a better understanding of correct pronunciation.

What do other ESL/EFL teachers think? Please share your point of view. I would like to have your opinions.

Thank you very much for your time and ideas.

Good bye and good luck!

Le Xuan Thinh

11 Jul 2012