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Differentiating vowel sounds 
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Joined: Fri Mar 28, 2008 12:32 pm
Posts: 16
Post Differentiating vowel sounds
Does anybody have any ideas to help my students learn to differentiate between the vowel sounds? Most of my children (age 8-12) honestly can't tell the difference between a short a, e, i, o or u when I or another English speaker say it! And can't see why it matters anyway. They seem to see the vowels as five different ways of writing the same sound - completely interchangeable - they're confused and so am I. I enunciate very clearly when I speak to them, more than I normally would, we have played games where they have to pick which vowel is being said and so on, but little improvement is shown.

These children now live in an English speaking, reading and writing society and it is imperative that they learn this, but I can't get it across!

Help, please?

Fri Jun 20, 2008 9:54 am

Joined: Wed Mar 14, 2007 12:20 pm
Posts: 38
Location: chiba
one of the main ways I try to teach the different sounds is by playing tic tac toe (noughts and crosses)

I draw the grid on the board (I start wth a 3 by 3 grid as it can be very tough for the kids).

across the top I write 3 vowels, for example a, u and e.
down the left side i write 3 consanants e.g. b, c and d.

In this way every squre should have its own sound "ba" (as in bat) "cu" (cup), "da" (dad), "du" (dud), etc.

We then practice the sounds quickly and start the game.

The kids (individually or in teams) select a square ("this one!") and attempt to say the sound. Eg "de"

if the sound is correct they win the square, if it is wrong (they say "du") then I point to the "du" square and say "du" (oh no!) and then to the "de" squre (this is "de", like desk.)

The first group to get 3 squares in a row wins.

The main points (i think) are to be very strict with the sounds (but not to the point of discouraging the kids, obviously), start with easy consanants so they can really focus on the vowel sounds and to keep reviewing and practicing the correct pronunciation during the game.

The other game is to have a "listening test".
Chose a few words such as "hot", "hut" and "hat". Write them on the board (with their picture). The kids then write down on paper the words as you say them. When they get the idea you can have them be the teacher and you write the words as they say them.

Fri Jun 20, 2008 12:11 pm
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2006 10:46 am
Posts: 2130
Location: Nagano, Japan
It might be good to draw a diagram of the mouth for each vowel shape. I asume they're not moving their mouth correctly or not moving their mouths at all.

I explain to my students that the mouth is like an instrument. When you blow through a flute, it makes a noise. When you cover one of the holes, it make a different noise. I explain that the reason the sound is different is because the shape inside the flute is different.

Then I go on to explain that with our mouths we can make many different sounds by changing it's shape. Then I just start making a bunch of different sounds by contorting my mouth into various shapes.

Once they understand they need to use their mouths like instruments, you can begin to explain how each sound is formed. It won't be easy and they'll need a lot of practice but I've found that if you can get them to make the sounds correctly, they'll be able to differentiate them better when they hear them.

Like you said the first problem is they need to recognize they are different phonemes and not interchangeable phones for the same phoneme.


I also find that it's easiest to have them associate the letter to a word they know. A-alligator, E-egg, I-igloo, O-octopus, U-up. That way if they forget how to pronounce the letter, they'll be able to remember if they can make that association (remember a word that starts with that letter.)


Pronounciation is hard. Give them some confidence building tasks and games to play. If children can do something well, they want to do it more often. If it's difficult and disappointing, they often shut down and don't even try. So, make it easy and build slowly.

Where is it that you're teaching? In the L1 do the same English sounds exist or are they completely new phonemes?

Build up! Be positive! Teach hard!

Sat Jun 21, 2008 12:21 pm
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Joined: Fri Nov 10, 2006 3:35 pm
Posts: 119
Location: Yamaguchi, Japan
I have a flipchart with consonants first and last and vowels in the middle. We practise reading the words and changing the middle vowel while keeping the same first and last consonant. bat, bet, bit, bot, but.

Wed Jun 25, 2008 4:03 pm

Joined: Tue Jan 23, 2007 4:33 pm
Posts: 41
Location: Ibaraki, Japan
I do a short phonics listening activity at the beginning of the class. I started by having them try to differentiate two sounds, such as short a and short u, by putting two cards on the board and having them point to the sound. I'll say, for example, "cat", and the kids should point to the "a" card. Later, I give them cards for each vowel and have them raise the right card when I say a word. We do this for probably five minutes at most per class, but I think it's helping.

Thu Jun 26, 2008 10:48 am

Joined: Fri Mar 28, 2008 12:32 pm
Posts: 16
mesmark wrote:

Where is it that you're teaching? In the L1 do the same English sounds exist or are they completely new phonemes?

Mark, I teach in a small town in the NSW outback. The children I teach are the children of refugees from Afghanistan and their home language is Dari. The sounds are very different, and the way the language works is also very different.

Thank you for the ideas, everybody, I tried Maia's idea of cards today and they were interested and seemed to be willing to try, and there are other ideas here I will definitely work on.

The biggest issue I have is that there is a large Afghani population in town, and the children don't grasp why English is essential. They can live quite happily here in the bush and only speak Dari. Except it will limit them horribly as they get older.

Fri Jun 27, 2008 1:24 pm
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