TESL, TEFL, How to Teach English Vowels - Lay the Foundation
4.3 (58 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
229 students enrolled

TESL, TEFL, How to Teach English Vowels - Lay the Foundation

English vowels are foundational to comprehensibility, stress, rhythm & intonation in English. Learn how to use them.
4.3 (58 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
229 students enrolled
Created by Peggy Tharpe
Last updated 1/2020
Price: $24.99
30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
This course includes
  • 2 hours on-demand video
  • 2 articles
  • 23 downloadable resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Assignments
  • Certificate of Completion
Training 5 or more people?

Get your team access to 4,000+ top Udemy courses anytime, anywhere.

Try Udemy for Business
What you'll learn
  • a highly effective method fort teaching vowel pronunciation, one that improves student acquisition and retention of these new and unfamiliar sounds
  • a way to show students how to recognize and produce the vowels of American English
  • tools to help students hear how American English sounds differ from one another and how to produce them
  • a teaching strategy that keeps students laser-focused on the qualities and nature of English vowels
  • ways to create feedback loops for students on their pronunciation successes and failures
  • the ability to teach American English pronunciation efficiently, effectively and confidently, no matter where you go or what resources you have
  • You'll need access to the internet to use the resource materials and teaching tools.
  • Take the Pre-Test! Find out what you know and don't know.

Learn how to teach English vowels so your students really do acquire a more natural sound, stress, rhythm and understanding of English.

Discover this amazingly super-effective, super-easy way to teach the pronunciation of English vowels.  This method works for students teaching themselves how to better pronounce English vowels, as well as for teachers, tutors and accent coaches working on vowel sounds at all levels, beginner to advanced. I use this method with high level clients in advertising, diplomacy and management, to help them improve their comprehensibility and create a more natural sound in English. 

This method really works, whether you're teaching children or coaching diplomats.

Did you know that vowels are the core of the English sound? Many languages are consonant rich, and have fewer vowels. But English is vowel rich. Because there are so many vowels, the differences between them are hard for learners to hear and make. But learners can strengthen their sound and comprehensibility as English speakers if they strengthen their command of vowels--after all, word and syllable stress occurs on the vowels. Lengthening syllables for stress happens on vowels. Mastering vowels is very important for English speakers.

The purpose of this course is to show you exactly how to elicit natural vowel production from your students, which makes them sound much more natural and comprehensible in English. 

In Section 2, you'll master the gestures that work like magic to improve your students' vowel sounds, no matter what their age. You'll discover how to teach English vowels for permanent change. Your students will never forget this technique and neither will you. 

Since speaking is physical and dependent on muscle memory, the best way to teach new sounds is a method that combines physical retraining with analytical understanding and neurological reinforcements. Using visual and auditory reprogramming, you'll develop the strongest, longest-lasting language learning that is possible. This method works not only with beginner and intermediate learners of English, but has shown amazing results with advanced students working on accent reduction and comprehensibility. Section 3 is the heart of this course.

Section 3 gets you organized to teach vowels efficiently, effectively, and expertly. You'll customize the tools you need for teaching pronunciation--tools that you can take with you wherever you go. This method eliminates the need to buy course books or textbooks or pronunciation practice materials. You'll use free materials programs online to become a more powerful pronunciation teacher. You can use these same programs and websites with your students if they have access to the internet. Section 1 begins with a pre-test so you can assess your own knowledge and skill set for teaching vowels.

In Section 4, you'll design feedback loops for your students to reinforce what they've learned. You don't want them to lose their newly gained English vowel sounds. You'll learn about feedback loops that include the teacher, and feedback loops for the student to use independently. The important thing is--your students will need a way to ascertain if they're successfully creating the English vowel sounds. We don't want all their practice time to be spent creating and strengthening the wrong sounds! 

In Section 5 you'll review everything covered in the course and measure your understanding with a post-test to find out if you know all the strategies and tools for teaching English vowels like a pro. Each question on the post-test addresses a critical feature needed for teaching and learning. With the answers in hand, you'll organize your own system for teaching English vowels--one that you'll never forget and that you can take with you wherever in the world you go! 

Every strategy and technique has been tested over hours and hours in the classroom. These are proven strategies that result in much more successful English pronunciation learning--much happier students as well as teachers!

If you are an ESL or EFL teacher, or an English tutor, or an accent reduction coach, or if you aspire to be, this is an investment that you can't pass up, because it's an investment in yourself. Happy students will refer their friends to you. Your expertise will be recognized by your company or school. There is no "down" side to becoming better at teaching.

I hope you join me and find out what I've learned from years of pronunciation teaching and empirical research done in my classrooms. Join me and become a more effective, more efficient, more confident English pronunciation teacher! 


Who this course is for:
  • This course is designed for ESL/EFL teachers, tutors, and accent reduction coaches.
  • This course is for you if you want to really "own" pronunciation teaching, so you can teach it to anyone, at any level.
  • This course works for newbies and experienced teachers alike, both ESL and EFL. The strategy is unique and will be of interest to all teachers.
  • If you're looking for a ready-made worksheet to print off for your class tomorrow morning, this course is not going to fill your need.
  • But if you're looking for a way to teach the pronunciation of English vowels whenever the need arises, in reading class, in speaking class, in conversation class, in grammar class, for accent reduction, anywhere, then this course is for you.
Course content
Expand all 19 lectures 01:56:10
+ Overview of the course, and meet your teacher
2 lectures 03:59

This is a teacher training course. It is an actual demonstration of how to teach English pronunciation. By the end of this course, you'll be able to teach American English vowels confidently, expertly and efficiently so your students make real change in their sound. You'll have the tools and strategies that work best for teaching vowels, based on years of teaching experience. You'll know not only what to teach, but how to teach it, what tools to use and what strategies work best.

This lecture comes with 3 resources: a Pre-Test, the author's bio, and "About this Course'.

If you're wondering whether this course is for you, take the Pre-Test and see how you do.

Preview 03:07

Why are vowels so hard to teach? Why do students often continue using the vowels of their first language? What can you do about it?

Vowels are hard to teach because there's no friction or contact. Nothing demonstrable happens. No two parts come together that you can point to or make your students aware of. Vowel sounds are vocal chord vibrations modified slightly as they pass through your mouth. 

Even if you're a native speaker of English, it's difficult to recognize and describe vowels because you've been making these sounds since you were born. So native speakers, you need to study to understand the sounds of your own language! And then you need to use tools and strategies that really help your students learn and change their sounds. And guess what? The simpler the better. 

If you're not a native speaker of English, your challenge will be finding a way to stop using your life-long first language sounds and consistently use these new vowel sounds of English without slipping back into your first language habits. Not an easy task.

Having a system in place will not only help you as a teacher, but it will also help your students. Most people are visual learners rather than auditory. That means most of us process and retain information that we see much better than information that we only hear. So the first thing to do is make sure you have a visual, systemic representation of English sounds to refer to, and teach from. This will help your students more aware of how English sounds are different from their own first language sounds. 

In Section 3, you'll set up your organizational systems to make vowels easier to talk about with your students, and easier for them to understand.

Preview 00:52
+ Use these powerful gestures to teach and learn English vowels.
3 lectures 28:29

In this lecture, you'll watch a demonstration of gestures that lock in the English front vowel sounds for your students. These gestures accompany the vowel sounds, and give students a physical way to understand the impact of duration on vowels in English, as well as physical mirroring of large muscles to smaller articulator muscles, which reinforces and strengthens the movements needed to create each vowel sound. 

If your students don't form a new template or mental framework for English vowels, their minds will use their first language sounds as their English template, and students will keep producing vowel sounds with the same clarity and duration as their first language. If their first language has short, equal-length vowels that are not reduced, their English vowels will be the same---they will follow their first language template.

Remember, until we are taught otherwise, we hear with our first language ears and speak with our first language tongues. Therefore, it's very important for teachers to give their students a new template or framework for English sounds.

Watch the lecture video to learn how to help your students create a new template for English sounds, starting with English vowels. 

Gestures for teaching the front vowels , Ā, Ē and Æ
Before we go to the next gesture, take a few minutes and practice this so you know how it feels.
Long A Gesture -- practice now and then do with your students
1 question
Practice the long EEEE gesture and run through these words with your students. Try it now so you know how it feels.
Long E Gesture - One syllable practice words
1 question
AE is a distinctive sound that isn't found in many languages, but English has it and it plays an important role. It's almost always in the stressed syllable of a word. It will really help your students with their comprehensibility.
AE - Practice and Keep Working on It--It's hard for both teachers and students
1 question
Practice the EH sound in 1-syllable words. Compare EH with AE (nearly all of your students will need this because AE doesn't exist in most languages so EH is substituted); and also compare EH to long A (which speakers of Arabic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Urdu may need).
EH Gesture Practice --Common One Syllable Words with EH Vowel Sound
2 questions
AE is a very English sound, and EH is usually made by students instead. Practice these sentences and take the time to use AE and EH gestures for the AE/EH words in these sentences, e.g. mess and mass, in the first sentence.
AE vs EH, Strengthen the Difference.
1 question
Practice the gesture for UH with these common 1-syllable words.
One syllable words with UH vowel sound--Practice List
1 question
Practice making the two sounds different and stronger by working on minimal pairs and then combining the words in sentences.
AH vs UH, Strengthen the Difference.
1 question

Teaching the R-Controlled Vowels

The sound /er/ in words like “hurt”, “her,” sure”, “word”, and” bird” is a combination of an unstructured schwa-like sound preceding an R sound.  But it’s not a consonant R sound.

But this R sound isn’t like R in other languages. R often is a flick or trill in other languages. But when it follows a vowel within a single English syllable, it often feels and behaves more like a vowel itself. This is different from initial R in English, which feels is stronger and more like a consonant and has much more tension and movement.

R-controlled vowels are like diphthongs—two sounds gliding together and forming a longer, more complex sound.    

This video shows the gesture for teaching /er/ and illustrates the 3 parts to making this sound.

Once students have learned to control /er/, they can then attach it behind /ä/ or /ō/ to form the AR and OR sounds in words like “car”, and “more”.

Gestures for teaching R-Controlled vowels
+ Get organized and set up a system for teaching English vowels
8 lectures 01:03:39

In this brief video, you'll hear the benefits of thinking about English vowels as part of a system--the system of English sounds. Be a systems thinker. Become a systems teacher. In these lectures, you'll get your systems all set up.

This lecture has a resource: 

  • Why Sounds of Speech? Why Gestures? 
Preview 02:12

Sounds of Speech, by the University of Iowa, is the perfect tool for you to learn about the system of English sounds. Whether you are a native speaker of English or using English as a second or third language, this website has something for you.

In this lecture, you'll see how to use all the free information on the website to teach English vowel sound pronunciation. In the lecture resources, there's a quiz you can take to test your knowledge of important features of the website.

An Amazing Resource for You--The Sounds of Speech Website

To teach English vowels means to depart from English spelling, because each English vowel sound has a variety of ways it might be spelled. You'll have much greater success teaching vowels, consonants and all of pronunciation if you adapt a sound-symbol system, a phonetic system, to represent the sounds of spoken words.

In this lecture, you decide what system works for you, and why. 

Decide which phonetic system you'll use to teach English vowels.

Now you've seen all the great information on SoundsofSpeech.uiowa.edu. But it can be a bit overwhelming. Let's narrow down the information to just what you and your students need to talk about each day as you practice pronunciation. In this lecture, we're going to narrow the focus by creating a laser-like teaching tool that will hold your students attention. You're going to put the gestures and the information on SoundsofSpeech together into your own customized power teaching tool. 

Narrow your focus and intensify your teaching with a wall chart.

In this lecture, you'll add the back vowels and central vowels to your wall chart. The gestures for these are critical, even though they seem smaller and less dramatic than the front ones. Follow through and practice these, and read the tips for teaching vowels resource included with this lecture.

Preview 02:42

Once you've got your vowel sounds wall chart made, and you're practicing the sounds every day using the gestures I've shown you, it's time to take the wall chart to the next level. Watch this video to see just how to that.

This lecture has additional resources: 

  • a sideview chart for your students to use
  • an example of a chart that has target words added
  • tips for using the wall chart for maximum efficiency and effectiveness
Get more out of your wall chart: Add new word 'environments' for added practice.

As you work with your students going around the vowel chart that you've made, keep an ear out for the words they consistently mispronounce. If the problem is a vowel, be sure to signal to your students to write it on the wall chart and on their own charts, as well. 

Daily practice around the vowels, first revisiting the gestures, then the words that have become to accumulate on the chart, will give students the needed number of repetitions required to become familiar and comfortable with that sound.

This lecture has a downloadable example of a vowel chart completed in a real class, with students' mispronunciations logged on for reteaching and practice.

Strategies to Strengthen Student Acquisition of Vowel Sounds

The 'ManyThings' website by Charles Kelley has a set of pronunciation practice exercises that are a great way for students to hear the differences between English vowels that don't occur separately in their first language. 

In this lecture and video, you see how to use this website to raise student awareness about the different sounds of English vowels.

This lecture includes resources.

manythings:The best way to help students learn to discriminate between vowels
+ Help Your Students Maintain Their New Sounds
4 lectures 14:52

Minimal pairs of words are the best way for students to master the vowels of English

Minimal pairs are two words that have only one sound different, but it's a sound that changes their meaning. For example, /bit, beet/ is a minimal pair of words, and /pit, bit/ is a minimal pair of words. In the first pair, bit and beet, the vowel sound is different, causing two words to have different meanings. In the second pair, pit and bit, the initial consonant is a different sound, causing the two words to have different meanings. Just one sound changes the meaning of the words. The sound can be at the beginning, in the middle, or the end of words.

English has many more vowels than most languages, and we must maintain their clarity in stressed syllables (in unstressed syllables their clarity is sometimes less important). But the problem for our students is often that their first language vowels have a greater tolerance for difference than English. The /ā/ vowel in Arabic has the flexibility to equate to several English /a/ sounds, like /ay, ae, aw/. So students don't hear those 3 English /a/ sounds as different from each other; they all seem like the same /a/ sound in Arabic. And in Spanish, there are only 5 vowels, and they only have one way they are spelled, so you can imagine how confusing it might be to add all those extra English vowels, and so many ways to spell them all. 

By the end of this lecture, you'll understand the teaching and learning power minimal pairs of words have and how to use them. They  not only provide a good way for your students to explore and experiment making the different English vowels, but they also serve as excellent drill practice once students are able to make the vowel sounds, and drilling is necessary to ensure students don't lose these new sounds they have recently learned to create. Without frequent practice to maintain these new vowel sounds, your students will revert to their first language sounds again. Just 5 or 10 minutes of focused practice a day will go a long way toward making these new sounds permanent and comfortable.

Assign minimal pairs to your students for independent practice, and ask them to record themselves and listen to their sound to determine if they are being successful or not. If not, they can practice more and record themselves again before turning their best efforts in to you for your assessment. And you will know whether you must reteach any vowels.

Read the Additional Resources for more information on how to use minimal pairs as an in-class teaching tool, and how to use them for independent practice by students. 

You can also find more about using minimal pairs to teach pronunciation in this blog post: 


Strengthen vowels and build muscle memories with minimal word pairs

Audacity, a free recording tool

When students are learning new sounds, they begin without a frame of reference. The only framework they have is their first language sounds. While they are learning to articulate these new sounds, they pass through a period of just not being sure if they’re making them correctly.

Teachers must provide a feedback loop so students can know which mouth movements result in the right sound, and which ones don’t. It’s a period of experimentation, and without it, students will not be able to change.

I use Audacity because it's easy to use and it shows spectrograms of the spoken sounds. Spectrograms, or wave forms, can be very helpful as visual aids. We can see the duration or length of sounds. We can see the strength of voicing. Students can see a modeled series of sounds and try to emulate them, which gives them some experience for the way these sounds feel when we make them correctly.

In this video, you’ll see a demonstration of Audacity used to reinforce vowel sounds. It can be downloaded from the website http://www.audacityteam.org/download. It’s works on Mac, PC, Linux and Gnu.

Audacity is a great tool for:

·      teachers to record samples and models

·      students to record themselves and listen to their performance

·      students to record themselves for teacher evaluation and feedback

Audacity, free recording software as a feedback tool for teachers and students

OTTERWAVE—A Pronunciation Feedback App for iPhone and iPad

Your students need to a way to know if they are making the English vowels correctly or not. In the beginning, it’s hard for them to tell. So build them a feedback loop and they’ll learn when they’re making the sounds correctly, and when they’re not.

In the last lecture we talked about Audacity, which is a free recording tool by SourceForge.

In this lecture, I’m going to show you another feedback tool made for iPhone and iPad although I understand that Android owners may have found a work-around so they can use it also. It's not free though.

Otterwave gives students feedback on pronunciation and timing. Users hear a model speak a sentence from one of many functional categories (giving presentations, social language, telephone talk, etc.) and then the student records themselves saying the same sentence.

Otterwave will then compare the student’s production with the models and give a grade for pronunciation and another for timing. Otterwave shows the recordings in spectrograms or waveforms, so students can see how their recording compares—in timing (length of words and sentence) and can also see their individual recorded words broken down into phonemes and scored sound by sound.

In this video, you’ll see a demonstration of Otterwave in use.

Although It’s not free, it will give your students a tool to use independently so they can work on their English sound outside of class. 

Otterwave app for student pronunciation feedback

Two very hard sounds to master in American English are /æ/ and /er/. 

The /æ/ sound will definitely help your students shape words better--vowels create the shape of words. The /æ/ sound is big and long and definitely commands the listener's attention and shapes the stress of the spoken word it is in. I've found that working on this sound also improves comprehensibility, since vowel clarity and length are critical to stressed syllables, and stressed syllables are critical to understandable word pronunciation. 

/er/ on the other hand, isn't in stressed syllables as often, but it is often in word final position, which helps listeners recognize when a word is finished being spoken. As we listen to someone speak, we make predictions about what word is being said, until we can be sure. 

Consider the word /sister/. A clear /er/ ending tells American listeners that the word is finished. Without the /er/ ending, Americans will have to wait for more information: [sis tuh], without the final R, is the beginning of the word /systematic/ to native American English speakers. The /er/ signals the end of the word, as it does for /brother, mother, father, summer, liver, driver/ and so on. 

If your students want to sound more natural in English, if they want Americans to be able to understand them better, and if they want to follow American speakers easier, they really must work on vowel sounds. 

I've set aside two kinds of word lists for you to give your students more practice with the /æ/ and /er/ sounds. One set is the 1000 most common words in English, a reading list taken from the internet. (There are many lists like it.) 

The second set is a list by Averil Coxhead of frequently used academic words; I use this list with college and graduate students. On one copy of the list, I've highlighted words that have /ae/ in their stressed syllable. In the second version of the list I've highlighted words with /er/. Don't forget to insist your students practice the sounds with the gestures--that's when the magic happens...but you may have to insist they do the gestures, because your students (perhaps like you?) may be skeptical and may not believe in magic. Make them use the gestures regularly, like taking vitamins or going to the gym. You just have to keep doing it and there WILL be great results.



Word lists to practice the /æ/ and /er/ sounds
+ Review of the Course Content--Make Sure You Have Actionable Steps for Teaching
2 lectures 05:10

Yay, you made it! Now it's time to review what you've learned in the course

Can you answer these questions?

  • What will you do to raise your students' awareness about the many sounds of English vowels? 
  • How will you help students get better at recognizing each vowel sound, and at differentiating one from another? 
  • What kind of independent practice students will you assign to strengthen your students' command of English vowels? 
  • What kind of feedback loop will you use so students know when they're making vowel sounds correctly or not? 
  • How will you use Sounds of Speech website?
  • How will you use the vowel wall chart?
  • Most important of all, how will you use the gestures?

Take the 4 Questions Post-test that's included in this lecture--it's a good framework for making sure you have all the right tools and strategies in place. Write down what tools and strategies you will use and what programs and resources will be helpful. Then compare your 4 Questions Pre-Test to this Post-Test to see what you've learned. If you have any of Post-test questions unanswered, go back through the course with the 4 Questions in hand, and look for the answers. 

Remember, English vowel sounds play a much more important role in English than in most other languages. They are key to syllable stress, word stress, rhythm, and intonation. So, for your students, being able to pronounce them and control them will help them increase their comprehensibility in English. And for you, the teacher, knowing how all the sounds of English fit together into a system, and knowing how to teach the sounds for retention will make you a much stronger pronunciation teacher. 

FYI: When I start with a new client, student or class, no matter what level, even advanced students, I always review the vowels first because these unconscious muscle movements take students much longer to change and master than other aspects of pronunciation. Once your students can create and control English vowels, they'll be much better at controlling English stress and once they are comfortable with stretching and shortening durations of vowels, they'll be much better at English rhythm. It's a win-win-win for you and your students!

Preview 04:40

I hope you enjoyed taking this course as much as I enjoyed making it and sharing it with you.

Remember, pronunciation is a verb!   

You’re changing muscle motor habits and memories, so you’ve got to get physical and stay physical during the learning process. And you must revisit these gestures and sounds daily to keep these new muscle movements autonomous..


Other resources

I have a newsletter that gives tips and tricks about teaching pronunciation as well as notices when I publish new materials that are available. Copy and paste this link to get to the sign-up box.


Places to find me

You can also find me on YouTube and Facebook, and I have a website with even more information.

My website   American Pronunciation Coach Website

YouTube   https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCm0SQOHL0jlvQmBynAllerQ   

Facebook   http://www.facebook.com/peggy.tharpe/   

Twitter   @peggytharpe

Happy Teaching!  (and Learning)

Preview 00:30