Autism & Special Interests

Parents of children with autism have experienced the special, sometimes intense, interests of their children. I know families where children are focused on drawing, cooking, Legos, trains, whales, maps, languages, birds, elevators, airplanes, fire alarms, or weapons. In our house, this idea of a topic that interests your child, or sometimes seems to consume him, is not new. With our son, we have dealt with this for many years.  Sometimes our son’s passionate special interests seem to blend in with other kids (like Legos, or video games), and other times his interests seemed kinda far out (like gemstones and World War II).  Nevertheless I feel as a parent you need to allow your child to pursue at least some of the items or activities that interest him.

Re-Enactors Civil War Living History

Living HistoryOn Memorial Day weekend this year, our family attended a civil war association’s encampment and battle re-enactment that was held in a local historic park in our area. These dedicated Living History volunteers dressed up in authentic costumes of the times. The soldiers wore woolen uniforms and carried reproduction rifles based on guns from the Civil War. Civilians wore hand-sewn dresses and hoop skirts for the ladies, and period-correct clothing and hats for the men. Even children were dressed in clothing of the Civil War era. They used period-correct gear while encamped.  (Antique cook stoves, and not a plastic lawn chair in sight!) These folks were genuinely enthusiastic about their activities. Why would people spend their time and money volunteering for an educational historical re-enactment? Because these folks are passionate about their hobby (and for some, their work). They want to provide education and entertainment to thousands of  families. Now I’m NOT claiming that all the individuals there were folks on the autism spectrum, although I venture to guess that at least some of them may be. My point is really that those special interests may be very helpful in giving your son or daughter a direction for developing a hobby, or even a successful career as an adult.

Re-Enactment Living History

I hope you will consider the special interests your child, or children have, and encourage them. Your child who loves music, or karate, or ventriloquism (or whatever) should get lessons. When an activity is available to them, make it happen for them. By supporting your children to pursue their passions you will be guiding them in a hobby or future work that they may excel in as adults!


General Rules of Linking

linking words ESLStudents of English need to link words together for their pronunciation to be closer to American English.  Pronouncing each word separately will make your accent noticable, and may make it sound mechanical, like computer-generated speech.  So link words together in phrases for clearer, more understandable speech.

Link consonant sounds to vowel sounds.  Example: “pick up” sounds like “pickup” and  “show me” sounds like “showme”.

Link consonants to same consonants.  Example: “speak Korean” sounds like “speakorean” and “first time” sounds like “firstime”.

Link vowels to vowels.  It helps if you insert a short /y/ or /w/ sound here.  Example:  “I am” sounds like “I(y)am”  and “go on” sounds like “go(w)on”.


Explosive Plosives!

There are sounds in spoken English called plosives.  I bet you can remember them when you think of the word “explosive”!

These sounds are /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/ and /g/.  What’s tricky about plosives (also called stops) is that they are made in two parts.  In the first part we build up air pressure in our throat, and in the second part we release the air.  So now imagine a sound exploding when you speak . . . that is what these sounds do!

If a plosive is followed by a vowel sound we definitely hear the release of air.  This happens in phrases like “hop in”  We hear the ‘explosion’ of the /p/.  In fact we usually link* the /p/ to the next vowel sound and it may sound like “hopin” /hapIn/.   But a lot of the time we do not release the plosives, so this is comething to be careful about.  If we say a word with a plosive at the end like /p/ as in “help”, our lips stay closed on the /p/.   Air does not come out.   It’s like we made the first half of the /p/only.   Or if we do release the air, it’s a very quiet, very small puff of air.

Put the plosive sound next to another same plosive sound and we hold it, or link the two sounds together.   For example “stop playing” sounds like “stoplaying” and “next time” sounds like “nextime”.

* link – to connect or join physically

Bye, By & Buy – Homophones

Homophone Bye By & BuyDo you confuse “bye”, “by” and “buy”?   It’s a common mistakes when using homophones.   These are words that sound alike but are spelled different and mean different things.

is a shortened version of “good-bye.”
is a preposition meaning near or not later than.
is a verb meaning to purchase.

Learn English homophones and you will improve your understanding and speaking of English.   Click on this printable handout for a list of common homophones.

Schools begin teaching homophones as early as the 1st grade, so children can improve their spoken and written language by learning more homophones, too.

Book Review “Did You Say Pears?”

Did You Say Pears? by Arlene Alda, is a charming book with full color photographs that I shared with my ESL class yesterday. It features 14 pairs of homonyms and homophones.

Homonyms (words that sound alike, have the same spelling and different meanings, like nails you hammer and finger nails)

Homophones (words that sound alike,  have different spellings and different meanings, like flower and flour)

It’s a children’s book so it’s suitable for children learning language as well as adults. The photos were the best part of the book and made the learning so easy! Even the students who struggled to define the words were able to immediately understand the concepts because of the photos. I found Did You Say Pears? in my local library.

Have you got a book that’s great for learning language? Share yours in the comment section.  Thanks!


Mark Twain, Frogs and Learning English

Calaveras County Frog Jump Festival Mark TwainThis past weekend my family and I went to the Calveras County Fairgrounds in Angel’s Camp, CA for their annual frog jump festival.  The Frog Jump competition there has been going on for many years and was first inspired by a short story written by American author and humorist Mark Twain (1835 – 1910).  His story was called The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and I located a link for the story that you can listen to and read along in English.  This will be good practice for your listening skills (receptive language skills) in English.  The story is read by a native English speaker and is about 13 minutes long.

Jumping Frog Recording And Story

Watch that Pronunciation! – Stress

Bomb Boo?

PronunciationStressToday we had one of our last ESL classes for the year and students and teachers enjoyed a potluck meal together.  Sitting with two of my favorite students I realized my work here is not done!   One student was trying to name an item in a dish, and wasn’t able to make herself understood.  She said it several times, she said it slowly, she tried again and again, she was determined!  I was so proud of her.  To everyone at the table it sounded like “bomb boo” (with emphasis on the first syllable.)    Then she reached over and pointed to an edible bamboo.   SUCCESS!   “Do you mean bamboo?”   “Yes!”    She was so glad we finally understood, and so were we!   Bamboo has that American A sound /æ/ just like in the words “ask”, “cat” and “bank”.  That sound is sure to trip up a foreign speaker (idiomatic expression meaning be difficult for).   Then we practiced the word working from the inside out:

/æ/ (Short a like in cat and man)  “a”

/bæ/ “ba”

/bæm/ “bam”

/bæmbu/ “bamboo”

One more reminder:  Along with correct pronunciation of vowel sounds, make sure you are stressing the correct syllable.


That was the other problem we had in trying to understand.   My student stressed the first syllable of “bamboo” when she needed to stress the second syllable.

What to Say When You Don’t Understand

what to sayListening in English is hard.   What can you say when you don’t understand what’s being said?    Here are some helpful phrases to use:



What did you say?

Pardon me?

I didn’t hear you/that.

Could you please repeat that slowly?

Please speak more slowly.

What does ___________ mean?

I don’t understand what you meant by __________.




Letters and Sounds of English

When you learn English your teacher will start by teaching you the 26 LETTERS of English (the alphabet).  But if you want to learn the American English accent you must study the SOUNDS of English as well.   If your teacher is British, you will likely learn the British English accent.   What I cover on my blog is the standard American English accent. It’s very important that ESL students learn the sounds of English.  I find my students usually do not know all the sounds we use (about 40 different sounds), so they often substitute sounds they think are close. Also I find some students have learned sounds wrong, and no one has shown them their mistakes, or how to correct them. This post is on the sounds of English.

letters and sounds of EnglishConsonant Sound/Common Spelling

/p/ p

/b/ b

/t/ t


/f/ f,

/v/ v

/k/ k,

/g/ g

/s/ s

/z/ z

/θ/ th

/ð/ th

/ʃ/ sh

/ʒ/ zh

/tʃ/ ch

/dʒ/ j

/h/ h

/y/ y

/w/ w

/r/ r

/l/ l

/m/ m

/n/ n

/ŋ/ ng

Listen to the consonant sounds.

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Vowel Sound/Common spelling

/1/ i

/ɛ/ e

/I/ i

/æ/ a

/a/ o

/ə/ u

/ɔ/ aw

/ʊ/ oo

/u/ ew

/oʊ/ o


/aI/ i

/aʊ/ ow

/ɔI/ oy

/ɚ/ er

Listen to the vowel sounds.

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I’ll post a free printable here for practicing the sounds of English.  To listen to more American English sounds, check out the Iowa Phonetics project in the link below.   Click on the American flag to hear English.

Printable For English Sounds Practice

Link To Iowa Phonetics Click on the American flag.


Two L Sounds in English

2 L Sounds in EnglishIf your first language is an Asian language, pronouncing the American L sound may be difficult.   To create the L sound, the tip of the tongue is placed against the bumpy spot behind the top teeth (alveolar ridge) .  The sound is created when air travels along the sides of the tip of the tongue, and out the mouth.

Let me explain 2 kinds of L’s that may help you.

Americans use a light L sound when L comes before a vowel as in “look” or “line”.

With light L, we say  the L first.  The tongue starts up at the top of the mouth, touching the alveolar ridge.  We pull the tongue down and then we say the vowel.

We use a dark L (or velar L) when L comes after a vowel as in “bagel”, “local” and “people”.      The vocalized L is a dark L too, as in “meal” or “school”

With dark L, we say the vowel sound then move into the L sound by moving the tip of our tongue up to touch behind the alveolar ridge (we touch the roof of the mouth, or velum), then we pull the tongue down (we release the tongue).  Remember that extra vowel sound in vocalized L words like  “meal” /mi yəl/ or “school” /sku  wəl/ counts as the vowel you say before you say the dark L.   See my previous post for an explanation of long vowels + L here.)

The link below is for a site with more explanation and listening samples of American L sounds.