Powerful L Sound

Powerful LIn English, the sound  L has the power to change other sounds.  Look at the word “knee”.  We say it like /ni/ [nee], and it is one syllable.  If we add an L sound at the end, it becomes “kneel”.   And when we pronounce it, we add a little sound right before the l.  We say /ni əl/  [nee uhl].  Speech teachers call this “vowelized L”.   Additionally, we make the word into two syllables.   Also it’s very common to insert a  short /y/ sound in there too, so that it’s more like /nee yuhl/.    L is powerful!  L changes the word, forcing news sounds into it and making it longer.  See these examples:

  • kneel  /ni yəl/  [nee yuhl
  • feel  /fi yəl/   [fee yuhl]
  • seal  /si yəl/   [see yuhl]

This change happens in other words with long vowel sounds, too.

  • mile  /maI yəl/   [my yuhl]
  • trial  /traI yəl/   [try yuhl]
  • file   /faI yəl/   [fy yuhl]
  • mail  /meI yəl/
  • tale  /teI yəl/
  • pail  /peI yəl/
  • foil    /fɔI yəl/
  • oil   /ɔI yəl/
  • spoil   /spɔI yəl/

Listen to the L words here.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Thanks for reading!  Keep practicing your English.



Back-to-School “Yahoo-Boohoo”

Civil War DaysIt’s back-to-school time for students, and parents as well. Today I am driving with my daughter back to her school 5 hours away from home. She will begin her third year at her small liberal arts college. She writes novels and wants to become a published author. Storytelling runs in our family and she takes after many relatives before her.

When she was in grade school, our administration held a back-to-school “Yahoo-Boohoo” every year. It was a parent get-together right after dropping off kids on their first day of school.  Parents met for coffee and refreshments and socializing. Some parents were happy (even thrilled) to have their kids back in school. Yahoo! Others felt sad and already missed being with their children. Boohoo! Each new stage in life brings up emotions parents may or may not be prepared for.

I admit, for me it’s “Boohoo!” every time my daughter goes away. This is her third year of college and each year is just as difficult for me as the last. She is a stabilizing force in my household. She is calm to my excitement. She is reflective to my boldness. I love her quirkiness, and her adventuresome spirit, her kindness, her compassion, and her joy. She has been this amazing force in my life for 20 years, and each time she ventures off into the world I am a little heartbroken. I’ve heard this said “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” This is true with parenting my daughter. She is tethered to me with love and passion and a common history, while she goes out into the world and makes her own way. I wish her the best but I fear my heart will never quite be the same in this new stage of life.

So what was is for you and your child this year? Yahoo? or Boohoo?

Words that may fool you, in the first 100

Pronunciation Errors in the First 100 WordsEnglish words have been organized into most frequently used 100 – 1,000 words.  Learning the most frequently used words in English is a very simple quick way to improve your vocabulary.  In the first 100 words there are a few tricky pronunciations.

  • was, one, come and some all have the vowel sound /ə /  [uh]  like in up.  Also one is pronounced won and sounds like fun and ton.
  • said has the vowel sound /ɛ / [short e]  like in head and bed.
  • hisis, has and these all use /z/ at the end like in fizz.
Good luck with your pronunciation and keep up the good work!
See the 100 Most Frequently Used English Words here.

Connected Speech & Linking

connected speech & linkingMy student is a little frustrated learning the American English accent.  He knows how to pronounce the individual sounds of English.  But the thing that is hanging him up is “connected speech”.  What is connected speech and why is it important to get it right when talking to others in English?

Connected speech is smoothly moving from one word to the next, without obvious gaps.  We also call this ‘linking”.  Can you imagine links on a chain? The are smoothly connected together, aren’t they?  In connected speech, American English speakers almost always connect the end of a word to the beginning of the next word.

In a conversation like this:

“Where is the bag of apples?”  “I put it on the counter over there.”  The speakers would connect (or link) these words together smoothly.  It would sound more like:

“Whereiz the bagovapples?”  “I pudidon the counterover there.”

Pronouncing each word individually, no matter how well you pronounce with the American English accent, will sound choppy and mechanic (like a computer-generated voice.)  Native speakers will notice how hard it is to understand you, before they notice anything else about you.  So start linking your words in connected speech. Practice your conversation skills with a friend and try to make your connected speech smooth with linking.

Challenge:  Did you notice that ‘t’s in connected speech often sound like ‘d’s?   It’s true.  It’s not casual or careless pronunciation.  It is the common reduction of the ‘t’ in American English.




Your Journey

parenting autism journeyI’ve been really inspired by a number of books I read this summer where parents told of their experiences raising their child with special needs (see list below). As the parent of a child with special needs, I laughed and cried and felt a kinship to the mothers (sometimes fathers) who told their stories. Your journey with your child is such an emotional roller coaster. You will have to give up your pre-conceived dreams of who your children will be, and learn to set new goals for for them, yourself and your family life. You will experience great pride, and heart-felt devastation. You will feel alone and isolated, shunned by friends, family and the parents of classmates who don’t understand (and will never understand) what you are dealing with. Your child will be ostracized, bullied and left out of playdates and birthday parties. But your journey can be exhilarating and satisfying too.  If you’re lucky you will find others who love and accept your child, and understand your experience.

Can you relate to the ideas here?  If so, I invite you to share your thoughts and comments.  I would love to hear about your jouney – the good, the bad, and everything in between.   I am a friend traveling on the same journey too.

  • Hitchhking Through Aspergers, Lise Pyles
  • A Special Mother, Anne Ford
  • Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid, Gina Gallagher & Patricia Konjoian

The Different Ways to Pronounce “O”

DifferentWaysToPronounceOOI am teaching some students in China using Skype.  They know grammar and vocabulary pretty well but have a lot of trouble with pronunciation.  As we’ve read through some books and done speaking activities, they’ve needed a lot of help with words spelled with “o”.   I’m not surprised, because “o” and “oo” are pronounced a number of different ways in American English.

/oʊ/ (long o) go, nose

/ɑ/ (short o) hop, not

/ɔ/ (aw) dog, long

/ə/ (schwa) above, mother

/u/  (long u) boo, moon

/ʊ/ (oo) good, book


accent reduction ESL video teaching

So I put together a worksheet to help show the pronunciation difference between “o” and “oo” words. See link below.

Mandarin (Chinese) does not use the sounds “uh”, “oo” or “ah”  like in “love”,  “cook” or “not”.

Pronunciation Tip:  If you are learning English, it will help you to learn all the sounds of English, and particularly any sounds that may not occur in your native language.

Get the free worksheet “Different Ways to Pronounce “O”  in English” here.

Listen to the O and OO sounds here.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Are your practicing English with others?

Who is improving their English the fastest?  The student who spends regular time in the community practicing English.    Learning a language is interactive.   You must use it to get better!

I recommend bogglesworldesl to my students, and this “making plans with friends”  handout is from their website.   You can use the handout to make plans to get together with friends to do something fun.  Now get going!  Get out into your community, have fun and  and practice your English.


How to Pronounce “Mountain”

Many of my students are not pronouncing “mountain” correctly.   We have a city near us named “Mountain View” so the subject comes up often enough.  My ESL learners, and especially those speaking Asian languages, were pronouncing ALL the letters “mountain”, making it sound like “moun – TAIN”.   Also I hear these words with the same error – “certain”, “Martin”, “button” and “kitten”.   So here is some instruction on pronouncing these words the correct way.

In American English, when you say a word that has a /t/ + vowel + /n/, like “rotten”, that vowel is diminished.  Also the quality of the /t/ is changed.  We pronounce the /t/, and don’t release it (we say the beginning of the /t/ but don’t finish it).  The tongue is already up in the front of mouth so we leave it there, up against the alvealor ridge (the bumpy spot behind the upper teeth), and go right into the /n/ sound.   “Rotten” will sound like /rot – n/, “kitten” will sound like /kit-n/ and “mountain” will sound like /maunt – n/.    Click on the free worksheet here for more practice words and sentences.


Linking With W

LinkingWithWLinking is one of the quickest and easiest way to correctly pronounce an English accent.   In English, here’s a simple tip to make your expressive language more easily understood by your listener:

When linking some vowels to vowels, add a /w/ sound. 

We use /w/if the first word ends in a vowel sound where the lips are rounded:

  • (Short U)  who, do, new…
  • (Long  O) know, show, go…
  • (OW)  how, bow…


“Who is it?” sounds best with a /w/ inserted between the “who” and the “is” like this, “Whowisit?

“tuition” sounds best with a /w/ inserted between the first /u/ and the /I/ like this,  “tu-wi-tion”.

“Go in.” sounds best with a /w/ inserted between the “Go” and the “in” like this, “Gowin.”

“How are you?” sounds best with a /w/ inserted between the “how” and the “are” like this “Howare you?”

When listening to American speakers, you will understand more if you know this rule of linking.  If you can use linking when you are speaking your accent will improve and American listeners will understand you more easily.


Back-To-School with Autism

BackToSchoolIf you’re the parent of a child with autism, you may recognize the stress your student goes through every year with the beginning of a new school year.  Most children with autism have difficulty with schedule change. This will show up at the end of the school year, when school days give way to summer AND at the beginning of the school year when the lazy and relaxed days of summer turn to a regular school day schedule.

I always thought my son would do best if he could attend school year-round (with very few breaks), but in our district that is not possible, so each school year, and each summer vacation, I do what I can to help him prepare for the change in schedule.  Here are some ideas that work for us.

  • Headed to a new school?  Take your child ahead of time and see the classroom, or campus. Familiarize yourself and your student with a map of the campus.  Many kids with autism do great with maps (they often love the visual cues!)  Also if there are photos posted on your school website, look at these.  Have your student look at the staff photos as well.  Advance preparation always helps to decrease your student’s anxiety about a new school.
  • Talk about summer schedule and school schedule differences with your student.  Post the two side-by-side and help your student to compare them.  Start your conversation like this “in the summer you woke up at 8:30 but when school starts you will be waking up at 6:30.”
  • Use your “launching pad” – All items for the start of a school day should be gathered onto one spot.  Backpack, papers, assignments etc.  Prepare (or have your student do it) these the night before.  Set out school clothes the night before. Add a lunch in the morning, and this advance preparation will help your mornings run smoothly.  If you transport, leave a little early to have a buffer in case of meltdowns.
  • Write a check list for school morning activities. Students with autism usually benefit from written cues.  A check list or social story may help your student feel prepared for for his school day as well as what he will encounter at school. I like this app for iPad with social stories for school.  Another good online source for social stories, including school is here.
  • Remember to be flexible.  Lots of things can interupt even the best planning, so take it in stride.  Set a goal, but if you don’t reach that goal, make adjustments.   Tomorrow is another opportunity to try it all again.

Help your teachers get to know you and your student with a parent-teacher letter.

More Back- to-School posts What You Need to Do to Get Ready for School, and Back-to-School “Yahoo-Boohoo“.