Awful AW

My student had trouble saying “salt”, so we looked carefully at the word “salt”:

  • Her S sounded like TH – easy fix,  just pull back the tongue.
  • Her vowel sound was more like ER – change that to AW.
  • Her L sounded like R – very common mistake for Asian speakers, change that by putting the tongue forward instead of back.
  • Her T was pretty good.

The best way for a foreign speaker to be understood is to slow down and over-enunciate.  To over-enunciate means you carefully pronounce each sound.  But that can be difficult because many words in English do not sound like they are spelled.  I recommend my students do more listening to American English.  That can be done with radio, television (soap operas are great for this!), books on CD (free at the public library) and listening out in the community.

I find the American English sound AW is pretty tough, so I recommend lots of practice.  Here are some practice words for you.  First words with aw by itself:

  • law
  • raw
  • saw
  • jaw
  • paw
words with aw+k
  • talk (l is silent)
  • walk (l is silent)
  • chalk (l is silent)
words with aw+n
  • yawn
  • lawn
  • fawn
words with aw+l
  • fall
  • wall
  • ball
  • call
words with aw+l+t
  • salt
  • malt
  • Walt (think Walt Disney)
  • vault

 Don’t let AW be Awful!  Think of the sound you make when you hold a cute little baby in your arms and you say “Aw.  So cute.”



O says “uh”

pronouncing o in loveEnglish pronunciation is so capricious!   How unpredictable is it?  I know of at least 6 ways O and OO are pronounced.

Today one of  my students in China (we Skype) pronounced other like the short o sound in hop and not and clock!  Imagine trying to communicate your word that sounds like “ah-thur”.  Do you think you will be understood?

Be sure to pronounce the o vowel in these words like “uh”. Listen to the audio here.

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  • other – uh ther
  • mother – muh ther
  • brother – bruh ther
  • of – uhv
  • love – luhv
  • above – uh buhv
  • come – kuhm
  • won, one – wuhn
  • money – muhn ee
  • stomach – stuhm uhk
  • dozen – duhz in

This “uh” sound in English is called the “schwa” and it is very common!  So learn it and you’ll do well with pronouncing English and being understood.  Schwa can be spelled lots of other ways too, but that’s a post for another day.

Winter Cooking Group Ideas

Had a great cooking group lesson today with my students!  We made marshmallow snowmen (I like to keep my lessons seasonal.)  And, yes, it’s called “cooking group”  but sometimes we just assemble snacks – no cooking involved!

Ingredients needed:

  • 3 marshmallows
  • marshmallow cream to stick them together
  • chocolate chips for eyes
  • pretzels for arms
  • m&ms for buttons

The students loved making these and it was so easy.  After doing a few, we discovered the marshmallow snowmen were top-heavy and fell over!  So the next ones we made we laid out on the plate with the flat part of the marshmallow flat against the plate.  This worked out really well and the snack did not roll around. and it looks just like a snowman shape!

Our craft lesson this week was a mini-book “Winter is Here”  which featured a snowman, so it tied nicely to the cooking group lesson.

Other cooking group ideas that went well this month were:

  • Instant Mashed Potatoes – The students loved this and it used just milk, butter, dried potato flakes and a microwave. It was a nice change from sweet snacks.
  • Tutti Fruity Crispy Candy – Melt white chocolate chips and mix in Fruity Pebbles and pretzels. Salty and sweet! Yum!
  • Winter Citrus Salad – I got to talk about the fruits that are available in winter like oranges, grapefruit and pears. Chopped up and mixed together with yogurt, the students loved it. Sprinkle nuts on top for crunch!

Click on these links for other cooking groups ideas –Spring Cooking GroupSummer Cooking GroupFall Cooking Group.


English Short i Words and Sentences

short i words & sentencesFor students learning English*, the most common error I observe is difficulty with saying short i like in the words  “it”, “live” or “rich”.  Most of my students want to pronounce it like i in their first language, which often sounds like an English long e, like in the words “eat”, “leave” or “reach”.

These are two different sounds in English.

/i/ long e (in words such as eat, leave, reach) is held out longer and the smile is wider

/I/ short i (in words such as it, live, rich) is held shorter and the smile is not as wide

Try this worksheet for practicing /I/ (short i) in words and sentences.

* Students whose first language is Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean do not have a sound like English short i.

Jewelry’s Mispronunciation

The root of the word is “jewel” so it makes sense to pronounce it “jew – wel  – ry”. This is how I pronounced it, and this is how I advised the students in our ESL class to do so. “Slow down and say it carefully.” I added because many of these students were Chinese or Korean, and had difficulty with American R and American L in the same word.

Then I saw a cable TV show about people who bid on abandoned storage lockers (Storage Wars on A&E) hoping to get the contents inside. One man on the show got jewelry (necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings), and I listened as he mispronounced it “jew –  le  –  ry”.pronounce jew-el-ry

Is this pronunciation of jewelry as “jew – le – ry” casual speech? It certainly is. Can you call this a “lower-class pronunciation”? You certainly can. But is that all it is? Do people in upper classes, educated people, mispronounce words?  (By the way, this mispronunciation is called metathesis, which means switching around 2 sounds in a word.) Of course they do. Former U.S. President George W. Bush mispronounced “nuclear” saying “nucular” (a metathesis). Even current U.S. President Barack Obama sometimes mispronounces “ask” as “aks”  (another metathesis).  Although it can be argued that “ask” has had two equally valid pronunciations (“ask” and “aks”) for hundreds of years, and in African-American culture it is pronounced “aks” on purpose.

Casual speech is common for many occasions in the U.S. As a student of American English, it will benefit you to know the difference between casual and more formal pronunciation of words, phrases and sentences, and when to use each.


Picture Description Lesson 2 – Writing

Picture Description 2In November, I posted about picture description as a writing activity for ESL.  You can see that post and those worksheets here.  Today I’m posting on the topic again and including new worksheets.  The worksheets include photos that are colorful and have people doing common activities.

Picture description lets your students work on spelling, grammar, vocabulary and handwriting.  Try these worksheets for improving English writing.

WriteAboutPhoto4 – drums-grocery

WriteAboutPhoto5 – snow-bowling

WriteAboutPhoto6 – sand-forest





Songs for Learning

Songs and singing engages multiple parts of the brain for learning language.  Plus learning American songs helps to learn American culture as well as accent.

Songs I taught at ESL today were Months of the Year and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.  Included here is a lyrics sheet.

Social Stories – for even the most delicate topics

Today at work I made a Boardmaker social story book for a student with autism. It was a Social Story to help an 18-year-old student understand that, although it was OK to masturbate at home, in private, he was not allowed to do it at school. Seriously Folks, this has got to be the weirdest day ever of my speech therapy career! I made a little book with line drawings to help this student remember the difference between public and private behaviors, and encourage him to “wait till he got home”. And the exciting thing is the social story book really helped the student!

No one wants to talk about the behavior, but it’s a very common human experience, so giggles aside, this information may help parents and teachers who face the same problem. Masturbation is an age-appropriate activity for many teenagers. The only difference is most typically-developing teens know enough not to do it at school. Students with autism and other developmental challenges often do not understand when a behavior is OK at home, why it’s not OK at school.

When staff at our school decided to tackle this little problem, it had already been happening at school. However the approach used was simply to tell the student he would have to wait till he got home to have his “bathroom time”. Not too surprising talking did not work. Offering incentives did not work either. The staff was out of ideas.

“Try a Social Story,” I said.

They looked at me. “What is that?”

Social stories are used to improve the social skills and behaviors of students with autism. They are written to help the student know how to act appropriately around others.

Back at my computer I checked into BoardmakerShare to see if anyone else had written a social story about students “not touching themselves at school”. Luckily there were 2 stories there and I just picked one and changed the language and pictures just a little to make it personal for this student. Then I printed out the story and brought it to the student in his classroom. He read it this morning and he seemed to understand it right away. Pictures provided visual support – something students with autism really need. He read it several times throughout the day and by dismissal, he had not asked at all for his “bathroom time”. He walked to the bus smiling and chanting “I can wait till I get home”

And so it goes. Another successful day at school!


Personal Space – Using a Visual Cue

There’s a student at our school who is a “personal space invader”! When people enter his classroom he walks right up to them. Often putting his face right up to theirs. He stands WAY TOO CLOSE. This behavior prevents him from having good social interactions with people, because he makes others uncomfortable, and they usually avoid interacting with him in the future. For staff working with him we have come to expect his “space invasion”. They tell him with “Space”. In the classroom, I hear them address him “Give space,” or “Space,” many times but I wanted to do more. I hoped a visual support (a picture) might help.

So I printed up a photo from Google images of a good example of “personal space”. A actual photo – not a line drawing. This is more concrete and easier for some special needs students to understand. I laminated the photo and put it at his desk. I made a second copy and put it on a springy bracelet (my therapy bracelet) that  I wore on my wrist. That way I had the photo at my fingertips and when he came too close to me I was ready with the photo.

therapy braceletWhen working with other students in the classroom, he often came up to us and stood too close. I was able to show him the photo, with minimal interruption, and keep working with the other students. I showed him the photo silently.  By showing the photo without saying “Space” (a word that we heard many times during the day in that classroom) we tap into another system (visual) for recognizing and understanding what I want to communicate with him. He looked at it and backed up, or went back to his desk.

The photo cue helped in the classroom. I hope this idea could help some of you, too.

Similes Create a Self-Portrait with Words

A simile (si – mi – lee)  is a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, (e.g., as brave as a lion).

Below a 4th grade student with Aspergers (a type of high-functioning autism) write similes about himself. Kind of gives you an idea of what his world is like, and how he thinks…

I’m as angry as a bull when I don’t get taken seriously.

I’m as bored as a lizard when I don’t get computer time.

My sister is like stubborn molasses when she wants ignore me when I talk to her.

My Legos are like my own undisturbed world.”

boy with autism loves Legos

boy with autism makes intricate Lego designs