Confusing Phrasal Verbs – Part 2

Earlier I posted about some confusing phrasal verbs. Understanding these will improve your English listening and speaking.

Some phrasal verb with “look” are

Look after – to take care of

Look into – to investigate

Look out for – to be careful

Look over -to inspect or check for defects

Look up – to look for information in a reference book or a website

Confusing phrasal verbs – Part 2 – here

English Rhythm, Stress and Intonation

I meet many English students who have excellent vocabulary and grammar, but have not learned the rules of English rhythm, stress and intonation.  Here are my thoughts about this.  First let’s bust some student myths!

  • Myth #1 “I need to talk fast.”  NOT TRUE  Americans talk efficiently.  We reduce and unstress many words to allow the important words of a sentence to be highlighted.
  • Myth # 2 “Word stress is more important than sentence stress.”  NOT TRUE Both are important.  Word stress allows us to hear the difference between words like “person” and “percent”, and “Missouri” and “misery”.  But sentence stress gives the true meaning or intention of the communication.
  • Myth #3 “If I use reductions, others will think I’m lazy.”  NOT TRUE  Reductions when speaking are normal and expected in English.  In formal speaking situations we are very careful with pronunciation, but in casual conversation we use reductions all the time.  Using reductions will improve your communication, both for listening and speaking.

How do you learn rhythm, stress and intonation?

Listen – listen – listen!  Spend time listening on purpose to English.  Where? On radio, TV, CDs (public library books-on-CD) videos, and in real time.  The more familiar you are when hearing English the better you will do imitating English rhythm, stress and intonation.

Reverse Accent Mimicry – Pretend to speak “American”.  Use an American accent like a movie star, or famous person you know.  Try to talk just like them.  You can repeat what they say in a show or movie, and use their stress, rhythm and intonation.

Learn linking. Paula’s Linking printable worksheet

Learn and use common reductions. Paula’s Reductions printable worksheet

Pause between thought groups, and stress the important ideas in each thought group. Short sentences are one thought group, but you must pause between longer sentences like “My FRIEND from COLLEGE (pause) came to have DINNER (pause) with ME and my FAMILY.”

CoffeeTeaOrSodaIntonationRise and fall.  Make your phrases rise and fall.  When speaking English use predictable rising and falling intonation.  We usually have rising intonation at the end of a question, and falling intonation at the end of a statement.

Sing!  Singing is a great way to combine the skills of linking with intonation.

R-Colored Vowels

Caution!  The R sound is one of the most difficult sounds to learn.  American children spend years learning the sound, and usually do not master it until age 7 or 8. Speech therapists can spend months or years working with clients on making a correct R sound.  Many adults never learn to make a correct R sound (take Barbara Walters or Jonathon Ross, for example!) So I cannot teach everything you need to know about making the R sound.  What I  can do is share with you tips and techniques that may help you to improve your American R sound.

The R sound changes slightly depending on where we say it in the word.  When it comes after a vowel, the sound is called “R-Colored” or “R-Controlled” or even “Vocalic R”. “R-Colored” sounds move in your mouth so you must move your tongue.  Make your vowel sound, then move into R by EITHER pulling your tongue back (retract)  OR by curling your tongue tip up (retroflex).  Rounding the lips helps when making the R. If you say “ear”  – ee(y)er – you start with “ee”.  Your lips are spread wide for “ee” then they move into a rounded position for the “er” sound.


retracted shape

Let me explain the two positions you can use for R.  There is retracted and retroflex.  Here is an illustration of a hand making the retracted motion.  You will pull your tongue high and back.  Your tongue should be touching the insides of your top teeth on the right and on the left. There is a groove down the center of your tongue.  This is where the air flows out.  Be sure to round your lips on the R.

These illustrations show a  cue for you on how to hold you tongue.  This is to remind you of how to hold your tongue for R, when saying an R word.

Here is an illustration of a hand making the retrofex motion. For retroflex R you leave your tongue where it is and curl up the tip.  Basically you are making a cup shape with your tongue.  Push the air out your mouth and round your lips.

retroflex shape

retroflex shape

Now both ways of holding the tongue can produce a correct R sound, so try each.  Usually the retroflex is used for R -Colored vowels, but if you use the retracted, that’s ok too.  What is more important than the position is the sound you make.

Now try using R words (either one) with R-Colored vowels.  We call these R-Colored vowels because the sound of the vowel will change slightly.  The R will influence, or color, the vowel.  This is normal and expected in American English.

AR words

  • car
  • far
  • art
  • arm

OR words

  • door
  • for
  • corn
  • horse

ER words

  • fur
  • her
  • hurt
  • fern

Listen to the AR, OR and ER words here.

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Be careful!  With the following words, Americans add a “Y” sound into these.  So listen carefully and you will hear me add in a “y” sound.  It helps us to pronounce these words.

AIR words (AIYER)

  • fair
  • pair
  • chair
  • dairy

EAR words (EEYER)

  • ear
  • dear
  • we’re
  • beard

IRE words (IYER)

  • tire
  • hire
  • fire
  • iron 

Listen to the AIR, EAR and IRE words here.

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Pronouncing the American “ER” Sound

Listen to “How to Pronounce the American “ER” Sound” here.

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How to Pronounce American ERTo  make the  American “er” sound we usually pull back the tongue and hold it high and tight in the mouth.  The sides of your tongue should be pressed up against the insides of the upper teeth on the left and the upper teeth on the right.  There should be a small groove in the center of your tongue and air will come down the center of your tongue and out your mouth to make the “er” sound.

One of the easiest ways to make the American “er” sound is to start with the sound “ee” then add the “er” like this – “eeyer”.  ear(Be sure to add the linking sound “y” between the 2 vowels)  “eeyer”. This is also the way Americans pronounce “ear”. Start with “ee” then pull your tongue up and back and tighten it for the “er” sound – “eeyer”.   So if you can do the “eeyer” practice word, then try to make that sound by itself  like this “eeyer” “er” “er” “er”.  This technique is just to help you make the “er” sound correctly.

Here are some practice words with the American “er” sound.   I’ll pause so you can practice saying the word right after me. One more thing I want you to know is that English spelling has about 6 different ways to spell the sound “er”.  However we’re talking about the sound today so practice the sound to get it right and don’t worry about the spelling right now.

  • sir   fur   were   her
  • shirt   hurt
  • bird    heard   word
  • work   jerk
  • learn   turn   fern 
  • pearl   girl   (Americans add an extra sound before the L in these words making them sound like per rul and gir rul)





Confusing Phrasal Verbs

Many times in English we use a group of words to mean a verb or verb phrase.  For example “look after the children” means to “take care of the children”.  Sometimes we have a variety of phrases with the same start word.  This can be confusing.  Learning to differentiate these common English phrasal verbs and you will improve your English listening and speaking.

Consider the differnt ways we use the word “check”

  • Check into            investigate, or secure a room in a hotel
  • Check in               to identify yourself at a doctor’s office, identify yourself and your baggage when arriving for a flight at the airport, or to tell your location on Facebook or other social media
  • Check out             investigate, take a book from the library, or leave a hotel
  • Check up              regular visit to a doctor or dentist

Confusing phrasal verbs – Part 1 – here

T Sound Changes in Different Words

T Sound ChangesWhen T starts an English word we usually pronounce it strong and decisive – Voiceless as /t/ is expected to be.  See the strong T in words like “talk”, “tomorrow” and “telephone”.

But many times T shifts to voiced (sounds like D) when in the middle of a word (some teachers call this “flapped T”).  “Notice” sounds like “nodis”,  “butter” sounds like “buder”, and “Rita” sounds like “reeda”.

Some Ts in the middle of words stay voiceless like T, as in “eighteen” and  “motel”.  This is often true when the second syllable is stressed.

Sometimes T is silent like in “listen”, “often”,  “fasten” and “castle”.

T shifts again when it’s next to a Y.  It becomes a sound very much like CH.   When we say “get you” in connected speech, it sounds like “getchu”, and “want you” sounds like “wantchu”.

If a T is next to R, the resulting sound may sound like CH so “tree” sounds like “chree”.   “Try it” for yourself – I mean “Chry it” for yourself!

  • talk
  • tomorrow
  • telephone
  • notice
  • butter
  • Rita
  • eighteen
  • motel
  • listen
  • often
  • fasten
  • castle
  • get you
  • want you
  • try it

Listen to the different T words here:

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Linking Consonants to Same Consonants

linking words ESL connected speech American EnglishLinking is smoothly connecting one word to the next when speaking.  We link same continuous consonant sounds.  We also link voiced and voiceless pairs of continuous consonant sounds (p/b, t/d, k/g, f/v, s/z, ch/j).

When you know the rules of linking, it will improve your ability to better communicate with and understand American English speakers.  Here are some examples of linking words with same or similar consonant sounds:

p – p, p – b, b – b and b – p

  • step parent – steparent
  • step brother – ste(p)brother
  • job began – jobegan
  • club pass – clu(b)pass

d – d, d – t, t – t and t – d

  • red dish – redish
  • could take  – cou(d)take
  • get ten – geten
  • eight doctors – ei(t)doctors

k – k, k – g, g-g and g – k

  • speak Korean – speakorean
  • quick game – kwi(k)game
  • big girl – bigirl
  • dog catcher – do(g)kacher

f – f, f – v, v – v and v – f

  • half filled – hafilled
  • rough voice – rou(f)voice
  • lot of (ov) visitors – lot ovisitors
  • lot of friends – lot o(v)friends

s – s, s- z, z – z and z – s

  • less salt – lesalt
  • this zipper – thi(s)zipper
  • use zinc – uzinc
  • size seven – si(z)seven

Listen to the linking words here.

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Tips for clear understandable English

ESL Students – here are 5 things you can do right now to have clearer speech and be understood better in English:

1.  Be sure you are taking pauses between thought groups.  Pausing helps your listener to recognize the phrase and understand it’s meaning.

2.  Use the right stress on words with two (or more) syllables – don’t make “percent” sound like “person”!

3.  Learn to link!  Pay attention and use common linking strategies.  Be sure to add in the helping sound with vowels linking to other vowels – “who is” sounds like “who-w-iz”, and “I am” sounds like “I-y-am”.

4.  Train your ears by listening carefully to American English speakers (radio, television, community events, etc.)

5. Find an American English speaker you can converse with on a regular basis.

Spring Cooking Group Ideas

Had a good cooking group lesson today with my students!  We made fruit kebabs. Yes, it’s called “cooking group”  but sometimes we just assemble snacks – no cooking involved!

fruitkebabIngredients needed:

  • fruit (whatever’s in season – we used strawberries, grapes, blueberries and bananas)
  • marshmallows (what kid doesn’t like marshmallows?)
  • wooden skewers (we clipped the sharp ends off)

The students loved making these and it was so easy.  Some of the kids needed help.  Some used two hands and skewered the fruit  and marshmallows in mid-air.  Some stabbed the fruit as it was laying on the paper plate. Some stabbed one piece of fruit and ate it! (Kinda defeats the purpose of fruit kebabs.)

Our craft lesson this week was a “Spring book”

Other cooking group ideas that went well this month were:

  • Cheesy fish snack mix– Goldfish crackers, popcorn and parmesan cheese
  • Red White and Blue Sandwiches – pita pockets with cream cheese, strawberries and blueberries
  •  Jello Apples – shake apples slices in a plastic bag with dry jello mix for a jello-flavored treat

Click on these links for other cooking groups ideas – Summer Cooking GroupFall Cooking Group,  Winter Cooking Group.

Adapting Crafts for the Autism Classroom

Surefire Paper AirplanesThe students at my school love to make paper airplanes. For several years I’ve used the book “Fold and Fly Paper Airplanes”. This book has 8 pages and 12 different paper airplane designs to make. It includes specially designed papers for folding and making the specific airplanes, although some students prefer to have a plain piece of paper. The book is great, except for the fact that the students often have a hard time sharing, and all want to see the book at the same time.

paper airplane book separatedHere’s one thing I did that really made a difference. I took the book apart, separating each page. Then I laminated each page. When I showed the boys the activity, I spread all the laminated pages out on the table. They eagerly looked through the pages. There was a little squabbling when two students liked the same design, but that was easily solved when I brought their attention to the additional pages there.

There are only 7 complete sheets of designs (even though there are 12 designs in all). However the designs are printed on both front and back, with most pages having an airplane design on the front and the back. If you need more than 7 designs I suggest you copy them before you laminate. Otherwise the book will yield designs for 7 students to follow at one time (7 sheets).

For my students who are non-verbal, they loved the visual directions with lines, arrows and contrasting paper sides (blue on one side, orange on the other). The steps are clearly marked and the print is large (the sparse amount of print there is.)laminated paper airplane instructions

I hope you’ll try paper airplanes in the classroom. This great book I found even more useful when I separated  and laminated the pages. It worked well for me.

Have fun teaching!