S Family of Sounds, Simplified

My Asian students continue to have trouble with the differences between English sounds S, Z, SH, ZH, CH and J. S Family of SoundsI call these the S Family of Sounds.

  • S makes a clear hissing sound, as in house and ice.  No vocal cord vibration here.
  • Z makes a clear buzzing sound, as in visitor and horizon.  Vocal cords vibrate.


  • SH makes a noisy hissing sound, as in push, commission, and addition. No vibration.
  • ZH makes a noisy buzzing sound as in Asia and measure. Be Careful!  Most English words  will not have the ZH sound.  It is the least-used sound in the English language! But there are a few common words with the ZH sound, like casual, usual and television. Vibration.


  • CH make a sharp dissonant sound, as in chin and rich. No vibration.
  • J makes a sharp dissonant sound, as in jump and page. Vibration.


Here’s a simple printable worksheet for practicing these sounds.

When Parenting Requires You to Back Off

Therapeutic parenting has its advantages.  Instead of dimissing my son’s difficulties. I look at them closely and see how I can support him.  I take his disabilities into consideration when talking to him, working with him, and when I have expectations for his behavior.  I deal with him in a therapeutic way.  The world, however, often does not.  Sure friends, family and people who know him (or me) are more acommodating to his quirky behavior, odd mannerisms and unexpected outbursts.  But what about the real world?  How will my parenting help him in the real world?

When Parenting Requires You to Back OffAutism spectrum can cause serious differences for a student trying to work a job or fit into college.  Fortunately community colleges in our state are required to provide accommodations for students with a documented disability.    Last week my son and I went to an orientation meeting for the disability program at the college he’s interested in.  We sat in a room with 35 other parents, and high school seniors, to hear the counselors speak and to participate in activities designed to help the prospective students learn what services would be available to them on the campus.

I was pretty surprised when the other mothers in my group did everything for their students!  They took the activities, they told their student what to do, and then, when it took longer than the moms were comfortable with, the moms took over and did the activity themselves!  I was shocked to see such invasive parenting.  Were these mothers going to attend college along side their students?  Would they sit in classes with them?  Take notes for them?  Do their homework assignments?

When will they figure out their parenting needs to back off?  Here are some ideas for parenting a child with a disability to help him be ready for independence:

Watch your interactions.  Are you still doing things your nearly-adult child can do?  Organize his homework?  Correct his assignments? Schedule his activities?  Go with him to everything?   If you can identify where you are overprotective, address that area right now.

Strive for “typical” behavior.  Do you know typical teenage behavior?  If your only experience is parenting a child or children with disabilities, you need to learn about ‘typical teenagers”. I recommend this book Surviving Your Adolescents: How to Manage and Let Go of Your 13-18 Year Old, by Thomas Phalen. Not everything in the book will apply to your situation, but you may benefit from a reminder about what is normal for teenagers.

Put them out there in the “real world”.  Does your teen sit in his room playing video games all day and night?  If so, he has some friends, albeit “online” friends.  Try to get your student out into the real world, for work, or volunteering, or social activities.  More than anything you tell them, they grow by experiencing life, don’t they? Push them out there (if need be) so they can start experiencing life.

Remove your structure but put expectations on them.  Does your student know what to expect after high school?  Be clear about how your student will contribute (whether it’s school or work, if he stays home or moves in with a relative, etc.)  Expect some blowback.  He won’t want to take up what you have always done for him (like laundry), but think of it this way – Will you be around forever?  If he needs to learn skills for independent living, why not start now?  You know your student the best, so support where you have to, but hand more and more of his life over to him.  Start today!

My son starts college classes in September.  I sure hope those “overprotective orientation mothers” won’t be there!


Teaching ESL with Poetry

Teaching ESL with PoemsI was teaching my ESL students about daffodils when I came across a poem written by William Wordsworth (British Poet, 1770 – 1850), I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.

Here’s the free printable worksheet I made to go with the daffodils lesson. Poems are more difficult, so use these with more advanced students.  Review new vocabulary and check with the students to see if they know the mood of the poet.  Ask students to share if they can relate to that same feeling, or if they were ever in that same situation.

Hope you enjoy!

Accent and Myofunctional Skills

accent and myofunctionalIf you are helping international students learn the American accent, I recommend checking myofunctional skills as well.
What are myofunctional skills?   These are a student’s ability to use his tongue, lips and jaw correctly. Some therapists call myofunctional problems “tongue thrust”. This is a misnomer as not all students with myofunctional problems push their tongue out through their teeth in a visible way.  But poor muscle strength or control can still exist and cause problems for the student who is trying to modify his accent.

Some problems like a high palatal vault (the roof of the mouth), a short frenulum (a sinewy cord attaching the bottom of the tongue to the base of the mouth), and a forward resting position of the tongue can all affect R, S, SH, and L sounds.  masseter muscleWeakness in the masseter muscle (see illustration on right) can make it difficult to use the 6 jaw placements for American vowel sounds.  AH (as in father) and A (as in cat) are the two lowest jaw placements.  We use the largest jaw opening to make these sounds. Asian speakers use more closed jaw placement in their native languages.  This is why Asian speakers often sound like they are saying E  for AH or A.  Common mistakes of pronunciation are:

  • end for and
  • guess for gas
  • head for had
  • wreck for rack

Exercises to improve strength and coordination of the mouth muscles can be practiced by students. Click here to see my earlier posts on myofunctional exercises.


Words pronounced “er” vs. “or”

How to pronounce ER wordsThe recent rains brought out the worms. My students in the Beginner II class asked how to pronounce “worm”, and became confused. They thought it sounded like “warm”.

English spelling does not correspond with pronunciation much of the time. Even though we say ER, or we say OR, it’s often spelled another way. For these tricky words try to memorize the pronunciation.

ER – pronounce these like her, verb, and term

  • worm
  • word
  • work
  • worry
  • worth
  • worship
  • world (world needs to be pronounced in 2 parts – Americans say “wer – rulled”)

OR – pronounce these like for, more, door, and born

  • war
  • warm
  • ward
  • wart
  • wharf
  • warp

Early Songs for ESL

Songs and Hand Motions for ESL LearningSongs with hand motions are an easy, effective way to teach language and pronunciation. Sing the songs yourself or play a CD with pre-recorded music. Print out the words for the students using the blackboard/whiteboard or paper handouts.  Visuals like photos or pictures can help too. Find out more about how movement aids learning. Here are songs we’ve done at ESL and the target lessons I used with each:

Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes: Pronunciation -It’s easy to teach the /th/ in mouth by showing students to stick their tongues through their teeth.  I like to emphasize rhyming words also, like nose and toes. Language – show other body parts and name them such as hand, finger, thumb (if your show the word ‘thumb” teach that the B is silent)  foot, heel, chin, cheek, etc.

If You’re Happy, and You Know it Clap your Hands: Pronunciation – Reduce  the “you’re’ to ‘yer’, the “hands” /handz/ to “hanz”, and ‘face will” to “face’ll”.  Language – this song is a great kick-off to teaching about emotions such as sad, mad, and confused.Early Songs for ESL

A is for Alligator – Good for an introduction to beginning consonant letters and sounds.  It follows the alphabet, so be aware several consonant sounds are missing (TH, SH, CH, ZH and NG).  Use my free A is for Alligator worksheet with pictures to help the students understand with minimal language.

Itsy Bitsy Spider – Not just a song for kids!  Even adults enjoy singing this song and doing the hand motions. Language – talk about prepositions up, down and out.  Discuss other propositions of place such as in, on, under, over, between, in front of and in back of.  Most prepositions can be shown with the body.  Take a chair and stand in front, behind, etc.  Have the students demonstrate prepositions using their own chairs. Good for comprehension AND expression.

Don’t worry that these are kid songs!  Your adult ESL students will enjoy these activities and what’s more important is they will be learning!  Have fun teaching English!

How to Pronounce “McDonald’s”

How to Pronounce McDonald'sMy Japanese student told me she was having trouble pronouncing McDonald’s (McDonald’s is a fast food restaurant). She was making some common errors by trying to pronounce every letter, and also she had the stress on the first syllable, making it sound like MAC don alds.  I guess some people stress the Mc-, but I don’t.How to Pronounce McDonald's

Here are some tips to pronouncing it like an American:

Mc – say it like mik (with a short i sound)

Do – say it like dah – don’t make it an o sound!

nal – say nul (use the uh sound. That’s the schwa sound. It should sound like the word null)

d – drop it!  Don’t say d at all! We often drop out the d sound when followed by an s or z.

s – say z

Be sure to stress the DAH (second syllable).  Stress is making that part with louder, longer and higher pitch. Say it like this:

mik  DAH  nulz

Hope that helps!  Now I’m in the mood for French fries.

Transition Planning

Transition Planning for your studentTransition is part of your student’s IEP that addresses the plan for after high school. Transition can also refer to when a child leaves preschool and enters Kindergarden. Your school is available to assist you with this transition also.

Today’s post focuses on transition after high school (or age 22). Children with disabilities need more resources to successfully launch into adulthood. Your case manager at school will alert you to to transition planning by the time your child is 16 (or earlier of the IEP team thinks it’s appropriate.  Resources include support for

  • work
  • college or other educational goals
  • independent living
  • community participation

Read more about transition planning here from the Vanderbilt/Kennedy Center of Tennesee.

PHP Adult Transitions and Services Fair, Thursday 3/27/14: This drop-in event (San Jose, CA) is suitable for parents of students who are 1 – 2 years from graduation, as well as students who’ve graduated from high school.  See their flyer here.

Parents of Aspies in College… or Not: Support group for parents with Asperger teenagers who are finishing high school or entering college/work (San Jose, CA). Parent discussions center on sharing current community resources.  See a link to their meetings here.

Peter Gerhardt, Ed.D. also teaches an awesome workshop on “Teens and Young Adults in Transition”  Read a summary of his workshop here.


Aspergers Parent Resource, San Jose, CA

I recently discovered a new resource for parents with Asperger teens.  (Aspergers Syndrome is a type of high-functioning autism that effects communication, social interaction, and includes restrictive and repetitive behaviors.)   It’s a group of parents in the San Jose area, who meet monthly to share resources and support.  The focus of the discussions are for students leaving high school, and the support they need as they enter college or the workforce.  We discuss options for independent living and community resources for our young people with Aspergers.   More information can be found about this group at Meetup. The name of the group is “Parents of Aspies in College…or Not.” Click here to go to their link.

Parents of Aspergers in College...Or Not

The group leader is Liz, and she herself is a mother of a son with Aspergers who is a young adult.  One of the wonderful qualities she has is being positive! And when the parents complain or the discussion becomes negative (as it sometimes does when parenting these challenging young people) Liz brings it back to a positive discussion.

Meetings are monthly in San Jose, and open to any parent with an Aspergers daughter or son in high school or graduated and launching to college/career.


-ed Endings Simplified

Here’s a quick and easy free printable for the 3 ways to pronounce the -ed endings of past tense words.

Look at the root word:

If the last sound is unvoiced (no vibration), “ed” is pronounced /t/ : tapped = tapt

If the last sound is voiced (vibration), “ed” is pronounced /d/ : planned = pland

If the last sound is T or D, “ed’ is pronounced /id/ and is a separate syllable : added = ad id

ed endings simplifiedSometimes an -ed word is an adjective (describing a thing) like in this chip bag I saw at my supermarket.  The rules are the same.  The proper spelling is mixed bag, (the root word of mixed is mix [miks] ending in an unvoiced sound/no vibration). This photo has illustrated the pronunciation, and we do pronounce it “mixt bag“.

The meaning of mixed bag is a variety of things all blended together.