Mouth Gym Part 2: How to train

Having selected common problematic sounds in English, the most important thing is what we can do to improve these things. The foundations of this whole exercise should adhere to principles of Dweck’s Mindset theory: focused practice, belief in the possibility to improve, re-labelling “failure” as a stepping stone to success. Once we move the tongue and lips correctly, the sounds will be produced. We can train our bodies to get fitter; we can train our mouths to pronounce English in the same way.

As discussed in the previous blog post, English vowels cause problems for learners over a range of first languages. Standard practice is to train these vowel sounds in alphabetical order: A E I O U, and tackle others individually. However, this doesn’t align with the biomechanics of how we produce sounds. Instead, the MOUTH GYM groups vowel sounds according to tongue position. Get the lip shape right too, and you’ll be there. Excuse my mucky lips and 5 o’clock shadow in the short videos, but nothing I could find on google could do the lip shapes justice!

So, let’s go. Tongue position + lip shape = sound.

Group 1 – Close Vowels 

Tongue is quite high in the mouth. 

front ———— – – – – – – -back  (Where sound is produced in mouth)

 /ɪ:/         /ɪ/          /ʊ/          /u:/

tea        tin        good       fruit

Exercises:

  1. Drill the individual sounds like in the video.
  2. Try repeating this sentence more and more quickly: tea tin full of good fruit

Group 2 – Mid Vowels

Tongue is in the middle of the mouth (not high or low).

front —————- – – – – – – – – -back

       /e/        /ə/        /3:/       /ɔː/

      egg   banana   sirve    fork

Exercises:

  1. Drill the individual sounds like in the video.
  2. Try repeating the sentence more and more quickly: eggs and bananas served on a fork.

Group 3 – Open Vowels

Tongue is low in the mouth.

front —————- – – – – – – – – -back

    /æ/       /ʌ/           /a:/         /ɒ/

     cat      uncle      aunt      dog     

Exercises:

  1. Drill the individual sounds like in the video.
  2. Try repeating the sentence more and more quickly: cat’s uncle is aunt’s dog.

Group 4 – Diphthong Vowels

Lips and mouth move

/eɪ/         /aɪ/          /əʊ/           /ʊə/

rake      fight       don’t        cure

Exercises:

  1. Drill the individual sounds like in the video.
  2. Try repeating the sentence more and more quickly: rake fights don’t cure.

Not to forget the pesky sound that doesn’t exist in Russian or French…

Group 5 – th

 /θ/         /ð/

think   mother

It’s all about the tongue! Get it between your top and bottom teeth! You’ll be pleased to know that my own mouth just didn’t show the tongue position clearly enough, so here’s a diagram instead:

959204_orig

Notice how the voiced /θ/ comes from between the teeth, and the unvoiced /ð/ comes from the voice box somewhere down the throat.

Exercises:

  1. Practice the two individual sounds alone, again and again: TH th TH th TH th TH th TH th TH th.
  2. Try some tongue twisters (no z or zh sounds!) like this: Those THousand THinkers there were THinking how the other THousand THieves got THrough.

PRACTICE DOESN’T MAKE PERFECT, BUT PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.  

FOCUS:

  1. TONGUE POSITION
  2. LIP SHAPE

REMEMBER, IF YOU’RE NOT MAKING THE SOUNDS CORRECTLY, THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH YOUR MOUTH, YOU JUST NEED TO MOVE SOMETHING A LITTLE AND TRY AGAIN.

I HOPE IT’S USEFUL!

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