Phoneme Awareness: Advanced Levels

Level: advanced.
Ages: teens; adults.
Type: personalising students’ engagement with English pronunciation; working with Adrian Underhill’s Sound Foundations phonetic chart.
Skills: pronunciation (individual phonemes and words).
Language focus: any vocab that arises in the lesson.

Note: this is my own idea. It comes from use of Adrian Underhill’s Sound Foundations phonetic chart and work with J Clifford Turner’s book, Voice and Speech in the Theatre, and is intended to encourage advanced level students to leave pedagogical aids behind to an extent and to personalise their engagement with English pronunciation.

Materials: a copy of the Sound Foundations phonetic chart.


  1. Go through the monophthongs (single sounds) on the standard EFL phonetic chart and invite your students to a game of rhyming tennis.
  2. Elicit the diphthongs (/aʊ/, /aɪ/, etc.) from the chart and ask what the difference is between these sounds and monophthongs (diphthongs involve a quick glide from one “articulator” [a word for the organs of speech – lips, tongue, teeth, etc.] position to a second, whilst monophthongs involve holding the articulator in one position). Ask the students to find as many rhyming words containing these sounds as they can.
  3. Ask the students to stand and call out a word in turn, followed by another student’s name. The student whose name was called has to say a word which rhymes with the first word. If they can’t find a rhyme, they sit down and play continues with another student invited to call out a word, followed by a student’s name, until only one student remains standing (and is the winner).
  4. Board “fire” and “power” and ask how these are pronounced.
  5. Explain that these words contain triphthongs (vowel sounds which glide through three articulator positions) and invite the students to use symbols from the phonetic chart to try and portray all the sounds (e.g., fire = /’faɪə/; power = /’paʊə/).
  6. Give feedback on the students’ work. Which is the most accurate? Ask the students to decide and give feedback on their answers. Can they think of any more triphthongs? (“Flower” is one more example). Why do they think triphthongs were not included on the Sound Foundations chart? Is there any other way we can approximate the sound of triphthongs, using just the symbols on the chart? (I suggest /’faɪjə/ and /’paʊwə/ would be the closest approximations).
  7. Ask the students for homework to listen to English-language conversations or interviews (in the pub, or on TV or the internet) and to see if they can find any more examples of English sounds that aren’t in the phonetic chart (e.g., dark “l” sounds [“dull“, “full“, etc.], tapped or trilled “r”s, etc). Ask them to think of ways they could represent these sounds visually, and to draw a diagram of the vocal organs, showing how we make them.

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