PronPack at IATEFL Brighton!

PronPack had an exhibition space at IATEFL 2018, sharing with others in the Independent Writers & Publishers Group (many thanks to Rob Howard for his hard work organizing this). On the left, here’s Mark with Higor Cavalcante, first customer of the day, who is taking a set of the books back to Brazil. On the right is Oksana Hera from Ukraine, who we owe thanks to for being  one of the reviewers of the PronPack manuscript.  The large, colour version of the sound chart at the back of our display drew a lot of interest, as did the vowel chart T-shirts.

PronPack also made a showing on the PronSIG day of the conference, when the books were given out during the raffle, alongside Richard Cauldwell’s ‘A Syllabus for Listening – Decoding’.

What does ‘correct’ mean in pronunciation teaching?

Being interviewed by Dirk Lagerwaard for his NovELTies vlog:  click here. Among the topics up for discussion is the idea of ‘correctness’ in the context of pronunciation. I suggest that mostly, there’s no such thing as ‘correct’. When people say things like ‘No, it’s not pronounced like that’, they are using a sneaky passive. Not pronounced BY WHO? By what right do these ghostly referees define what is correct and what is not?
I suggest that ‘pronunciation is not just for show; it does the work of communicating’. From that perspective, ‘correct’ can be replaced by ‘effective’ as the main objective in pronunciation teaching and learning.
As an exception to this observation, I suggest that spelling-induced mispronunciations can be considered as errors – for example, pronouncing ‘pear’ as a homophone of ‘peer’. But then again, if enough people started pronouncing it that way, it would no longer be incorrect!


Do you remember the millennium bug? We were all warned that on new year’s day of 2000, our computers would cease to function properly. Didn’t happen. What DID happen around that time however was a quiet but seismic shift in assumptions about the goals of pronunciation teaching.
In the late nineties, people like Brian Jenner were already worrying away at the unchallenged assumption that learners should aim for one of the standard, prestige accents of English such as RP. Jenner (Jenner 1997) pointed out that millions of people were able to make themselves understood in any number of regional or global native accents, so why would we insist on a specific variety?
But why stop at ‘native’? Surely there were even more people around the globe who were effectively communicating with one another in accents of English which could not be considered ‘native’, so why even insist on a native-like one? This premise seems obvious in hindsight, but it took Jennifer Jenkins (Jenkins 2000) to make it explicit and begin to explore its implications. Let’s call the premise, The ELF Premise (where ELF stands for English as a Lingua Franca).
There have been plenty of arguments, to and fro, about the implications of The ELF Premise, but few people would coherently deny the premise itself – namely, that English is now used as a global lingua franca, and that this must be borne in mind when we are thinking about the goals of pronunciation teaching. If, as I suggest, the premise is unquestionable, then we no longer need to spend time arguing in its favour, and instead, we may concentrate on assimilating it into our pedagogical phonology model. This process of assimilation following the seismic shift is what I am calling Post-ELF.  In the visual metaphor at the start of this article, ELF is the triangular prism. The white beam to the right is the pre-ELF idea of pronunciation teaching goals. The rainbow beam emerging to the right is the post-ELF idea. This is what I propose to speak about in my talk at IATEFL 2018, and in later follow up posts right here.

The talk is on Thursday April 12th, 10:20 AM in Dukes, and is entitled Towards a Pedagogic Phonology.
Jenkins, J (2000) The Phonology of English as an International Language, Oxford, OUP
Jenner, B (1997) International English: an alternative view, Speak Out! (Newsletter of the IATEFL PronSIG) number 21.

Pronunciation: Teach a skill, not an accent.

Being interviewed here by Rebecca Place of TESOL Spain.  Here are the main points:

1. Pronunciation teachers need to filter the material they teach. Don’t just teach all features of English phonology ‘because they’re there’; teach them because the learner is likely to need them.
2. Idiosyncrasies of individual accents, including R.P. for example, are not necessarily relevant, in a world where English is a lingua franca.
3. For example, weak forms and schwa, common though they are in, say, British native accents, are not essential for intelligibility. Learners need to deal with them receptively, but for production, they are optional.
4. The schwa is central on my vowel chart not because it’s important but because it’s exceptional – different in kind. Never get into the business of trying to demonstrate the difference between the schwa and the vowel sound in ‘duck’!
5. Pronunciation is strategic – a tool for intelligibility in the process of communication. It’s not about copying and producing any specific model accent.  Process, not product.

Putting Vowels on the Map

In this article, I will present and explain a map of the vowel system specifically created to guide the general English language learner. The map is designed with three main aims in mind:
1. To provide useful insights for the learner.
2. To support memorable and effective classroom activities.
3. To be relevant in an international context by being flexible enough to deal with accent variation.
We will look at each of these three main aims in turn, under the titles The What, The How and The Why. This article first appeared in Modern English Teacher Volume 27 Issue 1 (Jan 2018)

The What

What it is

The Hexagon Vowel Chart  is a representation of the English vowel system. Each phoneme is represented with an International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol plus a word containing the phoneme in a typical spelling, underlined. The vowel phonemes are placed in hexagon-shaped cells in a honeycomb in a way which highlights certain relationships amongst them.

Rings There are patterns of concentric rings, with longer vowels on the outer ring, shorter vowels on the inner ring and the schwa in the centre. The longer vowels in the outer ring include the long vowels at each of the six corners and the diphthongs in the middle of each of the six sides.
Spokes The figure contains six radiating lines, or spokes. The vowels in within each spoke are roughly similar, but with a short one nearer the centre and a longer one further from the centre – for example, the foot vowel = short and the boot vowel = long.

Top-Bottom The long and short vowels are placed on the honeycomb as a whole roughly according to how they are articulated. Phonemes placed near the top such as /i:/ are produced with the jaw more closed while the phonemes further down such as /a:/ are produced with the jaw more open.
Left-Right Long and short vowels placed further to the left are produced with the mouth wider and the tongue more forward, phonemes placed further to the left (except for the  duck and bird vowels) are produced with the lips rounder and the tongue further back. The duck and bird vowels are produced with the mouth in a more relaxed, neutral position.

What it is for

The Bigger Picture Introducing his well-known phonemic chart, Adrian Underhill suggests that, ‘The chart is not a list to learn, but a map representing pronunciation territory to explore’ (Underhill, 2005), and the same goes for the Hexagon Vowel Chart too, although the map is organised in a different way. While learners could just get by working on vowels one by one in piecemeal fashion as problems arise, a map can help them see the bigger picture – how the phonemes relate to one another in the system as a whole.
There is also a motivational angle which Underhill points out. If you don’t have the map, you don’t know how much you have explored and how much you still have left to explore, making the learning task feel potentially infinite and insurmountable. It is motivating to know that the territory has limits.

The How

In this section, we will look at how to present the hexagon vowel chart in class. First of all, we will look at possible ways of breaking down the whole system into bite-sized chunks suitable to be presented in one session. We will then look at ideas for classroom procedures for working with these chunks.

How to break the vowel chart into bite-sized chunks

The figure below shows possible groupings of phonemes in the hexagon vowel chart which may form the focus of single classroom pronunciation sessions. We will look at these five in turn.

1 Long Vowels
We saw above that the long vowels occupy the six corners of the chart. These are a good set to start presenting the chart to the class with. This is because these long vowels, unlike those on the rest of the chart, can be made as long as you like. Consequently, when you model them for the learners, they get to hear a good long sample, with plenty of time to savour the sound and observe your mouth positions as you create them. (Bear in mind that in this chart, the hair vowel is regarded as a long vowel rather than a diphthong (see Cruttenden, 2014). Also note that long and short are simplified terms, and these vowels are not necessarily longer or shorter in all accents or contexts).

2 Short Vowels
In the inner circle of the Hexagon Vowel Chart are the short vowels. Unlike the long vowels, these cannot be made long without losing their character. For this reason, they are better demonstrated by saying the short sound repeatedly. For example, you would say the  foot vowel repeatedly, like the sound of a monkey, rather than long and drawn out.

3 R-Vowels
Some phonemes on the chart have (r) beside them. This indicates that these vowels most commonly occur before a letter ‘r’ in the spelling. This ‘r’ may or may not be pronounced, depending on accent, but either way, the vowel is influenced by it. Notice that these r-vowels all occur in the outer circle. This is no coincidence, because the effect of the ‘r’ is often to lengthen the vowel.

4 Alphabet vowels
These are the five vowel letters of English, A, E, I, O and U, as they are pronounced in the alphabet. Three of these are diphthongs, the other two are long vowels. Remember that the alphabet pronunciation for U also has a /j/ before it – /ju:/.

5 Vowel Groups
The vowel phonemes which are located next to each other on the chart can also be presented in smaller groups, as shown in part 5 of Figure 3. For example, the ‘e’ group includes the vowel phonemes in face, hair and leg. These are similar, but contrasting in a number of ways. Note that the colours on the vowel hexagon chart are suggestive of these groupings.
There is an advantage in presenting vowels in groups like this rather than traditional minimal pairs. A minimal pair focuses on one distinction, and for those learners who do not have a problem with that distinction, there isn’t much to learn. Vowel groups contain more than one distinction, and there is more likely to be something of relevance for everybody in the class.

How to work with the chart in class

Morph drills Point at two phonemes, for example the teeth and boot vowels and get the class to say them – Eeeeeee! Ooooooo! Then point at one and move the finger to the other and get the class to say it, morphing from one phoneme to the other – Eeeeeeeoooooo! This works particularly well for the long vowels, and allows learners to compare one with another.
Articulation experiments Repeat the morph drill described above, but this time ask the class to focus on what changes in their mouth position as they make the change. For example, ask them to morph from the teeth vowel to the arm vowel with their finger on their nose and their thumb on their chin. They will notice that the finger and thumb move apart – proving that the jaw drops down during the change from one vowel to the other.
Vowel mnemonics Suggest, or get the class to suggest, fun mnemonics for the sounds. For example, the boot vowel could be called ‘the nice surprise sound’ because people often say it to express surprise. The foot vowel  could be called ‘the monkey vowel’, as mentioned above.
The vowel orchestra This activity is good as a review, when all of the phonemes on the chart have already been presented to the class. The class is the orchestra and you or one of the students can be the conductor. The conductor points at the phonemes and the orchestra calls them out, continuing the long vowels or repeating the other vowels for as long as the conductor keeps his or her finger on that symbol.
Spelling patterns Choose one of the vowel groups mentioned above and give or elicit a large number of examples of words containing those vowels. Then ask the class to identify the different ways in which that phoneme may be spelt. Elicit which spelling patterns are common and which are unusual. For example, for the teeth vowel, ‘ee’ and ‘ea’ are common while ‘ie’ (as in piece) is unusual.
See PronPack 1: Pronunciation Workouts (Hancock, 2017) for more detail on the activities above.

The Why

In pronunciation teaching, we need to keep in mind the why question – why are we teaching it and why do the class need to learn it? Bearing in mind the role of English as an international lingua franca, it is probably fair to assume that the majority of learners need to be intelligible, rather than needing to sound like native speakers. See for example Robin Walker’s series on English as a Lingua Franca in Modern English Teacher (Walker, 2015).

Why is the map flexible?

If we accept accent variation as the norm rather than the exception, then our vowel chart needs to be flexible enough to accommodate that variation, and the Hexagon Vowel Chart attempts to do just that. Hence, for example, the optional (r) next to some of the symbols. This enables the chart to work for accents where that ‘r’ is pronounced, such as American, and those where it isn’t, such as English.
Phonemic, not phonetic In order to be accent-flexible in using the chart, it is important to remember that the IPA symbols in it are phonemic rather than phonetic. A phonetic symbol represents a precise sound. A phonemic symbol is less specific – for example, /e/ can be defined as the vowel sound in leg, no matter what the speaker’s accent.
Optional Schwa The position of the schwa at the centre of the chart is not intended to suggest importance, but rather that it is exceptional. It is a reduced sound which occurs only in unstressed syllables. Trying to compare it to other phonemes such as the vowel sound in duck for example is a recipe for confusion. In fact, it is probably better not viewed as a phoneme at all, but an unstressed variant, or allophone, of one of the other vowel phonemes – most can be reduced to schwa. For example, in the name Canada, the second and third vowels are often pronounced as schwa, and in this instance the schwa would be an allophone of the hand vowel. Learners will need to understand the schwa receptively, but for production it is optional – not essential for intelligibility.

Why put vowels on the map?

It is easier to teach consonants than vowels. With consonants, there are fixed points where contact is made in the mouth, for example between the tongue and the teeth. It is more difficult to navigate the vowel sounds. With no fixed points, their position can only be explained relative to one another in a system. It’s useful for learners to have an overview of this system, and that’s the great advantage of putting vowels on the map.


Cruttenden A (2014) Gimson’s Pronunciation of English (8th Edition), Routledge, Oxford
Hancock M (2017) PronPack 1: Pronunciation Workouts, Hancock McDonald ELT, Chester
Underhill A (2005) Sound Foundations: Learning and Teaching Pronunciation (2nd Edition) Macmillan, London
Walker R (2015) The globalization of English: teaching the pronunciation of ELF, Modern English Teacher, 24.4, 2015
The chart can be freely downloaded in high resolution from here.

This article first appeared in Modern English Teacher Volume 27 Issue 1 (Jan 2018)

Pronunciation SIG Event in Chester

IATEFL PronSIG is holding an event in the beautiful city of Chester on February 17th. Only 2 hours by train from London, Chester is a place steeped in layers of history, and the event will take place at the city’s University. ‘Pronunciation: the Missing Link’. As the title implies, many of the presentations at this event will be about the link between pronunciation and other areas of language teaching – links which are often neglected. However, Richard Cauldwell will start the day by arguing that pronunciation and listening should not be linked – or rather, that they should work toward very different language models. Later in the day, he will go on to suggest practical ways to tackle the nitty-gritty of teaching listening. In a similar vein, Annie McDonald will recommend that listening can become more fluent if we help learners to ‘listen in chunks’. Meanwhile, Catarina Pontes will investigate why pronunciation itself is a missing link in many EFL classrooms, and why it shouldn’t be. Gemma Archer will focus our attention on the link between pronunciation and assessment – a link we often shy away from. Marina Cantarutti will tackle what for many is the most tricky aspect of pronunciation – intonation, taking a refereshing new angle. Meanwhile, Wayne Rimmer will argue for the benefits of using prose and poetry as a way into motivating pronunciation learning. Finally, Mark Hancock will argue for pedagogic simplification in pronunciation teaching, and he will illustrate this idea by looking at ideas for the teaching of tonic stress. It looks like being a great day! Inscription open until the weekend. Don’t miss it!

Download “Chester-The-Missing-Link-Feb-2018.pdf” Chester-The-Missing-Link-Feb-2018.pdf – Downloaded 120 times – 443 KB

PronPack in Modern English Teacher

The PronPack Sound Chart is featured on the cover of the latest issue of Modern English Teacher…

Inside the magazine, I have written an article explaining the vowel chart entitled “Putting Vowels on the Map”. Meanwhile, in the “Book I’ve Used” section, there is a review of PronPack written by Brian Brennan of Ih Barcelona. Here are a few quotes…

“Hancock’s approach is strikingly innovative”
“Hancock has reconceptualised our pron chart brilliantly”
“PronPack sets out to fill a gap and it does so admirably”