Using the Sense of Touch in Pronunciation Instruction

I’ve shared tips for teaching vowel and consonant sounds in an earlier posting. One addition to that list is the benefit of using our sense of touch. Some may describe this instruction as tactile or hands-on. Whatever you wish to call it, the idea is to get students to understand sound production by placing their hands in a certain position so that they can feel a change produced by the articulators.  Below are some so-called tactile exercises to try your in your classroom.


  • To understand aspiration:

Hold your fingers in front of your lips. Say /p, t, k/ and you’ll feel a puff of air. Say /b, d, g/ and you won’t.


  • To understand voicing:

(1)    Place your hand on your throat. Say voiced consonants such as /v, z, w/ and you’ll feel your vocal chords vibrate. Say voiceless consonants such as /f, s, h/ and you’ll feel no vibration.

(2)    Plug your ears with your fingers. Say voiced consonants and you’ll hear your voice inside your head. Say voiceless consonants and your voice will sound much softer.


  • To understand open (low) and closed (high) vowels:

(1)    Place your hands full on your cheeks face with your fingers pointing upward. Say a sequence of vowels from high to mid to low such as /u, oʊ, ɑ/ and you’ll feel your jaw gradually drop.

(2)    Place one thumb lightly under your chin. Say the same sequence of high to low vowels and you’ll feel the pressure of your chin on your thumb as the jaw drops.


  • To understand nasal sounds:  

Pinch your nose and pronounce the nasal consonants /m, n, ŋ/. The sound will be obstructed. Release your nose and say the sounds again. They should sound natural because the air is properly escaping from your nose and not your mouth.


Perhaps you know of other exercises. If so, please share them!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary says:

    very useful 😀

  2. Asra says:

    Hi Jennifer.

    First off, thanks so much for your online videos. They’ve been a lifesaver. I was asked to mentor a non-native speaker in English conversation. Having no experience whatsoever, the formal methods presented in your instruction have been the primary tool in my sessions. I’d be at a loss without them. So again, many thanks!

    I was writing to ask for your input on how to help my student pronounce “W.” She is from Korea. I’ve been able to help her with “L” and “R” through your videos. But it seems “W” is not available through you, or elsewhere online. My student has trouble with words like “woman,” but not “water.” It’s that combination of “W-O” that is a challenge for her. She ends up pronouncing it as “oo-man.” Any advice as far as where to find resources that will help me help her? I’m particularly interested in finding instruction that includes placement of the tongue, as you do with your “L” lessons.

    Thanks a million.

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      Dear Asra,

      It’s so wonderful to hear that the videos are helping teachers as well as learners. I think one great benefit of posting videos is that it makes the author (me) more reflective and the viewer (you) aware of other approaches. We can’t always pop into someone else’s classroom, but with video instruction we teachers and observe one another.

      You’re right to call attention to the position of articulators. These folks have posted materials on topic:

      Paul Meier on EnglishCafe

      Good luck! If after viewing the materials you still have questions, please feel free to post them.

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