Tips and Tricks for Teaching Consonant Sounds

What tips and tricks have you come up with to teach consonant sounds? You may recall my advice to involve the sense of touch during the instruction of phonemes. Have you made any discoveries since that posting backin 2009? Here are two ideas I’d like to share:

The /h/ sound.

Another teacher recently asked me about helping learners produce /h/. The request for guidance included mention of the memorable scene from My Fair Lady (1964) where the heroine Eliza Doolittle must speak into a device with a gas flame that intensifies with the force of her Hs. (Click to view scene.) Of course, the flame barely wavers because she drops all of her initial Hs in the statement: “In Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire hurricanes hardly ever happen.” The device might have eventually helped Eliza Doolittle, but even if it proved to be effective, such a device would never be practical for classrom use.

I suggested using pocket mirror to practice /h/. If a learner holds a mirror in front of his or her mouth, the mirror should fog up on each correctly pronounced initial /h/. By looking downward, the learner should be able to see the mirror respond to the release of breath. You might list pairs of words for students to read and practice in this manner. I’d sugget pairs in which the first word has a silent H and the second one has the /h/ sound. They don’t necessarily have to be minimal pairs: whale – hail, where – hair, what – hut, when – hen, why – high, which – hitch, whoops – hoops, heir – hair, honest – honey, hour – how.

The  /w/ sound.

Over the past year, it seems I’ve been asked more frequently about the pronunciation of /w/. When I’m face-to-face with a learner, it’s easy enough to model the lip movement of this approximant. Often seeing a slow demonstration is enough, but whether a student can see me or not, I sometimes suggest placing one’s fingertips lightly over the mouth to really feel the widening of the lips. However, learners need to remember not to let the lips actually come together, so I’ve been wondering about the effectiveness of a drinking straw. The straw would encourage movement into a tight circle without having the lips touch. Have students pucker up as if they’re ready to sip. They can pretend to take a sip and discover the beverage is very hot. As they release the straw, the mouth naturally open and widen.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Tim Barker says:

    I like the idea of the mirror, should work well However, what about the silent h. This is where students get really confused. e.g. hotel, which should be an hotel not a hotel.

    1. Yes, the fact that H can be pronounced or silent is cause for confusion. I’d call attention to spelling patterns to help them understand when the H is silent. For example, in question words: why, when, where, which, what. Exception: who. If they say, “Which hotel?” with a mirror in front of their mouths, they should see it fog up only on “hotel”.

  2. Casey says:

    Any tips for teaching soft English aitches (/h/) to those who are used to saying strong Slavic or Spanish ones (/x/)? I’m having a tough time getting my Polish students to appreciate the difference.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Let me think of a suggestion or two and share them in my next post. Perhaps other teachers will chime in with their own ideas.
      Help is on the way!
      Thanks for your patience.

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