Friday, 30 May 2014

Local author makes g... tolerable

Guest blogger today is me – the first draft of a local mailshot; comments welcome.

‘How do I pronounce that?’ asks a learner of English meeting a new word. Let’s say the word is staunch; is that like the ‘-au- in caution or the one in mauve? Or in pilau, because, beauty, restaurant, aunt, or gauge?

The more advanced learner finds the going easier than the beginner. The wider a student’s vocabulary is, the fewer the exceptions they will meet. Besides, it is the more commonly used words that tend to preserve exceptions in the ‘life’ of a word. So those exceptional words may well form the basic vocabulary that a student learns by heart in the early stages of their exposure to English (the ones that the Macmillan English Dictionary calls ‘red words’, the most frequently-occurring 7,500 words in English). On the other hand, words with the sound of staunch’s ‘-au-’ are three times more numerous than words with the other seven possibilities put together.

English spelling is a puzzle, and pairs of vowels can cause special trouble for learners. Possible pronunciations for single vowels tend to be in the mid-single figures: patter, pastry, path, parent, paltry, and the unstressed vowel in pacific. Whereas pairs of vowels can produce a bewildering range of possibilities, averaging more than 12 for each pair. (In fact, if you exclude identical pairs such as ‘AA’, the average is just under 15.)

This unique dictionary shows how vowels map to sounds When Vowels Get Together.

Local writer Bob Knowles (@BobK99) studied languages and linguistics at the University of Cambridge, and after a number of editorial positions began a 20-year career as a Technical Writer.

In 2004/5 he studied for a PGCE, and afterwards a CELTA (an English Language Teaching certificate). Since then he has been a self-employed teacher and creator of teaching materials, and a contributor to the TESconnect Resource bank. Since late November 2006 he has moderated the UsingEnglish forums at

In 2012 he was nominated for the Macmillan Education Award for Innovative Writing in the 2012 ELTons, with a 'Dictionary of Vowels and Their Sounds'. 'When Vowels Get Together' takes that as a starting point.

PS – Obviously it needs a headline

Update 2014.06.01.17:40 – And this is going on the back of the sheet:

A guess becomes educated ...It will be invaluable to non-native teachers of EFL/ESOL as well as their learners…. I wish that this resource had been available before I retired from life as a teacher trainer. I would have recommended it without hesitation.'

 ‘Worth buying if for the introduction alone'.

 ‘Complete and accurate. A very useful book.'

 ‘I will be able to be more comprehensive in answering questions on the topic here. I liked the thoroughness of this guide.’
‘From my personal teaching experience, I can only confirm the practical value of this book.'

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs ov vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: over 41,800 views  and over 5,800 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with nearly 2,150 views and nearly 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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