Topic 7 -Phonological system of the English language I: The vowels. Phonetic symbols. Strong forms and weak forms. The diphthongs Phonetic symbols. Comparison with the phonological system of the official language or languages ​​of the corresponding Autonomous Community.


1.1. Organs of speech. 4

1.2. Phonetic/Phonology. 4

1.3. Varieties of E (L2): R.P./General American. 4

1.3.1. RP. 4

1.3.2. General American. 5

2. Definition of a vowel. 5

3. Description of the system.. 5

3.1. Diphthongs. 6

3.2. Cipping of long vowels: 6

3.3. Triphthongs. 7

4. General American English system.. 7

4.1. Diphthongs. 8

5. Weakening or Gradation. 8

5.1. Content words. 8

5.2. Structural words. 8

5.2.1. Personal pronouns. 9

5.2.2. Possessive adjectives. 9

5.2.3. Possessive pronouns. 9

5.2.4. Modals. 9

5.2.5. Prepositions. 9

5.3. Any other word. 10

6. SPELLING.. 10

6.1. Factors. 10

6.2. Rules. 10

6.3. Tendencies in spelling. 11

6.3.1. Popular. 11

6.3.2. Cultivated. 11

7. Comparision between Spanish and English system.. 11

8. Main difficulties for Spanish speakers. 12





1.1. Presentation and justification of the chosen option. 15

1.2. Connection with the official curriculum.. 15

1.3. Our school and our students. 15

2. Working plan. 16

2.1. Materials. 16

2.2. Didactic objectives. 16

2.3. Contents. 17

2.3.1. Concepts: 17

2.3.2. Procedures. 17

2.3.3. Attitudes. 17

2.3.4. methodology. 18



3.2. Variations. 20

3.3. FoIlow-up activities. 20

4. Assessment 21

4.1. Informal assessment. 21

4.2. Formal texts. 21


1.1. Organs of speech

1.2. Phonetic/Phonology

Phonetics is the science concerned with the study of sounds, that is, material elements: vibrations, waves,…we distinguish 3 types of Phonetics:

1. Articulatory phonetics: it deals with the organs of speech

2. Acoustic Phonetics: it studies the sound waves.

3. Auditive Phonetics: auditive organs.

Phonology is the science which studies phonemes, that is the abstract ideas behind those sounds. These phonemes are defined in a systematic way (Sausseare was the first one to draw a distinction between abstract units and material ones): they are defined in negative terms: one phoneme is what the others are not.

1.3. Varieties of E (L2): R.P./General American

General American and RP were usually taught to foreigners till the 50s and 60s.

1.3.1. RP

Originally, it’s the accent of the South East of England, but it’s associated to the upper classes (public schools, Tory party…). It’s no longer a diatopic variety but a diastratic one. In fact, it’s used all over Britain and Ireland. It also used to be the only accent accepted by the BBC, but not now.

1.3.2. General American

There’s not an unchallenged variety, a general accepted variety, but there’s consensus that the English of the Central East coast should be taught

Even national media with professionally trained voices have speakers with regionally mixed features. It can be described as a relatively homogeneous dialect that reflects the ongoing development of progressive Gen American dialects.

2. Definition of a vowel.

We are going to define vowels from a phonetic and a phonological point of view.

1. Phonetic point of view: a sound which is produced without audible friction or blockage in the flow of air along the central line of breath from the lungs through the mouth.

2. Phonological point of view: the element constituting the centre or the nucleus of the syllable.

However, there are some elements which share the phonetic characteristics with the vowels but not the phonological ones: the semivowels (/j w/).

On the other hand, the semiconsonants (/l m m r /) can be the nucleus of a syllablein certain circumstances, but their phonetic characteristics are in common with those of the consonants.

3. Description of the system

1. Degree of openness/closeness: height of the tongue

2. Position in front/back axis

3. Quality (short/long)

4. Lip-rounding

5. Quality (monophthongs/diphthongs)

· There are 7 short vowels in RP:

Sit set sat pub pot put another

/ / is in between a half-short and a half-long vowel.

· There are 5 long vowels:

Sheep car born boom burn

3.1. Diphthongs

In English there are 8 diphthongs, and all of them are falling, that is, prominence decreases as we pass from the first element to the other .We can divide them into: closing (8), that is, the movement is towards closing.

Like lake boy now no

· And centring, (3): the movement is towards / /

Near pair poor

In the case of the diphthong / / we must say it’s disappearing:

Poor:/ /→/ /

Sure:/ /→/ /

3.2. Cipping of long vowels:

Even if they are long vowels phonologically speaking, they become short in some phonetic contexts (phonological speaking they are still long)-

1. In unstressed syllables: learned/ standard

2. Pre-fortis clipping: road/wrote

3. When accented and followed by an unaccented syllable in the same word: hard/harder

3.3. Triphthongs

There’s always a centring movement towards /……/. Triphthongs are formed by a closing diphthong and a centring movement.:

Fire player employer

Flower lower.

However, we hardly hear this sequence as there’s an Assimilation process by which the /…./ or /…../ element tends to disappear. This is a phonetic and not a phonological phenomenon.


4. General American English system

1. No /…/

2. no long vowels phonological speaking. They are long or short depending on the context:

R.P. Amer

4.1. Diphthongs

General American is a Rhotic accent so as the /r/ is pronounced, the changes affecting vowels coming take place (there are not centring diphthongs: /ir/, / r/ and /ur/):

Dear RP/ / Amer / /

Dare RP / / Amer / /

5. Weakening or Gradation

It´s a process by which strong forms are weakened

5.1. Content words

If a content word is weakened, it remain so. Gradation takes place in cases where words which exist on their own also form part of compounds, e.g.:

man /m n/ but gentleman / /

board /b d/ but cupboard / /

That is, when these words appear in isolation, they will maintain their strong forms, but when they appear in these compounds, they will keep the weakened one.

5.2. Structural words

Structural words may be realized in their strong form or in their weak forms (they may have some) depending on the context. The strong form is usually used in isolation or because of stress.

Weak form words are characterised by obscuration towards a centralized vowel quality and/or elision of a vowel or a consonant:

And / / / / / /

5.2.1. Personal pronouns.

They may be weakened. Some authors leave “I” out, but it can be weakened aswell:

5.2.2. Possessive adjectives.

In RP all of them, except for “I” will be weakened unless they are emphasized, contrasted…

5.2.3. Possessive pronouns

They are never weakened because they always appear in the sentence because of contrasting reasons, that is, they are stressed.

5.2.4. Modals

They are weakened when they are auxiliaries. However, they are not when they are in the negative form because in that case they are being contrasted. We even see that they are weakened in spelling, when they are contracted: you’ll do it

I can drive I can´t drive

5.2.5. Prepositions

At, to, from, of may appear in their strong or weak form: they take their strong form when they are at the end of a clause or before unaccented personal pronoun: He’s the man I was talking to, He read it to me.

At / / / /

To / / / /

From / / / /

Of / / / /

5.3. Any other word

When you are speaking, any other word which is not stressed can be weakened. English is a stress- time language, so all sort of words may be weakened.


English spelling has a bad reputation, partly because numerous words have more than one spelling, partly because many phonemes can be represented by a whole series of different graphemes.

6.1. Factors

There is a very imperfect degree of correspondence between sound and sign owing to such factors as:

1. .Historical spellings which have been retained,. OE adapted the Latin lphabet and some more symbols. Afeter the Normans they adapted the French system:

vous” /u:/ house /u:→au/

“j’ai” /ai/ pain.

The system has evolved but it keeps the old system:

Sword /s :d/ blood house

In the Reinassence there was a reintroduction of verbs or a introduction of new concepts:

Chaos subtle

They have this form only because of Latin.

2. Borrowings make the system less cohetent

6.2. Rules

There are some rules, but most of the times they are inconsistent:

1. When two vowels do the walking, the first one does the talking:

Pain- road- read .But we also find: read (past form)

2. When we have C+V+C, the vowel is usually pronounced with the name of that vowel.

Same- time- home . However, we can also find live.

6.3. Tendencies in spelling

English spelling seems to be regular and systematic enough to resist any serious attempts at reform. Nevertheless, two important tendencies may be noted:

6.3.1. Popular

Popular spellings (especially in Gen American and the language of advertising) affect numerous words, in particular ones onginally with “gh”:

donut (doughnut)

tonite show

nitelite (nightlight)

drive thru!


Besides these unofficial reforms, a certain regularising trend has been standardised in Gen Am spelling with the levelling of “-our” to “-or(color), “re” to “er(center)

6.3.2. Cultivated

Spelling also exents a certain influence on speech habits so that so-called spelling pronunciations come into existence. Examples:

forehead traditional pronounciation: /f :rid/→new spelling pronounciation /f :(r)hed/

often traditional pronounciation: / fn/→/ ftn/

7. Comparision between Spanish and English system

6.1 Main difTerences

If we examine the full inventories in both languages we can see the following differences:

1. there are12 pure vowels in English and only 5 in Spanish.

2. there are 8 diphthongs in English and 13 in Spanish

3. there are no weak forms in Spanish and no vowel coincides in both languages.

4. the central quality of the second element in diphthongs causes them to be much narrower in English.

5. Spanish vowels convey a greater amount of information. In English there are many minimal pirs differenciated by consonants, whereas in Spanish there are many more differenciated by vowels.

6. Spanish is not stressed time but syllabic.

8. Main difficulties for Spanish speakers

1. /i:/ / /→/i/

2. / / / / / /→/a/

3. / :/→/ar/

4. / :/→/or/

5. /i / /e / /u / →/ie/ /ea/ /ua/

6. / / is pronounced according to spelling: cotton→/*koton/


1. Gimson, A.C. An Introduction lo the Pronunciation of English. Arnold. London, 1985.

2. Baker, A. Tree or Three? CUP. Cambridge, 1985.

3. ___Ship or Sheep? CUP. Carnbnidge, 1985.

4. __Introducing English Pnonunciation. CUP. Cambridge, 1984.

5. Bradford, B. Intonation in Contcxt. CUP. Cambnidge, 1988.

6. Byrne, D. TeachIíng Oral English. Longman. London, 1986.

7. Finch, F., and Ortiz Lira, H. A Course in English Phonetics foRn Spanish Speakers. Heinemann. London, 1982.

8. Kenworthy, J. Teaching English Pnonunciation. Longman. London, 1987.

9. Lewis, J. Windsor. Summer Course in English Phonetics.The University of Murcia. Murcia,1993.

10. Monroy Casas, R. Sistemas de Transcripción Fonética del Inglés. Universidad de Murcia, 1992.

11. Ramsaran, 5. Studies in the Pronunciation of English London, Routledge, 1990.

12. Roach P. English Phonetics and Phonology, Cambridge University Press.

13. Jones, D. Englih Pronouncing Dichíonary, 15th Edition Edited by Peten Roach and James Hantman, C.U.P. 1997

14. Palmen, H.E., and Blandfond, F.G. A Gramman of Spoken English. Heffer. Cambridge, 1969 (3rd edition revised and rewnitten by Kingdon, R.)


1. Definition of fortis and lenis consonants.

Lenis: with weak force of articulation.

Fortis: with strong force of articulation.

2. Tendencies in spelling.

English spelling seems to be regular and systematic enough to resist any serious attempts at reform. Nevertheless, two important tendencies may be noted:

1 Popular spellings (especially in Gen American and the language of advertising) affect numerous words, in particular ones originally with <gh>

donut (doughnut)

nitelite (nightlight)

kwik (quick)

Besides these unofficial reforms, a certain regularising trend has been standardised in Gen Am spelling with the levelling of <-our> to <or> (color), <re> to <er> (center)

2. Spelling also exerts a certain influence on speech habits so that so-called spelling pronunciations come into existence. Examples:



3. Gen American / / versus BBC English / /.

The General American / / vowel is somewhat closer than BBC / I and seems to be evolving into an even closer vowel in many speakers. It is used in the Gen Am words as BBC / / and also in most of the words which in BBC have/ :/ when there is no letter r in the spelling: it also replaces the BBC short / / vowel in many words (hot, top, hother)


The set of activities and procedures contained in this topic-based unit have been adapted from Hutchinson & Sunderland Hotline Elementary. O.U.P 1991.


1.1. Presentation and justification of the chosen option.

We have chosen the first possibility (the specific tasks to be undertakenwith our students) for we think it’s the best way to show how the scientific aspects of the topic discussed can be exploited in the context of a real class with real students.

1.2. Connection with the official curriculum

With regar to unit number 7, the general objectives of area that we expect to exploit are the following:

1. Pupils should be able to consider the way in which the linguistic system works so that it will facilitate the learning of the foreign language and the pupils’ own performance.

2. Pupils should be able to appreciate the knowledge of foreign languages in order both to communicate with people from other cultures and to take part in international relations.

3. Pupils should be able to understand global and specific messages, both oral and written, in the foreign language, related to varied everyday situations, and produced by face-to-face speakers or by the mass media.

4. Pupils should be able to use personal strategies to learn the foreign language, which will be worked out from experience with other languages and from their Iearning process.

1.3. Our school and our students

Our school will be located in a urban environment, in a part of town in which the socioeconomic cut could be defined as low-middle class. Most of our students’ parents do recognize the importance of education and therefore are preoccupied with their children’s academic progress, keeping fairly in touch with the teachers and the school governing staff. This also implies that there are not serious disciplinary problems in this school.

With regard to the nature of our students, we shall work with a group of 3rd year of E.S.O.students. This kind of students can think abstractly, solve logical problems and follow the scientific method. Adolescents with formal operational thought often reason about moral dilemas at postconventional levels. They base their moral judgements on their own personal values and standards, not on social conventions or the persuasion of authorities.

With regard to their level of English, it intermediate, being their motivation the average one, verging on low.

2. Working plan

2.1. Materials

Apart from the usual classroom material, we’ll have to make sure that the following material is available in the period we want to carry out the activities:

· Cassette player.

· Tape with tapescript.

· Dictionaries with a suitable phonetic alphabet.

2.2. Didactic objectives

Uses and forms of oral communication:

1. Considering the meaning of the discourse as the result of the interaction between the sender and the receiver.

2. Global understanding of oral messages coming from different sources by taking out the relevant information in each case according to the peculiarities of the source (verbal and non-verbal codes).

3. Producing oral messages which are cornprehensible to the speaker or speakers. Comprehensible pronunciation and suitable intonation.

Language and language learning awareness. –

4. Phonology: different sounds related to the mother tongue, intonation, etc.

5. Useful communicative strategies in order to maintain fluent and efficient communication.

6. to develop the student’s communicative competence as far as the accurate pronunciaton of English vowel sounds is concerned.

7. Consciously using some of the mechanisms which are involved in learning a foreign language in order to improve the output.

8. Showing curiosity to know how the foreign language works and appreciating how accuracy aids to fluent and efficient communication. Having a positive attitude towards suitable classroom activities.

9. To revise the student’s previous knowledge of the Enghish phonetic vowel alphabet: Its symbols and their corresponding sounds and some systematic notations present in phonetic representation.

10. To reflect upon the differences and similarities between the Enghish and the Spanish vowel sound system

2.3. Contents

2.3.1. Concepts:

Revision of the notions of

· Phonemes

· Phonetic alphabet

· The different phonetic symbols

2.3.2. Procedures

· Class discussion.

· Filling in blanks.

· Identifying sounds.

· Matching sounds to symbols.

· Scanning information from dictionaries and/or textbooks.

· Group work.

2.3.3. Attitudes

1. Interest in being abhe to represent sounds.

2. Interest in stating differences between Spanish and English phonological system.

3. Acceptance of English as a natural language to be used in the classroom.

4. Interest in improving utterances in English by reflecting upon the system. Be willing to modify wrong conclusions, considering error as an integral part of the learning process

2.3.4. methodology

Our topic-based unit is also based upon the following official methodological guidelines:

1. Start from the student’s degree of development.

2. Identify the student’s learning strategies and act consequently.

3. Promote the upbuilding of meaningful learning.

4. Promote the development of mental activity on the student

5. Promote the ability of”learning to learn”.

6. Create an atmosphere of mutual acceptance and co-operation.


The activities proposed below are Intended for a single 50-minute period.


· Activity 1 (30 minutes).

Introduce the activity by asking students what they know about phonetic representation. Ask som of them how familiar they are with phonemes. Call the student’s attention on the cases where a typical spelling an its phonetic representation do not coincide. Read the sounds and the words aloud. Get students to repeat, both individually and in groups. You are likely to dedicate a pretty big amount of time in order to explain and exemplify díflicuit points, such as:

1. The differences between / / and / /

2. The special central articulation of ,/ / and / /

3. The obvious difflculty for Spanish speakers arising from / / and / /

4. The special articulation of the diphthong / /

5. Point out that the differences between long and short vowels is not only a matter of length but also of quality.

Divide the class into pairs and demonstrate the activity with the first three sounds. In the column in the middle, students will write a word with the same sound for each sound. They can check their ideas in the dictionary or in the textbook, but make sure that, when looking words up in the dictionaries the students do not use the phonetic appendix usually contained in them. (that would make things too easy!)

Copy the table onto the board and get students to come out and write the words in the spaces. As they do this, other students will say whether the word has the correct sound and suggest other words.

The students will discuss and correct their own list as neccssary.

· Activity 2 (10 minutes)

Students draw lines to match the sounds to the words.

Copy the list onto the board. Get students to come out and link the sounds and the words on the board. Students finally read the words aloud.

· Activity 3 (10 minutes)

Get students to complete the words. Copy the list onto the board. Students come out and complete the words. Students check their own lists. Students finally read the words aloud.

3.2. Variations

· Activity 2.-

This activity could also be carried out either individually (on their notebooks) or in groups. A kind of team competition could also be arranged with a prize to be given to the quickest team giving the solution for a given word or for the whole set of words, and for for their most accurate pronunciation (troublesome pairs such as / /and / / will be specially considered).

3.3. FoIlow-up activities

Look at this example:

Look at the following list of spellings:

oa oo ie o ow

Now use your dictionary and your textbook. Try to find at least two different sounds for each of these spellings.

4. Assessment

Two different kinds of assessment will take place in order to gauge how well the student did in achieving the aims proposed:

4.1. Informal assessment.

It will cover:

· Linguistic factors:

1. Being able to identify the different vocalic sounds with reasonable accuracy.

2. Being able to reproduce them intelligibly and unambiguously. Total accuracy in the imitation of the sounds is not needed to achieve this, but it is highly desirable. Special attention will be paid to the distinction between the traditionally called short vowels and their long counterparts.

· Non-linguistic ones:

1. Attitude

2. Group Work

3. Organisation of work, independence, etc.

4. The results will not only be assessed but also discussed with the students in order to maximise their learning potential in all aspects of their learníng experience.

4.2. Formal texts

They are to be seen as a complement to informal assessment and an opportunity for students to find out how they are progressing, think about their problems and do something about them.

In the case of our topic-based unit, some discrete-item exercises could be devised in the middle and at the end of the term in order to check how well the students assimilated the most outstanding contents included in the unit. A possible approach would be, for example, to include two different kinds of exercises:

1. The first one having a format identical to Activity 2 in the present topic-based unit.

2. The second one would be a brief dictation of some words containing the sounds studied in the unit. The students are asked to recognise them and write them down.

The minimal pass mark for these exercises should be 50% of the possible score.

Publicado: marzo 13, 2019 por Laura Gonzalez

Etiquetas: tema 7 inglés secundaria