The Phonetics Lab

Welcome to our Color-Coded Lessons on the Pronunciation of English!

Whether you've been speaking English for a long time or are new to the language, our method will help you add the sounds of English to your linguistic skills.

Introduction to the Color-Coded System

Start here! Jack explains the difficulties that learners face when trying to produce the sounds of English. The explanation is designed to make learners aware of the biological conditions that cause learners to both mishear sounds and incorrectly produce them. He also explains the basics of our color-coded system.

Introduction to the Five Front Vowels

Jack explains the five front vowels and how they relate to five zones within the mouth. By understanding tongue placement, learners will have a better idea of where the tongue needs to be in order to produce a certain vowel. In General American English, the five front vowels are /i/ (green), /ɪ/ (tin), /eɪ/ (grape), /ɛ/ (yellow), and /æ/ (lavendar), and they are called the front vowels because they are produced with the tongue pushed forward in the mouth. Please watch this video before watching any of the other front vowel videos.

Introductory Lesson: / i / - / ɪ / Green - Tin

In the world's languages, the /ɪ/ sound of "tin" is less common than the /i/ sound of "green". For this reason, most English learners produce the exact same vowel sound for words like "is" and "ease", while these two sounds are completely different for native speakers. In this video, Jack shows you how to produce the two by focusing on the throat muscles and tongue placement. After watching the video, you can practice with the exercise video.

Exercise Video: / i / - / ɪ / Green - Tin

Before attempting the exercises in this video, please watch the introductory video for /i/- /ɪ/. As Jack states in that video, it is important that you work through the green exercise even if you believe you know how to produce the sound correctly. By concentrating on your tongue and visualizing where it is placed to produce the /i/ - green vowel, you will then know where it shouldn't be for the /ɪ/-tin sound. Remember, /i/ is produced in Zone 1, the highest point the tongue can be to produce a front vowel, and /ɪ/ is produced in Zone 2, which is slightly lower and farther back in the mouth than Zone 1.

Introductory Lesson: / eɪ / - /ɛ/ Grape - Yellow

Although the /e/ sound is extremely common in the world's languages, the sound we produce in English is slightly different and longer than in other languages. This is because, unlike the monophthongal /e/ produced in languages like Spanish and Italian, English /eɪ/ is a diphthong, meaning it is composed of two sounds. In this video, Jack explains how to produce the combined sounds by shifting the tongue from Zone 3 to Zone 2. For this reason, we advise students to first watch the /i/-/ɪ/ green-tin video and work through the exercises.

Jack then demonstrates how to lower the tongue from Zone 3 to Zone 4 to produce the "lax" sound /ɛ/, which is what we we hear in first syllable of "yellow".  Again, the /ɛ/ sound is not as common in the world's languages as /e/, and this leads many students to produce the /e/ instead of /ɛ/, saying things like "bayed" instead of "bed". After watching the video, you can practice with the exercise video.

Exercise Video: / eɪ / - /ɛ/ Grape - Yellow

Before attempting the exercises in this video, please watch the introductory video for /eɪ/ - /ɛ/. As Jack states in that video, it is important that you work through the grape exercise even if you believe you know how to produce the sound correctly. By concentrating on your tongue and visualizing where it is placed to produce the /eɪ/ - grape vowel, you will then know where it shouldn't be for the /ɛ/-yellow sound. Remember, /eɪ/ is a diphthong that begins with the tongue in Zone 3 but shifts up to Zone 2, while /ɛ/ is a lax vowel that remains in Zone 4.

Introductory Lesson: /ɛ/ - /æ/ Yellow - Lavendar

To benefit from this lesson, students should first watch the introductory /eɪ/ - /ɛ/ Grape - Yellow video in which Jack demonstrates the production the /ɛ/ sound.  Students who natively speak a Slavic language should pay particular attention to tongue placement, as such learners tend to produce both /ɛ/ and /æ/ exactly alike. Native speakers of the Chinese language group, however, usually need to greatly lower their tongues for /æ/, as they tend to produce it far too hight in the mouth.

Exercise Video: /ɛ/ - /æ/ Yellow - Lavendar

Before attempting the exercises in this video, please watch the introductory video for /ɛ/ - /æ/. As Jack states in that video, some students may already be able to produce the /æ/ sound of Zone 5 correctly but cannot find the /ɛ/ sound of Zone 4. These students may want to begin the exercises with the /æ/ lavendar exercise and then rewind to the /ɛ/ yellow exercise.

Introductory Lesson: /θ/ - /ð/ (th) Thin - This

To benefit from this lesson, students should first watch the introductory video to the Color-Coded System. As Jack states in this video, these two sounds are rare in the world's languages, and so learners will usually replace them with sounds from their own language. To overcome this tendency, learners must be sure to place their tongue between the teeth.

Exercise Video: /θ/ - /ð/ (th) Thin - This

To benefit from this lesson, students should first watch the introductory videos for the Color-Coded System and /θ/ - /ð/ (to the left). As Jack states in that video, these two sounds are rare in the world's languages, and so learners will usually replace them with sounds from their own language. To overcome this tendency, learners must be sure to place their tongue between the teeth.

Introductory Lesson: /s/ - /z/ Sue - Zoo

To benefit from this lesson, students should first watch the introductory video to the Color-Coded System. As Jack states in this video, while /s/ is common to the world's languages, /z/ is less common, and so learners will usually replace it with an /s/. To overcome this tendency, learners must be sure to vibrate their vocal cords!

Exercise Video: /s/ - /z/ Sue - Zoo

To benefit from this lesson, students should first watch the introductory videos to the Color-Coded System and /s/ - /z/ (to the left). As Jack states in that video, while /s/ is common to the world's languages, /z/ is less common, and so learners will usually replace it with an /s/. To overcome this tendency, learners must be sure to vibrate their vocal cords!