Competency Puzzle “Listen & Speak with Understanding” Pieces E-03.01 to E-03.12: Talk About People: Initial, Medial, Final Consonant Sounds & Clusters; Pausing Vs. Sound Linking
Once English-language learners have acquired the features of Vowel Sounds & Spellings, Syllables, Stress Patterns, Rhythm, & Intonation, all that’s left to achieve in the fluent-speech-polishing process is Consonants—plus a few refinements like Sound Linking & Pausing after Thought Groups.
A previous blog post suggests how language teachers / students might learn to recognize, analyze, and articulate Consonants at individual levels of language ability. To (re)view these concepts, click on “Care About Consonants: How to Teach (Yourself) How to Pronounce 24 American-English Consonant Sounds.”
The just mentioned article bases its recommendations on a number of principles of linguistic analysis & pedagogy. It answers several questions:
How Many Consonants Are There? How Are They Produced? There are 24 distinct Consonant Sounds in English, pronounced when restricting the flow of air by (almost) touching parts of the mouth. “Pronunciation techniques” for Consonants differ from one another in  where they’re said in the mouth (in the front, middle, or back),  how the lips are shaped (open or closed, rounded or flat), and  which mouth parts (the lips, teeth, tooth ridge, hard or soft palate, tongue) touch or almost touch.
Which Consonant Sounds “Occur in Pairs?” How Are These Alike & Different? There are 8 Pairs of Sounds / b—p, d—t, g—k, v—f, th ( T )—th ( D ), z—s, zh-- ( Z )—sh ( S ), j ( dZ )—ch ( tS ), that are pronounced almost the same as each other, the main difference being that one is voiced (said with vibration of the vocal cords) and the other is voiceless (formed without resonance). The last two—/ dZ tS /—are “doubled sounds.” Four appear as “digraphs” because their spellings have two letters: th, sh, ch.
What Is There to Know About the Other Eight Consonant Sounds? Except for / h /, the other English consonant sounds / m—n—ng ( N ), r—l, w—y / are all voiced. The first three are known as nasals; the next two, liquids that may serve as syllables. When the letter w or y ends a syllable, it functions not as a consonant but as (part of ) the vowel sound.
Where Can the Consonant Sounds Appear in Words / Syllables? Except for / ng = N /, every single or combined consonant sound ( ch j = / tS dZ / ) of American English can start words or syllables. All 24 may appear medially (in the middle). Most can end words. The letter / h / is “silent” in final position.
What Are Consonant “Clusters” or “Blends?” Where Can They Occur? Words or syllables can begin with sequences of two or three consonant sounds. These are called “clusters” or “blends.” (Un)Common examples are / br gl hy kw sf sk, spr, thr /—spelled with letter combos like br, gl, hu, qu, sph, sch, thr. In medial positions, consonants sometimes combine with vowels to represent sounds, as in -shi– or -ti- = / S /; -gi– or -du- = / dZ /; –tu– or -te- = / tS /. (In)Frequent final clusters include –mp, -rt, -lpt, -nk, -lth, -ks, rch, and many more combos of sounds or letters. In “clusters” or “blends,” there are no vowel sounds between any of the consonants.
What Other Features of Consonant Sounds / Spellings Can Be Analyzed or Compared? In addition to being “voiced” or “voiceless,” consonants can be regarded as “stops” ( / b p d t g k / )—for which the air is blocked and then released—as opposed to “continuants” or “sibilants” ( / v f s z th ( D ) th ( T ) zh ( Z ) sh ( S ) / ), which are articulated with friction.
Consonant clusters may be pronounced differently from single sounds. All consonants can be examined according to where they occur in words—and/or whether or not they can be “linked” to other sounds or “reduced” in pronunciation. A few consonant letters may be “silent” (i.e., not pronounced) in certain combinations. Finally, speakers ought to consider how final consonants, if any, affect the “shortening” or “lengthening” of preceding vowels.
How might “Consonant Sounds & Spellings” be (traditionally) taught / learned in (elementary) English or adult language courses? Here are a few of the kinds of Graphic Organizers that come up when the topic is researched. Typically, these arrange consonant sounds in Charts that indicate where & how they’re articulated. They correlate (Dictionary Respelling or International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols with alphabet letters that can represent sounds in initial, medial, and final word positions. There might also be spelling rules that (usually) apply.
Even so, as in all Oral-Language Skills instruction, learners probably build ability better when they participate—especially in experiential lessons, activities, and games that require and elicit both good listening & effective speaking.
Here, then, is a blog post that connects instruction in the uses of Consonants to the Context (Subject Matter) of Talk About People. Downloads of free sample material are comprehensive. The article ends with links to complete texts, card / board games, and puzzle collections containing Parts & Pieces built around Consonant Sounds & Spellings plus Features of Fluent Speech.
Competency Puzzle “Listen & Speak with Understanding” Pieces E-03.01 to E-03.12: Talk About People: Initial, Medial, Final Consonant Sounds & Clusters; Sound Linking Vs. Pausing
This E-03 article is the fifth installment of “How to Put Together Puzzle Parts & Pieces That Make Language Work: E. “Listen & Speak with Understanding.” To catch up, you might want to click on
So what are the main aims of the E-03.01 to E-03.12 = blog post on Consonants & Other Features of Fluent Relaxed Speech? It’s to attach instruction in the uses of Consonants & Features of Fluent Speech to Competencies within Talk About People: Name & Classify People, Tell About Their Activities, Make Social Talk.
Use Words Beginning With All Consonant Sounds & Typical Clusters to Name, Label, & Classify Individuals & Groups of People
E-03.01: Part Three-7 of Beginners’ Before Speaking with Pronunciation Principles (BegBeSp wPrPr): Identify (Name & Classify) People with Initial Consonant Sounds & Clusters provides extensive coverage of Consonant Sounds & Spellings—at the start of words that become useful in labeling & defining people:
In a diagram called Mouth Parts Used to Pronounce 23 Consonant Sounds of American English, all consonants except with Key Words—for text users to recognize, articulate, and compare. For challenge or pre-assessing ability, students working together can practice differentiating items.
Pedagogy on the “Pronunciation & Spelling of 8 Pairs of Initial Voiced Vs. Voiceless Consonants” displays visuals showing how to pronounce sounds that occur in dyads. Illustrated Vocabulary for People’s Names & Classifications has text users fill in initial alphabetic letters corresponding to 16 (columns of) consonant sounds—before reading aloud labels for the pictures.
There’s a Challenge section contrasting “Stops” with “Continuants.” After the “Pronunciation & Spelling of Other Initial Consonant Sounds” comes practice targeting these. Conversations are next—about movie characters and government officials that participants are not likely to recognize without talking about them. Names & titles of 42 other real humans, fictional figures, & groups follow, with phrasing cues to use in “defining” who they are.
A concluding section offers pedagogy & practice in 28 typical “Initial Consonant Clusters. And because the many items that text users have completed and attempted to pronounce in context are so varied, a seven page black-and-white Answer Key has been attached to the Download.
Use Words Containing All Consonant Sounds & Common Clusters in Medial & Final Word Positions— to Tell What People Do in Their Lives
E-03.04: Part Three-8 of Beginners’ Before Speaking with Pronunciation Principles (BegBeSp wPrPr): Tell People’s Activities with Noun Subjects & Activity Verbs Containing (All or Many) Medial & Final Consonants fulfills the same functions as E-03.01 (does with Initial Consonants)—except that its pronunciation focus is 24 sounds that occur in the middle or at the end of words. The “Oral-Skills Competency” it fulfills is “Identifying People According to What They Do.”
In a diagram of Mouth Parts in Positions Used to Pronounce the 24 Consonant Sounds, all consonants appear in IPA (Dictionary) Symbols
Key Words contain examples of these sounds in in the middle and/or at the end of words. Text users might try figuring out how these differ from the same sounds in Initial Position.
Pedagogy on the “Pronunciation & Spelling of 8 Pairs of Initial Voiced Vs. Voiceless Consonants” explains how vowels sound shorter before voiceless consonants and longer before voiced ones. There are again visuals showing how to pronounce sounds. Illustrated Vocabulary for “Noun Subjects & Activity Verbs” has text users fill in medial & final alphabetic letters to make sentences explaining what illustrated figures do for a living or in their lives.
After the “Pronunciation & Spelling of Other Initial Consonant Sounds” come more captions to complete—plus Challenge with (tongue-twisting) phrases & sentences spotlighting the 24 sounds. Annotated Conversations about the job duties of machinists vs. mechanics and bookkeepers vs. bookmakers / bookworms / bookies are next. Then with phrasing cues designed to elicit or prove lingual agility, speakers contrast the 24 sounds in 10 groupings.
Pedagogy & Practice in Medial & Final Consonant Clusters comes last. Because grammatical suffixes increase the number of sounds to be uttered at the ends of words, there are explanations / exercises with Medial & Final Consonant Clusters in Words With Added –s & -d Endings. Challenge Activities suggest that speakers construct their own conversations. The Download ends with eight attached black-and-white Answer Key pages.
Have Fluent, Effective Social Conversation by Linking Consonant and/or Vowel) Sounds and/or Pausing Between Thought Groups
E-03.08: Part Three-9 of Beginners’ Before Speaking with Pronunciation Principles (BegBeSp wPrPr): Have Effective Social Conversation with Pausing Vs. Sound Linking wraps up the systematic “study of pronunciation features” of American-English. As soon as speakers can clearly articulate (vowel & consonant) sounds, they may want to create an impression of “fluency” by pausing strategically between “Intonation Units” with emphasized Focal Points. They might also connect sounds within words, phrases, and short sentences.
With an amusing anecdote about the value of Social Conversation, notice how pausing can be inserted into fluent speech to make a narrative easier to comprehend. Markings also illustrate how sounds might be linked: A couple_is walking down_a dark_alley / when_a man jumps_out_of the bushes / waving_a gun.
Get details about Pausing vs. Sound-Linking in Challenge Activities. Get cued practice in Vocabulary Sections, which incorporate these features into sample “Elements of Effective Social Conversation.” Repeat and build on typical “Greetings,” “Expressions of Interest,” “Open-Ended Questions,” “Thoughtful Responses,” “(Requests for) Clarification,” “Acknowledgements,” “Restatements,” “Conversational Linkages,” “Graceful Endings,” and other Notions & Functions commonly used to facilitate friendly oral exchanges.
Make good use of IPA Sound-Symbols, Intonation Lines, and Markings for suggested Pausing vs. Linking in patterned Conversations. Demonstrate how your pronunciation or accents have improved by (again) having versions of “Getting-Acquainted Conversations.” Ask and answer questions about Names, Personal Info, Living Situations, Family / Social Life, Work, Education, Interests, Values, the Future. (At the end of your work on Oral Language Skills,) Get to Know People (again). If it helps or enhances your study, consult attached pages from a corresponding Answer Key.
Which kinds of materials might merge the study of Consonant Sounds & Spellings plus Features of Fluent Speech with “Talk About People?” The previous three excerpts to download—E-03.01, E-03.04, E-03.08—are from the first of the four texts (BegBeSp wPrPr) listed below. In the other three books, Consonants + Fluency are covered—at somewhat “higher levels” of challenge—in E-03.02, E-03.03; E-03.05, E-03.06, E-03.07; E-03.09, E-03.10, E-03.11. In many cases, the relevant sections are labeled Part Three-7, 8, 9.
Beginners’ Before Speaking with Pronunciation Principles (BegBeSp wPrPr): An Oral-Language-Skills Package;
Pronunciation Practice (Before Speaking): High-Beginning to Intermediate Instruction & Activities in Vowel & Consonant Sounds;
Accent Activities: Pronunciation Supplement to Speaking:Oral Language Skills for Real-Life Communication
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