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Effective Language Learning: Vowels, consonants, and oral posture


The IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) includes a vowel chart, which is very useful for understanding how different vowels are formed.

There is a great video analysing English accents that also serves as an interesting introduction to the vowel chart.


Consonants have three fundamental aspects. Here they are with links to a series that describes them:

Place of articulation

Manner of articulation


Oral posture

Oral posture is one of the more difficult concepts to grasp, but understanding it can provide a huge boost to your pronunciation. 

You can think of oral posture as the natural resting place, or “home base” of the mouth of a native speaker. 

Every sound is produced from this base.


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You can learn from this home base by adjusting the posture of your own mouth when you are speaking. This should help you achieve more accurate pronunciation.

Pronunciation guides rarely talk about oral posture, so the best way to learn it is often by paying careful attention when watching a video of a native speaker. 

The best time to spot this is often by watching the mouth of the speaker when they pause between phrases, or by paying attention to how they sound when they make the equivalent of our word for “ummm”. 

Here is a video of an accent trainer describing French that may help you understand the concept.

Here are some aspects to look out for:


– Lip corners

– Pursing


– Tensing or relaxation

– Location of tensing (can be the whole cheek or isolated parts)


– Bunching up in the back of the mouth

– Flattening

– Arching or cupping

– Bracing (often against upper teeth)


– Height

– Retraction or protrusion

Difficult sound clusters

These are generally learned by practicing them in isolation over and over. 

Consonant-heavy languages can be difficult to pronounce due to the clusters of consonants that can take some time getting used to.


For most learners, it is important to pay focused attention to where and how stress is placed on words. 

English stresses by a raising of pitch and lengthening of the vowel. In other languages, stress can be subtler or expressed differently.

Here are some aspects of stress that may be relevant to your language:

Pitch accent

Vowel reduction

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