Cheeky Phonemes

Cheeky PhonemesMany teachers find the phonemic chart a little overwhelming, whether they be newly qualified teachers, trainees on a teacher training course such as the CELTA or Delta, or even very experienced teachers.

There can be no better place to start learning about phonemes and the phonemic chart than Adrian Underhill’s excellent book ‘Sound Foundations’, and his accompanying blog and YouTube video.  Other useful resources include the Macmillan Interactive Phonemic Chart and the Cambridge English Online Phonetics Focus website.

It can be daunting, trying to write entire transcriptions of words on the board.  However, it is often much more useful for the student (and easier for the teacher) to simply highlight the troublesome sounds, as you can see I have done in the title of this post.  I like to call this the ‘cheeky phoneme’.

Here are some examples of cheeky phonemes:

File 10-11-2017, 14 40 13

In all the above examples, I have tried to identify the sounds which students are likely to have difficulty with, particularly when spelling can have an influence on pronunciation.  ‘Haphazard’, is up there as a recent student of mine was convinced that the pronunciation was /ˈhæfəzəd/, making an overgeneralisation that the ‘ph’ spelling in English is always pronounced /f/.

You will have noticed that the phonemes are all highlighted in red; it can be useful for teachers to use a consistent colour code in their boardwork.  For more boardwork tips, see an earlier post ‘Tweaking your Boardwork‘.


If you would like some practice with writing cheeky phonemes, get yourself a pen and paper have a go with the words below:  Remember to highlight only those sounds which are likely to cause difficulty for your students.

  1. nausea
  2. mountain
  3. pint
  4. enough
  5. because
  6. prawn

Click here to see examples of possible sounds to highlight.  You may have identified different sounds; this of course can be dependent on your teaching context and it is important to identify the sounds that the learners in your context have difficulty with.

Using phonemic script takes practice, and planning, but working with a few key sounds and getting a few cheeky phonemes up on the board can be a good starting point.

For more on pronunciation, see an earlier post, ‘M/F/P – Meaning, Form and ?

Feedback and comments welcome below, as always.

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4 Responses to Cheeky Phonemes

  1. Emi says:

    Hi Jonny
    Great stuff. Really useful for teachers just starting out with the phonemic chart. I find that even if students don’t know the chart themselves having those “cheeky phonemes” as you call them really helps them. You often see their faces lighting up – just to realise at last that someone has visually identified the problems they are having. I think this is important for new teachers to realise this otherwise they often dismiss the chart ( as do the students) as being just another complicated thing to learn. I also find it really helps to physicalise the sounds – starting perhaps with Adrian Underhills’ idiot sound – the schwa. The students usually love it too.
    Have fun

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Cheeky Phonemes | aperi mentis

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