Color Vowel® Chart

What is the Color Vowel Approach?

The Color Vowel Approach is a language teaching method that harnesses visual, kinesthetic, logical, and musical learning strategies.

Featuring the Color Vowel Chart as a compelling visual organizer for spoken English, this unique research-based approach helps teachers and learners bridge the gap between spoken and written English. Our exclusive workshops provide educators with the crucial awareness and skills they need in order to be truly effective English language teachers.

What is the Color Vowel Chart?

The Color Vowel® Chart is a visual organizer for the prosody that characterizes spoken English. Each color represents a vowel sound.

For example, GREEN is the high front vowel /iy/, as found in the words “tree” and “teacher”. Similarly, BLUE represents the high back vowel /uw/, as found in the words “clue” and “student.” In this way, each color word serves both as a key word and a visual cue for a specific stressed vowel sound. Explore our audio-interactive Color Vowel™ Chart to hear each sound.

What Teachers Say About Us

“We saw that teachers love using the Color Vowel Chart, so Intercambio now includes it in all curriculum we produce. For many English learners here, the CVC has led to life-changing breakthroughs around pronunciation! ”
Lee Shainis, Founder • Intercambio Uniting Communities • Boulder (CO)
“The Color Vowel System is such a fundamentally innovative and effective methodology that we built our company, Blue Canoe Learning, on it. We digitize it, scale it with speech recognition and machine learning, and create games and activities using it. Now anyone with a smart phone can play the Blue Canoe app and leverage the Color Vowel System to improve their English pronunciation and ability to communicate effectively. We are making such a wonderful impact on people’s lives, and ELTS and Color Vowel are an integral part of why we are successful!”
Sarah Daniels, CEO of Blue Canoe
“I can't thank you enough for an amazing experience [at Color Vowel Basics] this weekend. The Color Vowel Approach provides the strategy and structure I was looking for on behalf of my students. I can't wait to begin sharing it with them [next week]. The work you have done is truly remarkable. It's true that simplicity lies at the far side of complexity.
Amy Reavey, Literacy Volunteer (NJ)
“I love using the Color Vowel Chart because it works! Student feedback on the system is so positive. I have students who tell me how helpful it has been not only for pronunciation, but also for spelling, specifically for students for whom the Roman alphabet is new. English spelling and pronunciation is challenging, and I am so thankful to have this resource!”
Vanessa S. ESL Teacher, WA
“When I learned about it, I sensed that The Color Vowel Chart would be a great autonomous learning tool for students of English pronunciation, but I didn't realize that so many English teachers in Central America would agree with me. When I presented it at local TESOL Conferences, everyone pulled out their phones to take pictures of the chart and the activities we were doing in groups. There was even applause on one occasion when I told them that there are free activities they can download from the website.”
Rebecca Wilner, ESL Specialist, Washington DC
“The Color Vowel Chart allows my actor, broadcaster and executive clients to instantly see the color of the sound they are mispronouncing or mixing. The visual cuing speeds up the recognition time of the sounds! I think the Color Vowel Chart is the most brilliant thing I have ever seen. It has really changed the way we work at the Speech and Accent Academy!”
Lisa Jeffries, Executive Speech Coach (FL)
“I've used the Color Vowel Chart extensively, from tutoring individuals privately to teaching classes of International Teaching Assistants. This chart gets around the difficulty students have in hearing non-native vowel sounds (what good is it to distinguish, say, "bed" from "bead" when, to a student, both vowels sound the same?). The Color Vowel Chart lets students see the sounds instead. So even though students might not be able to hear the difference between "bed" and "bead", they can certainly recognize the difference between the colors RED and GREEN. Using this language of colors allows me to convey sounds to students without their having to hear them. Students learn to produce the sounds of the colors before their ears actually recognize the differences in vowel sounds. In this way, the Color Vowel Chart scaffolds the process of acquiring non-native phonological features.”
Charles Duquette, Maryland English Institute
“Who doesn’t love card games? My middle school students find Color it out! extremely engaging and I find it a powerful tool to introduce and review complicated sounds and spellings in English. In fact, I used Color it out! to introduce my students to the Color Vowel Chart before ever "teaching" them about it. I found it a very natural point of entry for the Chart. Since then, we have been exploring additional ways to use the Color it out! cards, such as Dominoes and Go Fish. A fantastic, fun, and very powerful resource!”
Michael Connors, E.L. Haynes Middle School, Washington DC
“One of my favorite things about the [Color Vowel] Chart is the way that it visually brings attention to the differences among the English vowels--differences that students may not be able to hear. I also like how the Chart has allowed me to incorporate pronunciation into other aspects of my classes. While students are working together on any task, if I hear a major pronunciation problem I can say, "change your vowel from 'blue' to 'mustard' for that word," and the student is usually able to improve her pronunciation.”
Jody Gabler, ESL Teacher (NY)
“This training was phenomenal. I learned an innovative but easy way to teach students about the many different sounds that vowels can make. The Color Vowel Chart is easy to learn and uses the different modalities of learning to reach every type of learner.”
K-12 ESL Teacher, Pueblo City Schools (CO)

What makes the Color Vowel Chart special?

Instead of using phonetic symbols to represent vowel sounds, we refer to the ‘color’ of the stressed vowel sound in a word or phrase.

Every vowel sound is clearly and simply represented by a color key word phrase (GREEN TEA /iy/, BLUE MOON /uw/) which is easy to remember and is intuitive for all age groups and levels.

Combined with the Color Vowel Approach and our Color Vowel Games, the Color Vowel Chart serves as a visual anchor for a learning experience that increases phonological awareness for teacher and learner alike. With phonological awareness, learners can take the individual words they have learned and transform them into the expressive working vocabulary they need for life long learning and success.

Who uses the Color Vowel Chart?

Originally created in 1999 by Karen Taylor at the University of Maryland College Park and subsequently co-developed with Shirley Thompson at George Washington University, the Color Vowel™ Chart is now used by ESL teachers, speech therapists, pronunciation/accent trainers, reading specialists and other language-based professionals across the US and around the world.

The U.S. Department of State’s Office of English Language Programs distributes the Color Vowel® Chart to English teachers outside the U.S. through Regional English Language Officers. In addition, U.S. Peace Corps TEFL Volunteers are trained with the Color Vowel Chart. The Color Vowel™ Chart is used in hundreds of TESOL, ESL and literacy programs across the United States, including:

 

K-12 Schools use the Color Vowel Chart

  • Aurora Public Schools (CO)
  • Bloomington Public Schools (MN)
  • Boise School District (ID)
  • Campbell County Public Schools (VA)
  • Cape Girardeau School District (MO)
  • Christina School District (DE)
  • Clark County School District (NV)
  • Colonial School District (DE)
  • Des Moines Public Schools (IA)
  • District of Columbia Public Schools (DC)
  • E.L. Haynes Public Charter School (DC)
  • Fairfax County Public Schools (VA)
  • Inspirenola Charter Schools (LA)
  • La Mariposa Montessori School (NM)
  • Lyon County School District (NV)
  • Marana Unified School District (AZ)
  • Mason Crest Elementary School (VA)
  • Mead School District (WA)
  • Milwaukee Public Schools (WI)
  • Montessori de la Condesa (DF, Mexico)
  • Norwalk Public Schools (CT)
  • School District of Oconee County (SC)
  • Opelika City Schools (AL)
  • Oxford Hills School District (ME)
  • Prince George’s County Public Schools (MD)
  • Portland Public Schools (OR)
  • Prescott Valley School District (AZ)
  • Pueblo City Public Schools (CO)
  • Roanoke County Public Schools (VA)
  • Seattle Public Schools (WA)
  • Springfield Pubic Schools (IL)
  • St. Louis Public Schools (MO)
  • State College Area School District (PA)
  • Tacoma Public Schools (WA)
  • Topeka Public Schools (KS)
  • Washington County Public Schools (MD)
  • West Fargo Public Schools (ND)
  • Worcester County Public Schools (MD)
  • Yuma School District (CO)

Adult ESL Programs use the Color Vowel Chart

  • Aims Community College (CO)
  • All Souls Unitarian Church ESL Program (DC)
  • Anne Arundel Community College (MD)
  • Apollo Community College (OH)
  • Arlington Education & Employment Program (VA)
  • Berkeley Unified School District Adult Education (CA)
  • Carlos Rosario Adult School (DC)
  • Central New Mexico Community College (NM)
  • Chemeketa Community College (OR)
  • Columbia Gorge Community College (OR)
  • The Durango Adult Education Center (CO)
  • Edmonds Community College (WA)
  • Emily Griffith Technical College (CO)
  • Estrella Mountain Community College (AZ)
  • Fairfax County Public Schools Adult Education (VA)
  • Front Range Community College (CO)
  • Garden City Community College (KS)
  • Hartford School District (VT)
  • Howard Community College (MD)
  • Intercambio Uniting Communities (CO)
  • LaGuardia Community College Center for Immigrant Education & Training (NY)
  • Lancaster Bible College (PA)
  • Lea County Correctional Facility (NM)
  • Literacy Center of West Michigan (MI)
  • Literacy Volunteers of Santa Fe (NM)
  • Maryland Correctional Education (MD)
  • Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy (MD)
  • Montgomery College ESL Program (MD)
  • Montgomery College Refugee Training Center (MD)
  • Murray State University ESL Program (KY)
  • Northeast Alabama Community  College Adult Education (AL)
  • North Georgia Immigrant Justice (GA)
  • Northern Virginia Community College (VA)
  • Oakton Community College (IL)
  • Pinellas County Schools (FL)
  • Port Angeles School District (WA)
  • Portland Community College (OR)
  • Prince George’s Community College (MD)
  • Rockville Senior Center (MD)
  • Sampson Community College (NC)
  • Santa Fe Community College (NM)
  • Seattle Central College (WA)
  • South Central Kansas Education Center (KS)
  • Tallahassee Community College (FL)
  • Washington English Center (DC)
  • Washington Literacy Center (DC)
  • Wichita Learning Connection (KS)
  • Wisconsin Literacy Council (WI)
  • Worcester County Public Schools Adult Education (MD)

 

Universities use the Color Vowel Chart

  • American University TESOL Program (DC)
  • Bowling Green State University (OH)
  • Bringham Young University Hawaii (HI)
  • University of California Los Angeles (CA)
  • University of California Merced (CA)
  • California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (CA)
  • Central Michigan University (MI)
  • Clark College (WA)
  • University of Colorado Denver (CO)
  • Colorado Mountain College (CO)
  • University of Connecticut (CT)
  • Cornell University (NY)
  • University of Dayton (OH)
  • Defense Language Institute (TX)
  • University of Delaware (DE)
  • University of the District of Columbia (DC)
  • Eastern Michigan University (MI)
  • Ferris State University (MI)
  • George Mason University (VA)
  • Georgetown University (DC)
  • Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics (TX)
  • Kansas State University (KS)
  • Kennesaw State University (GA)
  • Maryland English Institute, University of Maryland (MD)
  • Michigan State University (MI)
  • Missouri State University (MO)
  • University of Missouri, Columbia (MO)
  • Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (CA)
  • The New America College (CO)
  • New Mexico State University (NM)
  • New York University (NY)
  • Ohio State University (OH)
  • Oklahoma State University (OK)
  • University of Oklahoma (OK)
  • Oregon State University (OR)
  • Oregon University (OR)
  • Panama Bilingüe at American University (DC)
  • Perdue University (IN)
  • University of Oklahoma (OK)
  • University of Oregon (OR)
  • Samford University, ELL Institute (AL)
  • Santa Fe University of Art & Design (NM)
  • Savannah College of Art & Design (GA)
  • Soka University of America (CA)
  • State University of New York, New Paltz (NY)
  • University of South Carolina (SC)
  • University of Southern Florida (FL)
  • Texas A&M University (TX)
  • Univ. of Texas-Pan American English Language Institute (TX)
  • Tokyo International University of America (OR)
  • Vanderbilt University (TN)
  • University of Victoria (Canada)
  • Washington & Lee University (VA)
  • Western Michigan University (MI)
  • College of Western Idaho (ID)
  • University of Wisconsin Madison (WI)
  • Xavier University (OH)
  • Yale University (CT)

Language Schools use the Color Vowel Chart

  • Bigler ESL (GA)
  • California College of Communications (CA)
  • Confident Voice (FL)
  • English Now! (DC)
  • English Speaking Success (CA)
  • Evergreen Academy (VA)
  • Kaplan International (DC)
  • Lado Institute (DC)
  • Land of Enchantment Learning (NM)
  • Language Matters (NM)
  • The Whittaker Group (MA)

Workshops and Webinars

ELTS provides illuminating workshops and webinars for teachers of English as a Second Language, ESOL paraprofessionals, bilingual education teachers, reading specialists, pronunciation coaches, Speech Language Pathologists– in short, any educator who seeks to teach English Learners more effectively.

Learn More

How Does Color Vowel™ Work?

The Color Vowel™ Chart represents the vowel sounds of North American English. Each color in the Color Vowel™ Chart represents a single vowel sound.

Each sound has a color name (such as GREEN) and a key word (such as TEA). The corresponding vowel sound is featured in both words.

While the Color Vowel™ Chart appears simply to depict individual vowel sounds, it does much more than that.

The Chart enables us to identify each English word or phrase based on the pronunciation of its primary stressed syllable, and this– knowing where the stress is and what vowel sound lies at the heart of that stressed syllables– is perhaps the biggest single predictor for speaking comprehensibly, listening effectively, and reading fluently in English.

Here, it is important to focus on a fundamental rule of spoken English: each word has exactly one primary stressed syllable, and at the nucleus of that syllable is a vowel sound. Using the Color Vowel™ Chart to assign a color to that vowel sound, we can say that each word has exactly one color.

  • One-syllable words contain one vowel sound (even if a word contains more than one vowel letter). For example:soup is BLUE, bread is RED, and knife is WHITE.
  • In multi-syllable words, only one syllable receives primary stress. Stress makes the syllable higher, louder, and longer than the other syllables. For example:electric is RED and electricity is SILVER, while south is BROWN and southern is MUSTARD.
  • In phrases, one word will receive the focus stress. For example:See you later is GRAY, Let’s have lunch is MUSTARD, and Nice to meet you is GREEN.

The Color Vowel™ Chart provides teachers and learners with an accessible shorthand for talking about spoken English.  Instead of having to write a phonetic symbol, teachers and students can simply refer to the “color” of the vowel sound in question.

Here’s an example taken from the classroom:

Student: How do you say this word? [pointing to the word “frighten” in a text]

Teacher: “Frighten” [saying the word, using an open hand to signal stress on the first syllable]. So, what color is “frighten”?

Student: [who has already been introduced to the Color Vowel Chart] Um,… white. So… “frighten.”

Teacher: That’s right. “Frighten.”

Student: Frighten, white, white, frighten… [returns to the learning activity]

Because the key words are all related (that is, they are all color words), the student and the teacher have an easy-to-remember reference word for each vowel sound—much easier than memorizing unrelated words or memorizing phonetic symbols.

What Our Clients Say About Us

““I love using the Color Vowel Chart because it works! Student feedback on the system is so positive. I have students who tell me how helpful it has been not only for pronunciation but also for spelling, specifically for students for whom the Roman alphabet is new. English spelling and pronunciation is challenging, and I am so thankful to have this resource!””
What Our Clients Say About Color Vowel
Vanessa S. ESL Teacher, WA

Here are 5 easy steps for getting started with the Color Vowel® Chart

1. Join our mailing list

using the form at the bottom of this page.

2. Connect with us on social media

  • Like our Facebook page– this is where teachers from around the world share ideas, photos, and videos of the Color Vowel Chart in use.
  • Follow our Instagram page to participate in our ongoing image-to-sound campaign, #WhatColorDoYouHear
  • We are also on Twitter

3. Learn with videos and webinars

Color Vowel Yoga, a demonstration of how to teach vowel awareness (including r-controlled vowels and schwa!) through whole-body positioning and movement.

Watch our Color it out! game demonstration video.

Color Vowel Chart in Action

This old-but-good video of Karen using the Color Vowel Chart to teach pronunciation with advanced adult students.

4. Use our audio resources

(these links will take you to our Sound Cloud audio page in a new window)

  • Our interactive Color Vowel Chart models how each Color Key Word phrase represents a distinct vowel sound.
  • Mini-Chart Audio files (in SoundCloud): Listen to words and phrases for each Color Vowel sound. These audio files accompany our Color Vowel Mini-Charts, available in our shop.
CONFERENCES, WORKSHOPS & WEBINARS

Our Upcoming Events

Discover how taking Color Vowel Approach improves teaching for English Learner literacy, pronunciation, spelling, and vocabulary development.

  • Learn the history of English as an alphabetic language that is notphonetically written and the resulting challenges we face as educators.
  • Understand how the human brain is wired to suppress noticing the way we listen and speak.
  • Discover the untapped ‘secret’ of spoken English: word and phrase stress.
  • Learn how to use the Color Vowel Chart as a visual organizer for words and phrases.
  • Mirror and practice essential Color Vowel instructional techniques: anchoring, kinesthetic signaling, categorization, and acoustic flooding.
  • Experience powerful classroom games and activities that boost learner engagement while building phonemic awareness.

Discover how taking Color Vowel Approach improves teaching for English Learner literacy, pronunciation, spelling, and vocabulary development.

  • Learn the history of English as an alphabetic language that is notphonetically written and the resulting challenges we face as educators.
  • Understand how the human brain is wired to suppress noticing the way we listen and speak.
  • Discover the untapped ‘secret’ of spoken English: word and phrase stress.
  • Learn how to use the Color Vowel Chart as a visual organizer for words and phrases.
  • Mirror and practice essential Color Vowel instructional techniques: anchoring, kinesthetic signaling, categorization, and acoustic flooding.
  • Experience powerful classroom games and activities that boost learner engagement while building phonemic awareness.
Color Vowel Confidence Workshop (Washington DC)
Saturday, September 15 (9 am - 4 pm)
From the Blog
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February 14, 2018
Help Us Bring Color Vowel® Duo to the World!

Our Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign has launched, and we need your help to…

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