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.
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.
“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! ”
“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!”
“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.
“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!”
“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.”
“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!”
“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.”
“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!”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
““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!””
using the form at the bottom of this page.
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.
This old-but-good video of Karen using the Color Vowel Chart to teach pronunciation with advanced adult students.
(these links will take you to our Sound Cloud audio page in a new window)
Join Karen Taylor, co-author of the Color Vowel Approach, for an overview of this innovative, brain-based method for teaching spoken English, pronunciation, vocabulary, and reading to English learners. Workshop discounts will be made available to you during this webinar, so check out upcoming workshop dates and times now on our Workshops page.
This six-week online course is comprised of 12 in-course hours and approximately 4 hours of practicum. Participants may attend synchronously or asynchronously. Each week you will submit technique videos and receive personalized feedback. Participants receive access to course materials and a teacher license for the Blue Canoe app.
Upon completion of practicum, participants receive their Level 1 certificate as a Color Vowel Trained Teacher with a Blue Canoe endorsement.
Trainer: Karen Taylor, Co-author of the Color Vowel Chart
This six-week online course is comprised of 6 in-course hours and 4 hours of video practicum. Participants may attend synchronously or asynchronously. Each week you will submit technique videos and receive personalized feedback. Participants receive access to course materials, our Teachers Lounge, and our private online community of Color Vowel educators.
Upon completion of practicum, participants receive their Level 1 certificate as a Color Vowel Trained Teacher.
Trainer: Karen Taylor, Co-author of the Color Vowel Chart
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