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 help teachers and learners bridge the gap between spoken and written English. Our exclusive workshops and other training options ensure that teachers understand and know how to implement the Color Vowel Approach in their everyday teaching practice.

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.

“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.  –-Jody Gabler, ESL Instructor (New York)

What Our Clients Say About Us

“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.”
Jody Gabler, ESL Instructor (New York)

What makes the Color Vowel Chart special?

Instead of using phonetic symbols to represent vowel sounds, we refer to the ‘color’ of the vowel sound in question.

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 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)
  • Cape Girardeau School District (MO)
  • Christina 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)
  • Mason Crest Elementary School (VA)
  • La Mariposa Montessori School (NM)
  • Lyon County School District (NV)
  • Mead School District (WA)
  • Milwaukee Public Schools (WI)
  • Montessori de la Condesa (DF, Mexico)
  • Norwalk Public Schools (CT)
  • School District of Oconee County (SC)
  • Prince George’s County Public Schools (MD)
  • Portland Public Schools (OR)
  • Prescott Valley School District (AZ)
  • Pueblo City Public Schools (CO)
  • Seattle Public Schools (WA)
  • Springfield Pubic Schools (IL)
  • 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

  • All Souls Unitarian Church ESL Program (DC)
  • Anne Arundel Community College (MD)
  • 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)
  • 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 Volunteers of Santa Fe (NM)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • Santa Fe Community College (NM)
  • South Central Kansas Education Center (KS)
  • Washington English Center (DC)
  • Washington Literacy Center (DC)
  • Wichita Learning Connection (KS)
  • Wisconsin Literacy Council (WI)
  • Universities use the Color Vowel Chart


Universities use the Color Vowel Chart

  • American University TESOL Program (DC)
  • Bringham Young University Hawaii (HI)
  • University of California Los Angeles (CA)
  • University of California Merced (CA)
  • California State Polytechnic University (CA)
  • Central Michigan University (MI)
  • Clark College (WA)
  • University of Colorado Denver (CO)
  • Colorado Mountain College (CO)
  • University of Connecticut (CT)
  • Cornell University (NY)
  • Defense Language Institute (TX)
  • University of Delaware (DE)
  • University of the District of Columbia (DC)
  • Ferris State University (MI)
  • George Mason University (VA)
  • Georgetown University (DC)
  • Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics (TX)
  • Kansas State University (KS)
  • Maryland English Institute, University of Maryland (MD)
  • Michigan State University (MI)
  • Missouri State University (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)
  • 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, English Language Learner Institute (AL)
  • Santa Fe University of Art & Design (NM)
  • Savannah College of Art & Design (GA)
  • 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)
  • Western Michigan University (MI)
  • Xavier University (OH)
  • Yale University (CT)

Language Schools use the Color Vowel Chart

  • California College of Communications (CA)
  • Confident Voice (FL)
  • English Now! (DC)
  • English Speaking Success (CA)
  • Evergreen Academy (VA)
  • Kaplan International (DC)
  • Lado Institute (DC)
  • Washington English Center (DC)
  • 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

Watch these videos to familiarize yourself with the Color Vowel Chart:

Color Vowel Yoga

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

Color it Out!

Watch our Color it out! game demonstration video.

Introductory Webinar

This introductory 75-minute webinar, “Teaching Spoken English with The Color Vowel Chart,” by Shirley Thompson and delivered through the U.S. Department of State. (Begin at minute 5:15)

Color Vowel Chart in Action

This 90-minute TESOL webinar, “Phonological Awareness: Sound instructional techniques for listening, speaking, and vocabulary development,” by Karen Taylor. 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.

Our Upcoming Events

Color it out!: A literacy pronunciation game for everyone!
Thursday, April 12th (10-10:40 a.m. EST)
Register Now!
Introduction to the Color Vowel Approach (Free Webinar)
Friday, April 13 (3-4 pm EST)
Register Now!
Introduction to the Color Vowel Approach (Free Webinar)
Wednesday, May 16 (10-11 a.m. EST)
Register Now!
Color Vowel Basics Workshop
Saturday, August 18 (9 am - 4 pm EST)
Register Now!
Teaching Confidently with the Color Vowel® Approach: an intermediate workshop
Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018 (9 am - 4 pm EST)
Register Now!
From the Blog
February 15, 2018
A Colorful Approach to Spelling

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February 14, 2018
Help Us Bring Color Vowel® Duo to the World!

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February 13, 2018
What Color Do You Hear?

The idea of ‘hearing’ a color — or coloring a sound, for…

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