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.
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)
“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.”
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.
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:
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.
Watch these videos to familiarize yourself with the Color Vowel Chart:
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 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)
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.
(these links will take you to our Sound Cloud audio page in a new window)
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