How Does It 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.
Explore Our Interactive Chart
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.
Here are 5 easy steps for getting started with the Color Vowel® Chart:
- Email: Join our mailing list (scroll to the bottom of this page to subscribe)
- Social media:
- Videos and Webinars: 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 Vowel Duo 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.
- Blog articles: Dig deeper into teaching with the Color Vowel™ Chart.
- Participate in our free monthly Q&A Session and find answers to your questions about the Color Vowel Chart.
- 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.
- Color Vowel™ chants: Listen to Color Vowel chants included in our book, Resources for Teachers (p. 22).
Downloadable Print Resources can be found in our Shop. Many of our downloadable resources are free, while others are economically priced.
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