When I first started teaching all those years ago, I was not so keen on the teaching of pronunciation or phonics. It was after I returned to the UK, that I decided to learn more about the teaching of pronunciation. I also attended a training session by Adrian Underhill on the use of the Phonemic Chart and discovered that the area of phonics and pronunciation is not so difficult after all. Fast forward a few years later, having read up on many pronunciation books, I found the use of vowel sounds and their spelling still quite unpredictable. It was quite a relief to receive a book, written by Bob Knowles, dedicated to the sounds of vowels.
This book is called, as one would expect, “When Vowels Get Together” and focuses on “the different ways that vowels pairs can be pronounced” (Knowles, p.1). I was unaware how unpredictable and ambiguous the English language can be, especially when it comes down to vowel pairs. In fact, the other day I came across a video on YouTube which demonstrated this perfectly.
For the First Chapter, Bob Knowles introduces the paperback version of “When Vowels Get Together” very well and introduces the reader to the considerations included within this publication. These include why the book was written, why readers should use the book, how readers could use the book as well as the differences between a paperback and electronic version – it is invaluable that this book is available in different formats.
Throughout the book, the author introduces the vowel sounds in a logical fashion, with readers being guided through vowel sounds beginning from ‘A’ all the way to ‘U’. With each vowel sound, there is an associated vowel pair in alphabetical order. For example, with the vowel sounds beginning with ‘A’, Knowles has incorporated spelling with all different variations of vowel pairs such as ‘aa’, ‘ae’, ‘ai’, ‘ao’ and ‘au’. With each dedicated chapter or sub-chapter, Knowles has created a wonderful table for the pronunciation variables with each vowel pair and their corresponding percentile for the respective pronunciation variables. Therefore, you may refer to page 20 and note that the vowel sound represented by the spelling of ‘ai’ will have a 68% chance of being pronounced with the sound of /eɪ/. There is a table also included with a variety of different spellings.
Each chapter focuses on the sounds from various different vowel pairs and Bob Knowles provides the information in an easy and logical format. You soon realise that almost all words are underlined in the tables throughout the chapters. Initially, I was unsure why these words were underlined but then you discover that in the eBook versions, there are links to the Macmillan Dictionary Online where a reader could tap on a word, they are then transported to the definition to the word as well as the pronunciation of the word. You also notice that this book has real potential as an eBook but unfortunately that is lost with the paperback version.
“When Vowels Get Together” is a fantastic book which helps the reader learn more about the relationship between varying vowel sounds and their respective vowel pairs. It can be usefully exploited by teachers for classroom use, and if teachers are keen to develop learner awareness of vowel sounds and spelling then this book is absolutely brilliant. I would recommend any teacher to have the chance to refer to this publication so that they learn more about the reason how particular words could be pronounced and for learners to make an educated choice when faced with a new word.