Frequently Asked Questions
Who uses the Color Vowel® Chart?
The Color Vowel Chart is used across the U.S. and around the world by English language teachers and learners of all ages and across a range of programs: at the K-12 level, Intensive English Programs, in Adult Education programs, and in MA TESOL and certificate programs, as well as by speech therapists, reading specialists, pronunciation/accent trainers, dialect coaches, and choral directors. The U.S. Department of State’s Office of English Language Programs started distributing The Color Vowel Chart around the world through their Regional English Language Officers in 2013, and the Chart was is featured in the new U.S. Peace Corps TEFL Certificate training program. Learn more about our partners.
Does the shape of the Color Vowel® Chart mean something?
Yes. The basic shape of the Color Vowel® Chart refers to the traditional linguistic vowel chart and mirrors the shape of your vocal tract. In practical terms, the shape of the Chart represents the continuum of vowel sounds that change as you move your jaw, lips, and tongue to shape the mouth space. To learn more about the relevance of the shape of the Chart, watch our Color Vowel Yoga video series.
What do you mean when you say that a word has a ‘Color’? What if a word has several vowels?
It is important to start with the understanding that every English word contains precisely one syllable that receives primary stress. The word potato, for example, has three syllables, but it’s the second syllable that receives the primary stress: potato. Students coming from languages with more “even” stress (known as syllable-timed languages) may not perceive the primary stress and will therefore not produce stress. By identifying a word’s ‘Color’ (the vowel quality of the stressed syllable), we’re helping students master an essential aspect of spoken English. (The word potato is therefore GRAY.) Enroll in Color Vowel® Basics [link to Thinkific Basics sales page] and learn more about our Approach.
Is that all you do-- vowels? And isn't that a bit narrow?
Actually, Color Vowel addresses all of spoken English! After all, what would vowel sounds be without stress, rhythm, and intonation?
The Color Vowel® Approach starts with the identification of peak (stressed) vowel sounds in a word (word stress) and in a phrase (focus stress), but it quickly expands to address the whole of spoken English.
Think of the peak vowel as the nucleus of meaning at the word and phrase level. From there, everything else-- from reduced speech and linking to rhythm and intonation-- wraps around the peak vowels to produce the cohesive music of spoken English.
Color Vowel® teachers are immersed in the primacy of stress, rhythm, and intonation from the first day of training. Our Level 1 courses teach essential techniques for teaching spoken English with the Color Vowel Chart, while our Level 2 courses guide the instructor into deeper understandings and uses of the brain-based teaching strategies learned in Level 1.
What’s the best way to get started with the Color Vowel® Chart?
The Color Vowel® Chart is not just a thing you show to students -– rather, it is the cornerstone of the multi-modal, brain-based approach to teaching English that we’ve come to call the Color Vowel® Approach. The best way to get started with the Chart and this powerful Approach is to purchase one of our starter kits and take our Color Vowel® Basics online course.
Can young learners benefit from the Color Vowel Chart?
Absolutely. Young language learners (and native speakers too!) benefit from the meaningful use of color and the absence of additional terminology (such as the misleading reference to ‘long’ and ‘short’ vowels) as they learn to recognize relationships between how words sound and how words are spelled. [Hint: instead of referring to “long” and “short” vowels, try identifying sounds as moving (for “long”) and non-moving (for “short”) vowels.] Learn more about how we talk about vowels in our book The Color Vowel Approach, available in our Teacher Starter Kit or The Fully-Equipped Classroom.
What about low-beginning or low-literacy students?
For beginning and lower level students, the Color Vowel® Chart can be especially powerful. You can indicate the vowel sound of a word simply by pointing to a Color Vowel (such as GREEN TEA) and repeating the word (teacher, GREEN TEA, teacher). Our mantra for teachers, especially those who work with low-proficiency students, is don’t talk about the Chart– just use it. With more advanced students, we recommend simply using the Chart and waiting for students to ask their questions, as student-produced questions reliably indicate when learners are ready to have a metalinguistic conversation about the many features of the Chart.
What if a student (or teacher) is color blind?
Though color is an obvious feature of the Color Vowel® Chart, one’s visual perception of color quality is not necessary for understanding and making use of the Chart. Rather, the key word phrases and key images are the central feature of the Chart (rather than the visual color), as each key word phrase features the target vowel sound (e.g. GREEN TEA = /iy/). Teaching with the black-line version of the Chart, one can quickly appreciate that color actually plays a secondary (though still powerful) role in the Color Vowel Chart.
Why not just use phonetic symbols?
That’s an easy one! Phonetic symbols are great for linguists and teachers, but are confusing for many students, adding a layer of complexity to the already challenging English vowel system that students need to learn. Perhaps more significantly, phonetic symbols have to be written in order to be used. (Think about it– apart from schwa, how many IPA symbols can you name?) Turning to the board to write a symbol requires visual decoding and essentially disrupts the instructional focus on speech. Color Vowels are a simple yet powerful mnemonic that can be referred to both orally and in writing. Learn more about how Color Vowel gives you and your learners an easy way to talk about spoken English in our Color Vowel® Basics asynchronous course. [link to Thinkific Basics sales page]
What if my students already use phonetic symbols?
If your students are comfortable using IPA symbols, have them assign each symbol to a color on the Color Vowel® Chart. By doing so, they can use both systems!
Is the Color Vowel® Chart a copyright protected image?
Yes. The Color Vowel® Chart image is protected under Creative Commons license CC- BY-NC-ND 4.0.
We encourage educators to make the Color Vowel Chart visually accessible to their learners, both in face-to-face and online instructional settings. The Color Vowel Chart is available as a poster and in other hard copy formats which are available in our Shop. Digital versions of the Color Vowel Chart are made available to teachers who complete Color Vowel Level 1 training.
Contact us to request a commercial licensing agreement should you wish to include the Color Vowel Chart in a publication (textbook, online course, video course, etc.), in a YouTube video, lessons or materials that you want to sell, or as part of marketing for your school or organization.
How should I cite your work?
Karen Taylor and Shirley Thompson should be credited in any oral presentation, written articles, educational materials, and other documents that make reference to the Color Vowel® Chart or the Color Vowel® Approach. Here’s how you can cite our work: [please note that the italics in the text below is crucial and necessary]
Bibliographic citations for our work should contain the following:
Taylor, K. & Thompson, S. with R. Barr (2016). The Color Vowel Approach: Resources for connecting spoken English to vocabulary, reading, and spelling. Santa Fe NM: English Language Training Solutions.
Taylor, K., and Thompson, S. (1999, 2019). The Color Vowel Chart. Santa Fe NM: English Language Training Solutions. www.colorvowelchart.org
Is Color Vowel® a trademarked name?
Yes. “Color Vowel” is a Registered Trademark. When referring to the Color Vowel® Chart in an article or document, the trademark symbol ‘‘®’’ should be placed just after the trademarked phrase (“Color Vowel”) in the most prominent place at first usage, and it should be linked to our website with the following URL: www.ColorVowel.com