HVPT or minimal pairs on steroids

It was by chance as these things tend to happen on the net that I read about High Variability Pronunciation Training (HVPT). What are the odds language teachers know about HVPT?

My extremely representative and valid polling on Twitter and G+ gave me a big fat 2 out of 24 teachers who knew the acronym. Of the two who said yes one had looked up the acronym and the other is an expert in pronunciation.

I would put good odds that most language teachers have heard of and use minimal pairs, i.e. pairs of words which differ by one sound, the famous ship/sheep for example.

HVPT can be seen as a souped up minimal pairs where different speakers are used and sounds presented in different contexts. Learners are then required to categorize the sound by picking a label for the sound. Feedback is then given on whether they are correct.

Pronunciation research has shown that providing a variety of input in terms of speakers and phonetic contexts helps learners categorize sounds. That is the V of variability in the acronym. Furthermore such training focuses learners on the phonetic form and thus reduces any effect of semantic meaning since it has been shown that attending to both meaning and form reduces performance.

Currently there is one free (with registration) program that helps with Canadian pronunciation it is called EnglishAccentCoach.1 This web and IOS program is developed by Ron Thompson a notable researcher in this field. It is claimed that it can significantly help learners in only 8 short training sessions and effects last for up to a month. There is a paid program called UCL Vowel Trainer2 which claims learners improved from 65% accuracy to 85% accuracy over 5 sessions.

Another (open source) program is in development called Minimal Bears which is based on PyPhon.3 MinimalBears aims to build up crowdsourcing feature so that many languages can be accommodated. Interested readers may like to see a talk about HVPT from the developers.4

So it is quite amazing as Mark Liberman from Language Log pointed out how little is known by language educators about HPVT. One of the commenters to the Language Log post suggested association with drill and kill stereotypes of language learning may have tainted it. No doubt more research is required to test the limits of HPVT. Hopefully this post will pique interest in readers to investigate these minimal pairs on steroids.

Many thanks to Guy Emerson for additional information and to the poll respondents.


1. EnglishAccentCoach
2. UCL Vowel Trainer
3. PyPhon  I have yet to be able to get this working
4. (video) High Variability and Phonetic Training – Guy Emerson and Stanisław Pstrokoński

Further reading:

Thomson, R. I. (2011). Computer assisted pronunciation training: Targeting second language vowel perception improves pronunciation. Calico Journal, 28(3), 744-765. Retrieved from http://www.equinoxpub.com/journals/index.php/CALICO/article/viewPDFInterstitial/22985/18991
Liberman, M. (2008, July 6) HVPT [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=328

A Pron Chart Zoo

I have joined the EVO 2015 session on pronunciation called Teaching Pronunciation Differently. It has started off very well, learning loads, for example the existence of weak vowel cousins of the schwa, the schwi and the schwu. By chance around the same time Mark Hancock released his version of a vowel chart made up of hexagons:

Mark's Vowel Chart
Mark’s Vowel Chart

I thought this was pretty neat and hacked up a web version.

Most teachers will be aware of Adrian Underhill’s chart:

Adrian Underhill’s Phonemic Chart

and some people will have seen the IPA chart:

IPA Chart

There is also the AHEPS vowel clock which is based on haptic movement and touch:

AHEPS Vowel Clock

There is the PronSci Rectangle chart based on articulation:

The PronSci Rectangle Chart

The Kinephones chart which has examples of use in sentences (h/t @HancockMcDonald):

The Kinephones Chart
The Kinephones Chart

A chart using phrases not words:

ELTmakers Chart
ELTmakers Chart

And finally (there may well be others please let me know in comments) there is the vowel space chart based on frequency patterns (h/t @ELTMAKERS) :

Vowel Space Chart

I hope you have enjoyed this quick tour of the pron chart zoo.

Update 1:

An interesting chart showing possible consonants that would be amenable to lip reading:

Why lipreading is hard, linguistically speaking

Update 2:

A tactile version of Adrien Underhill’s chart made of plasticine:

Tactile version Underhill chart

Update 3:

Scott Thornbury wanted a chart for his US students so he made one (h/t EVO15 Teaching Pronunication Differently):

Thornbury, US Eng
Scott Thornbury General American English chart

Another US English chart called Color Vowel chart (h/t bzznora):

Color vowel chart

Update 4:

Neat chart with sound recording at very slow speed, flat tone, falling tone and in context word (h/t Alena B):

Dipthong-Triphthong chart

A supra-segmentals chart:

Supra-segmentals chart

Update 5:

An online lingo illustrated vowel chart – Bishes vowel chart : )

Bishes Vowel Chart