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Friday, September 11, 2009

ESL Teacher Blog: Articles A or An - Phonetics Over Spelling

The rule - use ‘a’ before a noun that starts with a consonant sound (e.g.: a flower) and ‘an’ before a noun that starts with a vowel sound (e.g.: an orange) - is taught at the beginner stages of learning English. Yet, even at upper levels students realize that the distinction isn’t as simple as it looks on the surface.
 
It’s worth refreshing their memory of the letter vs. sound, especially the vowel vs. consonant sound concepts prior to consolidating the rule. Check if your students can explain the choice of an article in the following cases:
 
an only child - a once in a lifetime opportunity (‘o’ sounds as ‘w’)

an hour long wait (‘h’ isn’t pronounced) - a happy end

an NBA (National Basketball Association) - a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) airstrike (NBA pronounced letter by letter, NATO as one word)

an ugly duckling (‘u’ makes a vowel sound) - a union representative (‘u’ sounds as ‘yu’, consonant sound)
 
Provide additional practice on the board. Ask to choose ‘a’ or ‘an’ before the words/phrases below:
 
__ MP (member of Parliament)
__ oak tree
__ one way road
__ hedgehog
__ heir to the throne
__ honest person
__ useless trip
__ herb garden (in American English 'h' isn't pronounced)
__ Ph.D.
__ U-turn
__ universe
__ updated resume
__ RV (recreational vehicle)
__ ROE (Record of Employment) form
__ MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan
__ historic speech
__ honorable guest
 
Think of your country’s common abbreviations (banks, airlines, educational/government institutions etc.) that start with a consonant letter but pronounced with a vowel sound or vice-versa. Ecourage your students to add to the list and have them practice the combinations. In Canada it can be: an RSSP account, an RCMP investigation, an NDP supporter, an RRSP contribution, an RBC employee, a UPS store, a U of T student etc.
POSTED BY Olga Galperin AT 8:34 PM
Comments
Monday, October 29, 2012 AT 7:10 AM
Kirsten said:
Welcome, Niels! The letter y (and w, for that mtater) is a tricky one in the English language. Sometimes it acts as a consonant, and sometimes it acts as a vowel. In the case of yellow, for example, the y is acting as a consonant, whereas in snowy it is acting as a vowel. In comment #2 above, I was referring specifically to the consonant y sound, because the sound is the determining factor for choosing the indefinite article to precede it ( a or an ). I hope that makes sense. Let me know if you would like me to clarify any further.

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