For Arabic speakers, the pronunciation of these 3 words can be confounding. It is a place where the Arabic vowel system and the English vowel system do not match up.
I use a multi-step approach to help sort out their sounds.
1. We establish how many syllables or beats each word has. [eligible] and [illegible] have 4; [legible] has 3. If you talk about syllables as beats in the internal rhythm of each word, it is easier for students to hear. The two 4-syllable words [eligible, illegible], cause the most problems because they both have 4 syllables and virtually the same collection of sounds, but the stressed syllable is different, and that makes all the difference in comprehensibility.
2. We talk about vowel quality, that /I/ and /eh/ are different sounds, and we work all the time on differentiating the English vowels /iy, I, eh, ey/ as in the words [beat, bit, bet, bait]. In many Arabic dialects, these 4 sounds are all included in one general Arabic vowel, so students don’t hear them as separate and unique.
3. We work on listening discrimination for /I/ and /eh/ and also /schwa/ because it’s in all the reduced syllables of these 3 words.
4. I use spectrograms to raise awareness visually; we examine the shape of each word, and discuss what makes them different. (+/- beats, +/- energy and +/- voicing). We note that the last two syllables of all 3 words is the same /-gible/, with reduced schwas as vowel sounds.
5. I make students say each word and I tell them what I heard. I give them time to experiment and struggle and get familiar with their pronunciations.
These are really tongue-twisters for Arabic speakers, so have patience, practice a bit, then let it go and return to it some other day.Legible, Illegible, & Eligible. How to teach these to Arabic speakers learning English. Click To Tweet