Color Vowel Chart

Click on a color to hear the vowel sound and the key words.

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Authors Karen Taylor & Shirley Thompson. Copyright (c) 2009, 2012. All rights reserved. This above image may not be reproduced in any form or by any means without the express permission of the authors.  Address all inquiries using this form.


How Does It Work?

The Color Vowel™ Chart represents the vowel sounds of American English. Each color in the Color Vowel™ Chart respresents a single vowel sound. Each sound has a color name (such as GREEN) and a key word (such as TEA). The corresponding vowel sound is featured in both words.

The Color Vowel™ Chart allows us to describe any English word based on the pronunciation of the primary stressed syllable in the word. Here, it is important to focus on a fundamental rule of spoken English: each word has exactly one primary stressed syllable, and that syllable has a strong, lengthened vowel sound at its center. Using the Color Vowel™ Chart to assign a color to that vowel sound, we can say that each word has exactly one color.

  • One-syllable words contain one vowel sound (even if a word contains more than one vowel letter). For example, soup is BLUE, bread is RED, and knife is WHITE.
  • In multisyllable words, only one of the syllables has primary stress. Stress makes the syllable higher, louder, and longer than the other syllables. For example, education is GRAY, classroom is BLACK, and biological is OLIVE.
  • In phrases, one word will receive the focus stress. For example, See you later is GRAY, Let's have lunch is MUSTARD, and Nice to meet you is GREEN.

The Color Vowel™ Chart provides teachers and learners with a common language for talking about pronunciation.  Instead of having to write a phonetic symbol, teachers and students can simply refer to the “color” of the vowel sound in question. Here’s an example taken from the classroom:

Student: How do you say this word? [pointing to the word “frighten” in a text]

Teacher: “Frighten” [saying the word, with using an open hand to signal stress on the first syllable]. So, what color is “frighten”?

Student: [who has already been introduced to the Color Vowel Chart] Um,… white. So… “frighten.”

Teacher: That’s right. “Frighten.”

Student: Frighten, white, white, frighten… [returns to the learning activity]

Because the key words are all related (that is, they are all color words), the student and the teacher have an easy-to-remember reference word for each vowel sound—much easier than memorizing unrelated words or memorizing phonetic symbols.

This is especially convenient when the focus of the lesson is something other than pronunciation; during a reading lesson, for example, students often ask about the pronunciation of words. The Color Vowel™ Chart helps address students' pronunciation questions without detracting from the larger focus of the lesson.