Impressive, free (and dated) JLU’s language learning resourcess

The Joint Language University (JLU) provides free downloadable language courses. I have stumbled upon them while searching for the Portuguese learning resources, and I was pleased to discover more languages.

The JLU Free Language Courses

An graphic elements in a dated JLU language course
A picture in a dated JLU language course

If you point your browser to the JLU’s address you will open a page with the following language courses: Albanian, Belarusan, Bulgarian, Cantonese, Chinese Mandarin, Czech, Dari, Dutch, Egyptian Arabic, Filipino, French, German, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hungarian, Indonesian, Iraqi Arabic, Korean, Maranao, MSA, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Syrian Arabic, Tausug, Thai, and Vietnamese.

The courses vary in quality and extent. For example, the Portuguese course contains several books and audio resources, while the Serbian is much smaller and lacks audio. The Russian resources are extensive. The Arabic courses are impressive, with EgyptianIraqiSyrian and MSA. But, there is a catch.

Free courses, but dated language courses

Portuguese course sample page
A Portuguese course from 1960s, created on a mechanical typewriter

The good thing about the JLU free resources is that they are, well, free. Not so good about them is that they are very dated and, form the point of view of a general learner or speaker, overly military (due to its origin and purpose).

Some of the materials are from 1960s. For example, the Portuguese course was created in 1968 (the PDF is scanned mechanically typewritten content, and the MP3 is converted from tapes). The Portuguese language underwent several orthographic reforms in the meantime, which the JLU course renders more of a research material than a learning material.

I assume that “dated” is a relative term for some languages, but it is up to a learner (or mentor) to give the final judgement. However, a half of a century is a lot in terms of a current and relevant learning material. The methods in language teaching have also been updated since 60s.

The JLU language courses listed in this text are not modern, but they can be useful to linguists and language enthusiasts (even though some courses are incomplete). You can have a look at their other public materials here, but be ready for not so friendly web interface.

SNTRecorder – A tool to assist speakers in corpus recording

The purpose of SNTRecorder is to assist in corpus recording. It was written to make speakers feel easier during the recording process, by allowing them to choose they own pace in pronunciation, but again not allowing sentences to be read too fast. Written in Python, with interface created in Tkinter (Tcl/Tk), it is a multiplatform tool, executable on Linux and Windows. Download SNTRecorder (source code, 48KB).

Compiled sentence where user is allowed to read it aloud

Assistance during a recording session

SNTRecorder is not a recording software, just a small utility that assists in the process.  The best way to understand what this program do read the workflow description (taken from my MA paper about phonetics):

  1. The project is loaded and the program creates the sentences and the time list, and then  shuffles them.
  2. A user sits in front of the screen and enters the initials.
  3. The program shows a sentence and a red line in the lower part of the sentence screen. The sentence is crossed out at this step, as a signal to the speaker to read the sentence without saying it aloud.
  4. The randomly selected time for the current sentence elapses and the red line changes to green, and the text appears normal.
  5. The speaker pronounces the sentence and presses the “next” key to continue.
  6. Steps 3 through 5 repeat until all sentences are recorded.
  7. The program informs that the current session is over and asks if there is need to repeat some items. If answered yes, a window is shown to select the sentences and to repeat  steps 3-6 for a given selection. The session ends once there is no re-recording.
  8. A new user is ready and the cycle restarts.
Compiled sentence where user must wait to pronounce it

Speaker logs

The program creates a simple log for each speaker. Here is a sample of a log.

# Started at: 2011-03-11-10:42
# Ended at: 2011-03-11-10:48
# Speaker: ana
# Random time: 1-4
# Time scale: 10

Sentence t(1/SCALE s) Next
The word "theirs" is spoken. 19.6834339953 10:44:07:607000
The word "abjured" is spoken. 22.7161564864 10:44:16:982000
The word "bait" is spoken. 26.945639852 10:44:23:597000
The word "dare" is spoken. 19.9025319695 10:44:34:642000
The word "fierce" is spoken. 16.5143768762 10:44:42:457000
The word "douse" is spoken. 19.3227666274 10:44:48:136000
The word "bourse" is spoken. 34.6668924964 10:44:54:766000
The word "fears" is spoken. 21.7415600234 10:45:02:441000
The word "Job" is spoken. 18.9044580715 10:45:10:100000

The log is preceded by time and speaker information. Random time indicates the brackets for selecting minimum and maximum values the user will be prevented to move to the next sentence. The log lines consist of the sentence that was shown on the screen,  randomly selected time to prevent showing the next sentence, and finally the time when speaker pressed the “next” key.

Project settings, execution and OS difference

sntrecorder main window
Main window of the program

To create your own project, just make a copy of and leave it in the same directory. Then, edit the new file. The comments explain how to change the template sentence and insert new words. The file name (without extension) is you project name in the program. To change min and max time for users to wait between each sentence, edit TIMEMIN and TIMEMAX in file.

To execute the program, go into src folder and type python3 If your’re using Windows you’ll have to provide the full path to the file, usually something like C:\python32\python,exe, but it depends on Python version you are using (must be 3+).

Sound will not work on Linux (clicks for start and end of a sentence, which I doubt you might need). Also, you will need python3-tk library.

Program uses distinct strings for on-screen messages that are editable in, and you can provide localized versions. An example, in Serbian, is already there.

As you can see, this  is a small tool that I created to make the recording easier for students. Because this was just one of the tools I developed for my thesis, it is not user-friendly in terms of rich interface settings. But, thanks to open source and portability, you are free to adopt it to your requirements, with only a text editor and some patience. I hope you will find it useful.

Download SNTRecorder (source code, 48KB).

English Diphthongs

A diphthong is defined by Jones as “a sound made by gliding from one vowel to another … represented phonetically by sequence of two letters” (Pronunciation 22). A sound realised as a diphthong marks “a change from one vowel quality to another, and the limits of the change are roughly indicated by the two vowel symbols” (O’Connor, Phonetics 155). It is important to note that even though a diphthong is “… phonetically a vowel glide or a sequence of two vowel segments [it] … functions as a single phoneme” (220).

Vowels are speech sounds during whose production “the tongue is held at such a distance from the roof of the mouth that there is no perceptible frictional noise” and “a resonance chamber is formed which modifies the quality of tone” (Jones, Pronunciation 12). Gimson defines vowels as a “category of sounds … normally made with a voiced egressive air-stream, without any closure or narrowing such as would result in the noise component characteristic of many consonantal sounds” (Introduction 35). – – Which speech sounds are vowels?

The critical property of diphthongal realisation of a sound is when “the organs of speech perform a clearly perceptible movement” (Jones, Outline 63). Gimson notes that diphthongs, or “diphthongal vowel sounds” (Introduction 39) are sounds “which have a considerable voluntary glide”. They are “the sequences of vocalic elements … which form a glide within one movement” (126).

Centering Diphthongs on the Cardinal Diagram
Centering Diphthongs in RP

The movement in a diphthong starts from the first element, which is usually a pure vowel (127) and reaches an approximate value of a vowel indicated by the second element or “the point in the direction of which the glide is made” (126). The point of direction, whether on the cardinal vowel diagram, or the tongue in the mouth, enables classification of the RP diphthongs into two groups: closing and centring (Jones, Pronunciation 23-24):

The first element in RP diphthongs is usually [ɪ, e, a, ʊ, ə], while the second is [ɪ, ʊ, ə] (Gimson, Introduction 126). However, one of the characteristics of diphthongs is great regional variety (not discussed here).

Classification of diphthongs on the closing and the centring
Type        Constituent vowels
Closing     eɪ, ɔʊ, ɑɪ, ɑʊ, ɔɪ
Centring    ɪə, ɛə, ɔə, ʊə

Diphthongs can also be divided into groups based on the vowel to which they gravitate in the second element. Thus, we have groups that have /ɪ/, /ʊ/ and /ə/ as the second element.

Long vowels / diphthongs:
[ɪ] eɪ, aɪ, ɔɪ, ʊɪ
[ʊ] əʊ, ɑʊ
[ə] ɪə, ɛə, ɔə, ʊə

In this post we are focused on Received Pronunciation, and the examples about the sounds do not include different variants of pronunciation (whether in the UK itself, or the USA, AU or other). (Here are the RP vowels of English, placed on vowel diagram, based on the overview in O’Connor’s Phonetics.)

English Diphthongs

Diphthong /eɪ/

Diphthong /eɪ/ starts “from slightly below the half-close front position and moves in the direction of RP /ɪ/” (Gimson, Introduction 128). The beginning of this diphthong is between cardinals [e] and [ɛ]. The first element of the diphthong /aɪ/ “varies from central to front” (O’Connor 167) or, in Gimson’s description, it is “slightly behind the front open position i.e. C[ä]” (Introduction 129). The glide ends with RP /ɪ/ position.

Diphthongs /ɔɪ/ and /ɔɪ/

The first element of /ɔɪ/ in RP is pronounced very close to cardinal [ɔ] and the second, after the configuration changes, is close towards the pronunciation of /ɪ/ (O’Connor, Phonetics 169). In this glide “the range of closing … is not as great as in /aɪ/ …” and “the jaw movement … may not … be as marked as in the case of /aɪ/” (Gimson, Introduction 131). This diphthong can be seen as asymmetrical on the RP system, since it is the “only glide of this type with a back starting point” (132).

Diphthong /əʊ/

The realisation of diphthong /əʊ/ starts with the articulators positioned for “typical RP [ɜ:] position”, while afterwards the tongue moves “slightly up and back to RP [ʊ], but the starting point may vary …” (O’Connor 167). In conservative pronunciation this diphthong starts “in a more retracted region”, near centralised (or centralised-open) [o], “and the whole glide is accompanied by increasing lip-rounding” (Gimson, Introduction 133). In an affected variant, the diphthong starts with more centralised-closed [ɜ] position (134). Also, “in many speakers of general RP, the 1st (central) element is so long that there may rise for a listener a confusion between /əʊ/ an /ɜ:/, especially when [ɫ] follows, e.g. goal, girl … ” (134).

Diphthong /ɑʊ/

The diphthong /ɑʊ/ starts “further back than /aɪ/ and changes towards RP /ʊ/” (O’Connor, Phonetics 168); Gimson describes it as starting “slightly more fronted … than RP /ɑ:/” (Introduction 136). Another dominant diphthong in the back region is /əʊ/, so /ɑʊ/ has to be pronounced with a perceivable difference – for this reason no raising is possible without losing the contrast, and so “fronting or retraction” (136) prevails in the variants of /ɑʊ/.

Diphthong /ɪə/

This is one of the centring diphthongs (/ɪə/, /ɛə/ and /ʊə/). Diphthong /ɪə/, starts with the tongue positioned for /ɪ/. In the second part of the pronunciation, the movement has two types. The first is “the more open variety of /ə/ when /ɪə/ is final in the words”, while in the second type, in non-final positions, the movement is not so extensive (Gimson, Introduction 142). The two pronunciations are, in essence, “two main allophones of /ɪə/ in RP, corresponding to those of /ə/” (O’Connor, Phonetics 170).

Diphthong /ɛə/

Diphthong /ɛə/ “starts at cardinal /ɛ/ or below and moves to more central but equally open position” (171). Gimson adds that when final /ə/ acquires a more open position, while in the cases when /ɛə/ is “closed by a consonant”, /ə/ it is of “mid … type” (Introduction 143). The variants are mostly in the degree of openness of the first element (143).

Diphthong /ʊə/

The glide /ʊə/ has “coalesced with /ɔ:/ for most RP speakers” (Gimson, Introduction 145) and “[a] monophthongal pronunciation is … found regularly before /r/ in, e.g. alluring, furious, having the quality of the diphthong’s beginning point” (O’Connor, Phonetics 172). Gimson also gives an overview of the monophthongal pronunciation, such as in the words your, Shaw or sure, but warns “that such lowering of monophthongization of /ʊə/ is rarer in case of less commonly used monosyllabic words such as moor, tour, dour” (Introduction 145). The diphthong is pronounced with the first element around /ʊ/, while the second element reaches a “more open type of /ə/” (144).

Notes about Length and Targets

The closing diphthongs in the cardinal diagram
Closing diphthongs in English

For the exception of the falling diphthongs, “most of the height and stress associated [with the sound] is concentrated on the 1st element, the 2nd element being only lightly sounded” (126). The length of the diphthongs is the same as in long pure vowels, which means they are affected by the same syllabic fortis and lenis rules.

Harrington describes a study based on the hypotheses by Pols, about classification of diphthongs applied in American English by Cottinfield, and the importance of the targets for the classification. The first hypothesis is about “dual target” (or onset plus offset), the second about “onset plus slope”, while the third involves “onset plus direction”. According to the first hypothesis, “both diphthong targets are critical for identification [of a diphthong]”, while the second claims that “quality is presumed to depend on the first target”; the third hypothesis postulates that “the first target and the direction of spectral movement” are the biggest contributors in diphthong recognition (Techniques 66).


[1] The figures in the text were derived from O’Connor’s Phonetics.

Need a vowel chart with English monophthongs and diphthongs in SVG format? It’s here.