English Language Training Solutions (ELTS) is a teacher-built educational training company that has helped over 10,000 teachers worldwide to address the challenges of teaching and learning English. ELTS is the exclusive training provider of the Color Vowel® Approach and publisher of the Color Vowel® Chart.
Offering a brain-based approach to language learning that is accessible and engaging for learners of all ages and levels, we train individual teachers and work with schools and organizations ranging from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of English Language Programs and U.S. Peace Corps to universities, non-profit organizations, and public schools.
Karen Taylor created the Color Vowel® Chart as a thing of poster board, construction paper, and Velcro while teaching at the University of Maryland in 1999. Karen’s international teaching assistants appreciated the way it helped them to pronounce academic and technical vocabulary.
Shirley Thompson found the Chart useful with her international students at George Washington University. Quickly recognizing their shared interest in pronunciation, multi-modal instruction and brain-based learning, Karen and Shirley started meeting regularly to share ideas and further develop the Color Vowel Chart.
Dr. Robin Barr, Linguist In Residence at American University, soon joined the effort, testing the simplicity of the Chart against the complexities of phonology. Time and again, the Color Vowel Chart delivered– providing linguists, teachers, and learners with a touchstone for describing the deep rules of spoken English.
In response to an increasing demand for Color Vowel materials and training, Karen and Shirley founded English Language Training Solutions in 2011, and have been learning about what it means to run a business ever since! In 2012, ELTS partnered with the U.S. Department of State’s Office of English Language Programs to print and distribute the Color Vowel Chart to English teachers outside the U.S.
Laura McIndoo, an ESL teacher at Central New Mexico Community College, encountered the Color Vowel Chart at a conference in 2013 and instantly recognized its potential. With a talent for graphic design and a love of game-based learning, Laura created the spoken card game known today as Color it out!
Color it out! was an immediate hit with learners and teachers alike. It attracted the attention of a friend of Karen’s in the tech industry, and a new company was born in 2016. With CEO Sarah Daniels at the helm, Blue Canoe combines the Color Vowel® method with patent-pending speech recognition and machine learning to provide people around the world with access to a virtual English pronunciation coach, a perfect complement to Color Vowel classroom instruction.
All the while, our passionate community of inquisitive teachers and learners has made Color Vowel® what it is today: a wonderfully multi-modal, brain-based way of teaching that connects the spoken and written forms of English with unprecedented clarity, raising profound implications for language identity, pronunciation, vocabulary development, reading readiness, and so much more. Welcome to our Color Vowel Journey!
We take the “Solutions” part of our name seriously by a problem that has underscored the teaching of English for literally centuries: namely, the gap that divides our spoken language from its written form, and gaps in teacher education that perpetuate inaccurate and inefficient instructional practices in both general education and ESL/EFL settings.
The problem of teaching and learning English is multifaceted:
1 . The conventional terminology used for teaching English is misleading: the terms ‘long’ and ‘short’ for describing vowels are vestigial terms that describe phonemic features of Middle English but which are mostly meaningless in the context of Modern English. The Color Vowel® Approach establishes an easily accessible yet linguistically accurate language for talking about the vowel sounds and behaviors of spoken English.
2. English is not a phonetically-written language. Words like cough, tough, though and through look similar but all sound different, while words like through, new and true look different but rhyme nonetheless. The Color Vowel® Chart solves this problem by flipping the traditional phonics approach, starting instead with phonemic stress as the fundamental touchstone for learning English.
3. English is a stress-timed language, yet the complex phenomenon of stress is mostly hidden from conscious noticing. Without training, many teachers and students work fruitlessly on the surface features of pronunciation while missing or underestimating stress as the single most important feature of spoken English. ELTS delivers breakthrough phonological awareness training in every Color Vowel® workshop.
With our innovative tools and techniques, ELTS is changing the way people talk about English, empowering teachers and learners to fuel progress with language awareness found through the use of concrete, high-yield learning strategies.
KAREN TAYLOR co-founded ELTS in 2011 in response to a popular demand for the Color Vowel Chart, a teaching tool she created in 1999. She holds an MA in TESOL from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and a BA in English Literature from Georgetown University, as well as an International Baccalaureate from the United World College (US campus). A former Fulbright TEFL Specialist, Karen was the Practitioner in Residence at American University for nine years. She received Ed Tech’s 2020 Visionary Leader award for her work as Head of Education and is now CEO at Blue Canoe Learning Inc.
SHIRLEY THOMPSON is co-author of the Color Vowel Chart and Executive Advisor to ELTS. Shirley holds a Master in Linguistics from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Arts in History and African Studies from Kalamazoo College. She began her teaching career as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa, serving in Bénin and Togo. Shirley taught for 25 years at the George Washington University and served as a Fulbright Senior Lecturer in Senegal. She founded the ESL program at All Souls Church in Washington DC. She enjoys painting with watercolors and acrylics.
LAURA MCINDOO is an ESL instructor and recipient of the 2019 Distinguished Faculty Award at Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Shortly after discovering the Color Vowel Chart, Laura was inspired to create Color it out!, a spoken card game that supports English pronunciation and reading. Following the game’s remarkable journey into mobile learning, Laura also consults with the Education Team at Blue Canoe. Laura holds an MA in TESOL from St. Michael’s College, VT. In her spare time, she creates ceramics at Redbud Pottery.
ROBIN BARR holds a PhD in Linguistics from Harvard, an MA in linguistics from Harvard, and a BA in Linguistics from Yale. Dr. Barr is Linguist In Residence at American University, where she teaches for the TESOL graduate program. Robin also teaches dyslexic adult learners at the Washington Literacy Council, where she has developed a responsive curriculum the combines traditional phonics with brain-based strategies from the Color Vowel® Approach. As Lead Phonologist, Robin advises ELTS during design phases of the Color Vowel Chart, guides our rating team at Blue Canoe Learning, and provides training around topics ranging from teaching pronunciation and L1/L2 dyslexia intervention to brain-based language instruction and phonological awareness training. Robin is an avid oboist who plays regularly with area ensembles and orchestras. Read this article, “A Day in the Life of a Linguist,” and enjoy seeing how all these pieces fit together!
JENNIFER CAMPION began teaching English over 35 years ago as a Peace Corps Volunteer and subsequently as an observer and trainer in Morocco. After returning to the U.S., Jennifer worked as a documentation specialist for a civil engineering firm and for NASA’s Office of Space Flight. She returned to ESL instruction in 2003 as an adjunct in the American Culture and Language Institute at Northern Virginia Community College. Inspired after attending a 3-day Color Vowel phonology retreat in 2016, Jennifer became a Color Vowel Trainer in 2018. She now works as Customer Support Manager at ELTS. Jennifer holds a B.A. in French from Lynchburg College and an M.A. in TESOL from American University.
“Blue Canoe and its Color Vowel methodology is brilliant and incredibly effective with my students. I’ve been teaching English to Japanese students for more than a decade, and had never imagined a pronunciation approach could be this good.”
“We saw that teachers love using the Color Vowel Chart, so Intercambio now includes it in all curriculum we produce. For many English learners here, the CVC has led to life-changing breakthroughs around pronunciation! ”
“The Color Vowel System is such a fundamentally innovative and effective methodology that we built our company, Blue Canoe Learning, on it. Now anyone with a smart phone can play the Blue Canoe app and leverage the Color Vowel System to improve their English pronunciation. We are making such a wonderful impact on people’s lives, and ELTS and Color Vowel are an integral part of why we are successful!”
“I find the way the elements of your training sessions weave themselves together genuinely elegant. It isn't just a "bag of tricks to deal with different problems" … there’s a sense of integrality and completeness in what you have developed overall.”
“I can't thank you enough for an amazing experience at Color Vowel Basics. The Color Vowel Approach provides the strategy and structure I was looking for on behalf of my students. The work you have done is truly remarkable. It's true that simplicity lies at the far side of complexity.”
“I love using the Color Vowel Chart because it works! Student feedback on the system is so positive. I have students who tell me how helpful it has been not only for pronunciation, but also for spelling, specifically for students for whom the Roman alphabet is new. English spelling and pronunciation is challenging, and I am so thankful to have this resource!”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been with a more skillful presenter [in Karen Taylor]. It was like watching a high-wire artist, but with NO misgivings: you know she’s totally secure up there. We were in the palm of her hand!”
“Interesting, fun, and I met people I look forward to keeping in touch with. So many 'Ah ha!' moments. Loved it.”
“The Color Vowel Chart allows my actor, broadcaster and executive clients to instantly see the color of the sound they are mispronouncing or mixing. The visual cuing speeds up the recognition time of the sounds! I think the Color Vowel Chart is the most brilliant thing I have ever seen. It has really changed the way we work at the Speech and Accent Academy!”
“Who doesn’t love card games? My middle school students find Color it out! extremely engaging and I find it a powerful tool to introduce and review complicated sounds and spellings in English. In fact, I used Color it out! to introduce my students to the Color Vowel Chart before ever "teaching" them about it. I found it a very natural point of entry for the Chart. Since then, we have been exploring additional ways to use the Color it out! cards, such as Dominoes and Go Fish. A fantastic, fun, and very powerful resource!”
“The Color Vowel Chart brings attention to the differences among the English vowels--differences that students may not be able to hear. I also like how the Chart has allowed me to incorporate pronunciation into other aspects of my classes. While students are working together on any task, if I hear a major pronunciation problem I can say, "change your vowel from OLIVE to MUSTARD" and the student is able to self correct.”
“Color Vowel Basics was phenomenal. I learned an innovative but easy way to teach students about the many different sounds that vowels can make. The Color Vowel Chart is easy to learn and uses the different modalities of learning to reach every type of learner.”
“Wonderful session. Stellar presenters. Great activities. Best session I've been to. They were on fi-yur!”
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