Introduction to phonetics

Most of you will know, and will have been hugely frustrated, by thee fact that words in English are often pronounced very differently from their spelling. The English Language contains 44 separate sounds and some of them are unique. This can be very challenging and confusing for learners of English. So what’s the best way to learn how to make these new sounds? Read on to find out the answer.

“The phonetic alphabet (IPA)”

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is based on a set of symbols that represent all the sounds of every language in the world.

The chart includes sounds for vowels and consonants but also diphthongs which are sounds made by combining two single vowel sounds within a single syllable.

Each sound is known as a phoneme and is represented by a unique symbol.

Some examples of phonemes:

Vowels:          /i:/        /ə/        /u:/       /ʊ/

Consonants: /ð/        / tʃ/     /dʒ/    /ŋ/

Diphthongs:   /eɪ/      /ɪə/     /əʊ/    /eə/

At first, the phonemes may look daunting and difficult to grasp. However, with some practice, understanding and repeating the sounds will become easier and you will be able to de-code the words. A good tip would be to check a dictionary for the phonetic transcription. Some online dictionaries provide free audio pronunciation which is a very useful tool.

How can learning phonetics help your English?

Learning phonetics will greatly improve your English pronunciation. You will speak in a more natural and more accurate manner. It will help you to sound the letters rather than reading the spelling of English words. It will boost your confidence. By doing so, you will have discovered the key to sounding more like a native speaker.

Do British English and American English use the same phonemes?

Yes, the phonemes are common to both types of English however the pronunciation of each sound will vary. Some British and American English words have the same phonetic transcription whereas some others offer a variation. Often online dictionaries will provide examples of phonetic transcriptions and audio pronunciation.

Key points to remember:

  • Learn one or two phonemes at a time
  • Don’t try to guess how a word is pronounced, check the phonetic transcription.
  • Don’t forget that English has some unique sounds so learn to memorise them!
  • Listen to as much English as possible through songs, movies and podcasts.

So now you know the secret to a better English pronunciation, start learning your phonemes from today! If you would like more great tips remember to sign up to the ABA English course where you will get completely free access to 144 video classes so that you can continue practising your English.


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