The English language, fascinating as it is, can present quite a few challenges for students. One of the main difficulties, according to most of my students, is English pronunciation. With an abundance of accents and dialects, English can sound almost like an entirely different language depending on what part of the world you are in. Aussies, Americans (several regional accents in just that one country), English, Scottish and Irish all speak more or less the same language but for some peculiar reason it just sounds different.
So today, in an attempt to demystify the enigma of English pronunciation I’ve decided to discuss the phonemic chart, aka IPA (International Phonemic Alphabet).
Now before we delve into the mysteries of the IPA I feel it is necessary to state, for some, the obvious and briefly discuss the two main components of the English alphabet; vowels and consonants.
Vowels: A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y
Consonants: B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X, Y (sometimes), and Z
Now, I wouldn’t be a very good teacher if I discussed all 26 letters in one go, so I’ve decided to dedicate today’s article to the English vowel sounds. The aforementioned 5 or 6 letters are responsible for creating more than 20 vowel sounds in the English language. So let’s get started;
The following chart shows the phonemic transcription of the above vowel sounds. To make our lives easier, pronunciation experts have designed a series of images to help us, the common folk, memorize the phonemic alphabet.
fIsh – /fɪʃ/
trEE – /triː/
cAt – /kæt/
cAr – /kɑːr/
clOck – /klɒk/
bUll – /bʊl/
bOOt – /buːt/
cOmputEr – /kəmˈpjuː.tər/
bIrd – /bɜːd/
egg – /eɡ/ Up – /ʌp/
Now, one might rightfully ask “Why should I learn this? What’s the point?”
The answer is simple. By knowing these “symbols” you can understand how English pronunciation works. So every time you learn a new word you can refer to the phonemic transcription (funny looking symbols) to understand how to pronounce the word correctly. By using the images above to memorize the sounds you can pronounce words such as;
comfortable – /ˈkʌm.fə.tə.bl̩/ love – /lʌv/ vegetable -/ˈvedʒ.tə.bl̩/
The little mark that looks like an apostrophe (ˈ) shows the word stress and every full stop (.) denotes a syllable. So the word comfortable has 4 syllables and is stressed on the first one. The 1st syllable is similar to the sound in the word UP and the 2nd and 3rd are similar to the “schwa” sound in the word COMPUTER.
To find the phonemic transcription of each word all you have to do is go to an online dictionary such as Cambridge Dictionary Online http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british and type in the word. At the top of the page you will find the phonemic transcription and the audio clip both in British and American English pronunciation.
And remember; the key to good pronunciation is opening your mouth! So every time your English teacher asks you to repeat a word for pronunciation always think of your dentist!
Task of the week;
Match the words to their phonemic symbol:
æ – ladder, dagger, narrow, happy
iː – meet, sheet, tree
ʌ – thunder, luck, muddy
uː – lose, choose, cruise
ɪ – happy, this, tip
ə – American, water, about
ɑː – heart, cart, March
ɒ – hot, pot, box
ɔː – port, fork, reporter
ʊ – put, cook, could
e – pen, ten, help
Have a lovely weekend!