One of the hardest things in English is learning to pronounce words correctly. Unfortunately, most English words are pronounced differently than written. So how do you use correct pronunciation?
What is phonetics?
Phonetics is a set of symbols that represent all the different sounds in a language. They are beneficial because every time you find a new word, you can look up its phonetic transcription in the dictionary and find out how to pronounce it correctly. Thus, phonetics is a valuable aid with a language like English, full of spelling irregularities and little correspondence between spelling and pronunciation.
To use phonetics to your advantage, it's good to learn the symbols, but once you've done that, you'll have solved most of your pronunciation problems.
Within phonetics, we can distinguish four different groups: consonants, consonant links, short vowels, and long vowels (also called diphthongs).
Here are the consonants:
Consonant links and short vowels:
And finally, the long vowels or diphthongs:
The Schwa sound
This phonetic symbol has a particular name: Schwa, and is very common in English. It usually represents the unstressed syllable of a word. To make the schwa sound, open your mouth and make the sound. For example:
a fight /əˈbaʊt/
moth and r /ˈmʌðə/
Two pronunciations for /th/
As you can see from the list above, there are two different phonetic symbols for th, and they are as follows:
The only difference between the two symbols is that the first is unvoiced (that is, it represents an articulated sound without the vibration of the vocal cords). In contrast, the second is sonorous (the sound's emission involves the vocal cords' vibration).
Try saying these words by putting a finger to your neck, and you can feel the difference. Here are some words that feature these sounds:
Where's the accent?
Another valuable feature of phonetics is that it shows you where to place the accent. Each word can be composed of one or more syllables, which always has a stronger accent than the others. In phonetics, this syllable is indicated by the presence of an apostrophe 'before it. For example:
pre stop /prepeə/
In the word prepare, the accent falls on the second syllable. Some words can even change their meaning depending on where the accent is placed. For example:
to record /rɪˈkɔːd/ (to record sounds or information)
a record /ˈrekɔːd/ (a written or audio copy of the information)
As a verb, to record has an accent on the second syllable, while the accent falls on the first syllable when it works as a noun.
The letter R.
In English, you will notice that the letter r is rarely pronounced in the middle or at the end of a word. The only time it's pronounced is when a vowel follows it. For example:
instead of /ˈrɑːðə/
In the following cases, however, or is not pronounced:
It may seem wrong not to pronounce a letter like r, but if you learn to stop pronouncing it in your speech, your pronunciation will be more like a native speaker of English.
Here are some examples of commonly spelled sentences followed by their phonetic transcription:
We had a school party yesterday to celebrate Halloween.
wi: həd ə pɑːti ət skuːl jestədei tə ˈseləbreɪt hæləʊˈiːn
Did you have fun?
dɪd already həv fʌn?
Yes, it was great. I met some very nice people.
jes, ɪt wəz ɡreɪt. aɪ met səm ˈveri naɪs ˈpiːpəl
Do you have anything to eat?
wəz ðeə ˈeniθɪŋ tə iːt?
Yes. There were lots of things to eat and drink too.
jes. ðeə wə lɒts əv θɪŋs tə iːt ənd drɪŋk tuː
As you can see, phonetics can therefore help you learn to pronounce English words correctly, and for that, it can be very beneficial to include it in your method of study.
From now on, when writing a new word, look it up in the dictionary to also add the corresponding phonetic transcription. After using this method a few times, you will start to remember your pronunciation more quickly. Please find out how to improve your pronunciation, thanks to some ways. Read about them here.