Phonetics of English: how to improve pronunciation


Why is it important to learn English pronunciation? Because pronunciation is the first thing, people notice in your English! So, remember to pronounce English words correctly as soon as possible.

English pronunciation is unpredictable! If you stop practicing pronunciation, you will start making mistakes that will eventually become irreparable. The longer you ignore pronunciation problems, the more likely you are never to get rid of them. So fight procrastination!

The map to Learn the pronunciation

Want to speak good English? Then you have to learn to recognize and pronounce each sound. First, learn sounds and their phonetic symbols. Secondly, practice recognizing each sound - then you can learn pronunciation by ear. Finally, to learn to pronounce a word correctly, you need to know what sounds you hear.

Learn phonetic transcription and word stress. Choose your pronunciation model, American or British. There are many recording systems for the transmission of English language sounds.

However, American dictionaries use an alternative system other than IPA (see Merriam-Webster Dictionary, New Oxford American Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Random House Dictionary of English Language).


English pronunciation, as we said, is unpredictable, so guessing how to pronounce a word is a useless exercise and will also reinforce a bad habit.

That is why (especially at the beginning of learning!) it is vital to check how a particular word is pronounced carefully. Think of each word as a potential trap—not just "hard" words like "determine" or "process." Simple English words like "of," "wouldn't," "does," or "most" might surprise you.

If you're not 100% sure how to pronounce a particular word, don't guess - if possible, try to check the dictionary before saying the word out loud.

As you read, ask yourself, "Do I know how to pronounce this word? Can I do a phonetic transcription of it?" If you're not sure, check the dictionary. If you are a beginner, you should repeat this process as many times as possible.

Make it a rule to check your pronunciation in the dictionary. If you're not 100% sure how to pronounce a particular word, don't guess - if possible, try to check the dictionary before saying the word out loud.

Then, as you read, ask yourself, "Do I know how to pronounce this word? Can I do a phonetic transcription of it?" Again, if you're not sure, check the dictionary. If you are a beginner, you should repeat this process as many times as possible.

Listen and remember. Any spoken language source will work: When listening to TV, podcasts, movies, audiobooks, pay attention to how words and sounds are pronounced. If the speaker is not a native speaker, mark their mistakes.

Practice! Practice can take many forms. You can work through the system (15 minutes with vocabulary or pronunciation exercises, for example) or repeat a few words while doing something else (watching a movie or taking a shower). It is essential to do this regularly - then you will see progress.

Develop a pronunciation learning system for yourself. For example, please find a list of the most commonly used English words and learn how they are pronounced.

How do you know if you have good English pronunciation?

There are three levels of English pronunciation:

Level 1. Often people around don't understand what you want to say. You mispronounce English words.

Level 2. Others can understand you, but for this, they need to make an effort.

Level 3. You understand easily. Your pronunciation is straightforward and pleasing to the ears.

There are only two standards for English pronunciation:

If you speak with a GenAm or RP accent, you will be understood worldwide - both native and non-native English speakers. GenAm and RP sound with a native speaker on TV, in movies, in English classes - that's why they are familiar to everyone.

Not all native English speakers have a GenAm or RP accent, and not all speak at level 3. So, for example, if you were born and raised in Scotland, any Scot would understand you - and most likely any British, not American - not necessarily, but one to whom there is no English descent - most likely not.

However, you are likely to experience many difficulties communicating with English speakers in Houston, Berlin, or Seoul with this pronunciation.

English pronunciation: Absolute chaos

Yet understanding English pronunciation is not easy. So at the beginning of the last century, the Dutch linguist Gerard Nolst Trenité (how his name is pronounced is the subject of a separate study) wrote an entire poem on the subject in his heart. And it's called (you won't be surprised): "chaos."

Gerard Nolst Trenité - The Chaos (1922)

Dearest creature in creation

Studying English pronunciation,

I will teach you in my verse

Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,

Make your head with heat grow dizzy;

Tear in eye, your dress you'll tear;

Queer , fair seer, hear my prayer.

Pray , console your loving poet,

Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!

Just compare heart, hear and heard,

Dies and diet, lord and word.

Sword and sward, retain and Britain

(Mind the latter how it's written).

Made has not the sound of bade,

Say -said, pay-paid, laid but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you

With such words as vague and ague,

But be careful how you speak,

Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via

Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;

Woven , oven, how and low,

Script , receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:

Daughter , laughter and Terpsichore,

Branch, ranch, measles , topsails, aisles,

Missiles , similes, reviles.

Wholly , holly, signal, signing,

Same , examining, but mining,

Scholar , vicar, and cigar,

Solar , mica, war and far.

From "desire": desirable-admirable from "admire",

Lumber , plumber, bier, but brier,

Topsham , brougham, renown, but known,

Knowledge , done, lone, gone, none, tone ,

One , anemone, Balmoral,

Kitchen , lichen, laundry, laurel.

Gertrude , German, wind and wind,

Beau, kind, kindred, queue , mankind,

Tortoise , turquoise, chamois-leather,

Reading, Reading , heathen, heather.

This phonetic labyrinth

Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

Have you ever yet endeavoured

To pronounce revered and severed,

Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,

Peter, petrol and patrol?

Billet does not end like ballet;

Bouquet , wallet, mallet, chalet.

Blood and flood are not like food,

Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,

Which exactly rhymes with khaki.

Discount , viscount, load and broad,

Toward , to forward, to reward,

Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?

Right! Your pronunciation's OK.

Rounded , wounded, grieve and sieve,

Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Is your r correct in higher?

Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.

Hugh , but hug, and hood, but hoot,

Buoyant , minute, but minute.

Say abscission with precision,

Now: position and transition;

Would it tally with my rhyme

If I mentioned paradigm?

Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,

But cease, crease, grease and greasy?

Cornice, nice, valise, revise,

Rabies, but lullabies.

Of such puzzling words as nauseous,

Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,

You'll envelop lists, I hope,

In a linen envelope.

Would you like some more? You'll have it!

Affidavit, David, davit .

To abjure, to perjure. Sheik

Does not sound like Czech but ache.

Liberty , library, heave and heaven,

Rachel , loch, moustache, eleven.

We say hallowed, but allowed,

People , leopard, towed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,

Between mover, plover, Dover.

Leeches , breeches, wise, precise,

Chalice , but police and lice,

Camel , constable, unstable,

Principle , disciple, label.

Petal , penal, and canal,

Wait , surmise, plait, promise, pal,

Suit , suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit

Rhyme with "shirk it" and "beyond it",

But it is not hard to tell

Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

Muscle , muscular, gaol, iron,

Timber , climber, bullion, lion,

Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,

Senator , spectator, mayor,

Ivy , privy, famous; clamour

Has the a of drachm and hammer.

Pussy , hussy and possess,

Desert , but desert, address.

Golf , wolf, countenance, lieutenants

Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.

Courier, courtier, tomb , bomb, comb,

Cow , but Cowper, some and home.

"Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker",

Quoth he, "than liqueur or liquor",

Making, it is sad but true,

In bravado, much ado.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,

Neither does devour with clangour.

Pilot, pivot, gaunt , but aunt,

Font , front, wont, want, grand and grant.

Arsenic, specific, scenic,

Relic, rhetoric, hygienic .

Gooseberry, goose , and close, but close,

Paradise, rise, rose , and dose.

Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,

Make the latter rhyme with eagle.

Mind ! Meandering but mean,

Valentine and magazine.

And I bet you, dear, a penny,

You say mani-(fold) like many,

Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,

Tier (one who ties), but tier.

Arch, archangel ; pray, does erring

Rhyme with herring or with stirring?

Prison, bison, treasure trove,

Treason, hover, cover, cove,

Perseverance, severance . Ribald

Rhymes (but piebald doesn't) with nibbled.

Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,

Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw .

Don't be down, my own, but rough it,

And distinguish buffet, buffet;

Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,

Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.

Say in sounds correct and sterling

Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.

Evil, devil, mezzotint,

Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)

Now you need not pay attention

To such sounds as I don't mention,

Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,

Rhyming with the pronoun yours;

Nor are proper names included,

Though I often heard, as you did,

Funny rhymes to unicorn,

Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.

No, my maiden, coy and comely,

I don't want to speak of Cholmondeley.

No. Yet Froude compared with proud

Is no better than McLeod.

But mind trivial and vial,

Tripod, menial, denial ,

Troll and trolley, realm and ream,

Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.

Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely

May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,

But you're not supposed to say

Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.

Had this invalid invalid

Worthless documents? How pallid,

How uncouth he, couchant, looked,

When for Portsmouth I had booked!

Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite ,

Paramour, enamoured, flighty ,

Episodes, antipodes,

Acquiesce , and obsequies.

Please don't monkey with the geyser,

Don't peel 'taters with my razor,

Rather say in accents pure:

Nature, stature and mature.

Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,

Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,

Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,

Wan, sedan and artisan.

The th will surely trouble you

More than r, ch or w.

Say then these phonetic gems:

Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.

Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,

There are more but I forget 'em-

Wait! I've got it: Anthony,

Lighten your anxiety.

The archaic word albeit

Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;

With and forthwith, one has voice,

One has not, you make your choice.

Shoes, goes, does *. Now first say: finger;

Then say: singer, ginger, linger.

Real , zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,

Marriage , foliage, mirage, age,

Hero, heron, query, very ,

Parry, tarry fury, bury,

Dost , lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,

Job , Job, blossom, bosom, oath.

Faugh, oppugnant , keen oppugners,

Bowing , bowing, banjo-tuners

Holm you know, but noes, canoes,

Puisne , truism, use, to use?

Though the difference seems little,

We say actual, but victual,

Seat , sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,

Put , nut, granite, and unite.

Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,

Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.

Dull , bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,

Hint , pint, senate, but sedate.

Gaelic , Arabic, pacific,

Science , conscience, scientific;

Tour , but our, dour, succour, four,

Gas , alas, and Arkansas.

Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,

Next omit, which differs from it

Bona fide, alibi

Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Sea , idea, guinea, area,

Psalm , Maria, but malaria.

Youth , south, southern, cleanse and clean,

Doctrine , turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,

Dandelion with battalion,

Rally with ally; yea, ye,

Eye , I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever,

Neither , leisure, skein, receiver.

Never guess-it is not safe,

We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.

Starry, granary , canary,

Crevice , but device, and eyrie,

Face , but preface, then grimace,

Phlegm , phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Bass , large, target, gin, give, verging,

Ought , oust, joust, and scour, but scourging ;

Ear , but earn; and ere and tear

Do not rhyme with here but heir.

Mind the o of off and often

Which may be pronounced as orphan,

With the sound of saw and sauce;

Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.

Pudding, puddle, putting . Putting?

Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.

Respite, spite, consent, resent.

Liable , but Parliament.

Seven is right, but so is even,

Hyphen , roughen, nephew, Stephen,

Monkey , donkey, clerk and jerk,

Asp , grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.

A of valour, vapid vapour,

S of news (compare newspaper),

G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,

I of antichrist and grist,

Differ like diverse and divers,

Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers .

Once , but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,

Polish, Polish, poll and poll.

Pronunciation-think of Psyche!-

Is a paling, stout and spiky.

Won't it make you lose your wits

Writing groats and saying "grits"?

It's a dark abyss or tunnel

Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,

Islington , and Isle of Wight,

Housewife , verdict and indict.

Don't you think so, reader, rather,

Saying lather, bather, father?

Finally, which rhymes with enough,

Though , through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??

Hiccough has the sound of sup...

My advice is: GIVE IT UP!


If you can read every word of this beautiful poem correctly, you speak English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world. However, one Frenchman declared that he would prefer six months of hard work to read six lines aloud.