Phonetic Pronunciation

Phonetic pronunciation is a great learning tool.

When we begin to learn a language, we need to make sure that we get the phonetic pronunciation right. This is not a problem if we have an English mother tongue teacher, but sometimes that can be expensive or time-consuming and so we may be teaching ourselves.
With phonetic languages, teaching yourself can be quite easy; Spanish for one, because the words are almost all pronounced as they are spelt. We need only to know a few basic rules of pronunciation to be able to guess how to pronounce each word more or less correctly.
English, however, is not so easy. English is not what we call a phonetic language, the words are not necessarily pronounced the way that they are spelt. Many words in English have similar spellings to one another – but are pronounced differently. By the same token, many words are spelt differently, but pronounced the same.

This is because English is made up of different languages, predominantly ‘Old German’ which was brought over by the invading Norsemen and again by the Saxons, and which became ‘Old English’ or ‘Anglo-Saxon’; then later, along with Christianity and the invading Normans came ‘Old French’ (which was Latin based). There are also some Greek roots in there somewhere and the language is constantly evolving by adding new words. The ‘Modern English’ which is spoken today bears very little resemblance to the ‘Old English’ of the past. See our History page for more details.

Another problem with English is that almost all the ‘grammar rules’ have an ‘exception which proves the rule’, (This is a frequently confused English idiom meaning that the presence of an exception establishes that a general rule exists – This means that even when we know the rules, it is not always enough.

So, what do we do if we want to teach ourselves?

We should first learn the I.P.A. the International Phonetic Language. When I originally saw the I.P.A. in a language book, I thought it to be a waste of time. Up to this point the only languages I knew (other than English) were French and Spanish (which is totally phonetic) and I hadn’t used the I.P.A to learn either of these. But when I started teaching English, I found it to be invaluable.

The phonetic pronunciation is given for each word in all bi-lingual dictionaries and in most good language learning text books. Consequently this is where we should start. Visit this site for links to some good Phonetic and Pronunciation sites.

Related Content:

British Council – Phonetic Pronunciation iPad App
BBC Learning English – Phonetic Pronunciation
Teaching English – Phonemic Chart

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