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How to Learn the English Phonetics Alphabet

By Sarah, published on 04/08/2017 Blog > Languages > ESOL (English) > Take an ESOL Course to Master English Phonetics

“How can I learn English without spending a penny?”

A question that many people all over the world practice how to say in English !

By using online services and free dictionaries, English students can learn the language of Shakespeare through phonetics.

To be polyglot and to fully immerse yourself in an English speaking country, it is essential to master the various English accents: studying phonetic, available in all language courses, helps students to become bilingual with perfect pronunciation. Learn about different forms of speaking English here.

To improve your language skills and discover the world of English phonetics, follow this guide!

What’s the Point of Phonetics in English?

When you start learning a foreign language, whether its Italian, German or Spanish, phonetics is paramount to ensure good pronunciation.

In English, phonetics are all the more important: in Latin the same Latin letters appear in many European languages, but some letters are pronounced differently depending on the context.

For example, in French, “a” is always pronounced in the same way, while in English it can be pronounced differently depending on the word.

Another obstacle: the English language has accents for each word.

Improve your pronunciation to be able to speak to native English speakers. Pass for a real Londoner with your British accent! | Source: pixabay

If you try to speak fluently with an English accent, communicating can be difficult even if you have the right vocabulary.

In phonetic dictionaries, you need to concentrate on the underlined part of a word which indicates emphasis: this way, the student will be able to perfect their accent and become bilingual faster.

The main sounds to remember are:

  •     Short vowels (as in fish or bus),
  •     Long vowels (as in girl or door),
  •     Diphthongs (as in house or poor)
  •     Consonants (as in thanks or yes).

According to a survey conducted by Using English in 2016, 29% of English learners reported that learning to speak in English is the most difficult part of learning the language, above writing (28%), and listening (26%).

The study of phonetics is therefore crucial to progress in English and develop a foreign accent!

Be aware of the differences between British and US English as well…

Start by Learning the English Phonetic Alphabet

Reading a phonetic dictionary is good, but understanding it is even better!

To help learners of modern languages, linguistic specialists have developed the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), used in most phonetic dictionaries.

The goal?

To put an end to different phonetic alphabets in each language and replace them with a unique system used by all foreign languages.

Learning the IPA will help you learn English, but also decipher the phonetics of all languages so you can learn more languages in the future.

Online exercises and worksheets can help you perfect your English accent. Here are the main symbols to remember in English phonetics. | Source: http://topfunny.ga

To learn English, whether you’re studying English grammar, English vocabulary or business English, it is not necessarily useful to learn the whole phonetic alphabet. On the “learn English” sites, students can find the symbols used in the language of Shakespeare.

The IPA is particularly useful for learning how to use the right mouth muscles to pronounce sounds not used in your native tongue.

For example, many English learners have difficulty pronouncing the infamous “th” or other common words that can stand in the way of communicating with a native speaker!

The IPA will therefore improve your accent while extending your linguistic skills!

Dictionaries of English Phonetics

Remember that no matter what your level of English, whether it’s beginners or advanced, learning English through phonetics is essential!

To learn a language at no extra cost, without paying for English lessons, or simply to practice between English classes with a tutor, phonetic dictionaries are the perfect solution.

Here, the dictionaries are written by natives who know everything about English phrases and expressions in their mother tongue!

In fact, these well-known works are used in many English courses in London, the UK & at foreign universities, as they help students improve their grades in linguistics. With the help of lecturers and native speakers, these kinds of dictionaries can help students perform well at university.

Furthermore, to learn English free of charge and without necessarily going to university, a great idea is to use your local library: of course, these manuals are quite expensive (generally around £30) since they are cited works in the field.

The most used phonetic dictionaries are:

  •     First Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, by David Crystal,
  •     Trask: A Dictionary of Phonetics and Phonology, by F. Ingemann,
  •     Oxford Basic English Dictionary, by Michael Ashby,
  •     Oxford Phonics Spelling Dictionary, by Debbie Hepplewhite,
  •     Phonetics and Speech Science: a Bilingual Dictionary, by J.D. McCawley.

If you are studying English or you want to improve your English, you should study “British” phonetics, which is widely considered the right way to learn English.

Varied Phonetics

As an international language, English is spoken by more than 1.8 billion people worldwide.

However, according to the country, phonetics have evolved: there are different phonetic transcriptions depending on the accent.

So here are the different types of phonetics to learn before traveling abroad!

Dictionary of American Phonetics

In the United States, the English differs from the language used in the British Isles!

Americans have radically changed some English words (for example, they say “elevator” instead of “lift”) and even the English spelling of certain words is different.

Travel all over the world with your perfect English accent. In your exams, always prioritise British over American English. | Source: pixabay

A  few examples of the differences in spelling between American and British English:

  •     “Theatre” becomes “theater”
  •     “Analyse” becomes “analyze”
  •     “Colour” becomes “color”
  •     “Licence” becomes “license”
  •     “Cheque” becomes “check”
  •     “Organisation” becomes “organization” …

Of course, these radical changes have a direct impact on pronunciation: by removing, modifying or adding letters, the phonetics change, which can be extremely confusing for foreign people traveling to the United States.

Knowing the present perfect, irregular verbs or tons of vocabulary is not enough: to pass for an American, you have to perfect your American accent!

Thankfully, there are lots of dictionaries on American phonetics to help you:

  •     An Outline of English phonetics with American Pronunciation, by Daniel Jones,
  •     The Pronunciation of American English, by Arthur Bronstein,
  •     An Introduction to the Phonetics of American English, by Charles Thomas,
  •     American Pronunciation, by John Kenyon,
  •     The American Phonetic Dictionary of the English Language, by Daniel Smalley.

American English uses schwa much more than other types of English.

To learn English quickly, it is useful to know all these small differences that make up the core of American English!

Check out dictionaries of English slang as well

English Commonwealth Phonetic Textbooks

If you are European, it might be pointless to know the phonetics of Commonwealth countries.

On the other hand, if you want to specialise in the culture of a foreign country, do a language exchange or travel to a Commonwealth country, it is imperative to know their accent!

Unlike American English that we hear almost every day, the English of the countries formerly colonized by England remains a mystery for English learners!

Few people know how to differentiate and recognise Canadian, Australian or Barbadian accents…

Recognise the differences in Canadian and American accents. The Canadian accent is very similar to American accents. | Source: pixabay

Dictionaries of phonetics are there to help with this: thanks to these highly acclaimed manuals, students can learn to hone their linguistic skills and perfect the different English accents.

Commonwealth phonetic textbooks are:

  •     A Study of Phonological Variables and Grammatic Items in Canadian English, by Gaelan de Wolf
  •     English Phonology: Regional Accents of English,
  •     Australian English Pronunciation and Transcription, by Felicity Cox,
  •     English Consonant Clusters: The Commonwealth and International Library, by P. Sanderson,
  •     World Englishes, by Gunnel Melchers.

These manuals are intended for all levels of English: why not take a few moments to learn about different regional accents?

Automatic Phonetic Transcriptions

Learn English online and take free English classes, it’s easy-peasy!

To train at TOEIC, TOEFL or simply discover a new facet of the language of Shakespeare, online English classes allow you to enrich your vocabulary, do grammar exercises and work on your accent!

In order to learn a foreign language, Internet users are increasingly turning to automatic transcription services.

The advantage?

No need to know the spelling of a word, since many English learning websites have a voice recognition service for pupils to find the term faster.

Pronunciation is an important part of language learning. Become an expert in the British language so you can travel all over the world! | Source: pixabay

What’s more, websites have a particularly full catalog that offers English slang words which don’t necessarily feature in standard dictionaries.

The most popular auto transcription sites are:

  • Upodn,
  • Lingorado,
  • PhotransEdit,
  • Phonemicchart,
  • Easypronunciation,

These services help improve your English, listening skills and pronunciation in English to travel to an English speaking country without the language barrier!

Through software to learn English, students can also hear the pronunciation of terms with pre-recorded voices, which massively helps in remembering IPA symbols.

By combining phonetic research with online English exercises, you are guaranteed to make progress in English in no time!

Learning English has never been so easy!

Learn how to perfect your English accent with our guide to pronunciation.

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