Thursday, March 3, 2011

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Pronunciation - Phonetics

Pronunciation in English.  Not very easy, is it?  The problem is that English is not a phonetic language because one letter in English can have more than one sound.

Just as an example; think of “through” and “enough”, both of these words have “-ough” endings but if I write them how they sound they look like this “throo” and “enuf”.

Another example is words with “-ed” endings.  Look at “worked”, “wanted” and “played”.  But a lot of learners are surprised (and annoyed) that the pronunciation is actually “workt”, “wontid" and “playd”.

English is a CRAZY language!  But it is the international language and lots of people NEED it.  So how do we learn about these different pronunciations?  Obviously the spelling doesn’t help.

This is why we have the phonetic alphabet.   /θru/, /ɪˈnʌf/, /wɜrkt/, /wɔntɪd/, /pleɪd/
Those are the five words, “through”, “enough”, “worked”, “wanted” and “played”.

Some of you will know this phonetic alphabet and some of you will not.

Some of you will like it and some of you will not.

Believe me, there is a similar problem with teachers.  Some teachers know the phonetic symbols and some don’t.  Some like to teach with them and some don’t.

One of the normal complaints about the phonetic alphabet (from students and teachers) is that it is another language that needs to be learned and understood.  Learning English is enough work without having another alphabet as well.  I have my own opinions about this but I want to know yours.

What are your opinions about this?  How did you learn English pronunciation?  Did you ever learn the phonetic chart?  How good do you think your English pronunciation is?

As always, I look forward to your opinions.  J


P.S. If you do want to learn more about the phonetic chart, I recommend this little program.

If you follow the page down you will see that it is downloadable and FREE! Always good! Here is the direct link to download the program if you have problems.

P.P.S. If you are really interested in wanting to improve your pronunciation and you want more help to do it, try this website:

It will show you very clearly the shape of the mouth to produce different sounds. You will need to understand the phonetic symbols, but it could really help you.


  1. Pronunciation is the worst part of my english! I HATE my french accent. And I either speak with a posh unnatural english accent that would never fool a native english, or with a strong french accent "Ite iz a grète plézir to spik wiz you seur" kind of accent.

    I've been working on this really hard, but I still don't manage to speak a full sentence without people asking me "where are you from darling?" (See my english accent is SO poor, that English people find it necessary to add "darling")

    Even though I usually know how a word is supposed to sound, I never manage to master it. And worst of the words pronunciation, is the musicality of a sentence. Speaking english is pretty much like singing.

    Thank you for the link, I'll read it, but I doubt it will help. As I said, I know what I should do, I just don't manage it.


  2. I love a person that complains about their English pronunciation but uses the word musicality to describe it! I don't think I have ever used that word in my life!

    Okay then. You don't think the links will help. Why do you think you don't manage it? A lack of motivation to improve, a lack of opportunity to practise, a lack of help for guidance?

    I think a lot of learners confuse pronunciation with accent. I haven't done enough reading about the topic... but I will. :-)

    If you have some time and want to try to improve your pronunciation (or at least test it and see if it is as bad as you think) then you might want to try this website.

    It is free but you need to sign up to use it. It takes recordings from youTube and other places and then asks you to repeat them. It then rates your pronunciation and shows you the words/sounds that you need to improve.

    A few points about this website:

    1. This is free. We have a saying in English "You get what you pay for."

    2. It is American English. The videos are mostly American and the pronunciation examples on the website are American.

    3. REMEMBER, even I, as a native English speaker, do NOT score 100% with these pronunciation tests because my accent is different.

    However, I still think it would be a good way for you to get some feedback on your pronunciation, if that is what you really want.

  3. "Musicality" is the litteral translation of a very common word in french. That's my big avantage in English: common french words are often non-used-and-stylish words in english.

    I lack a guidance in pronunciation that's for sure. Paradoxally when I'm corrected on my pronunciation I don't like it. Furthermore most people don't correct me because "your accent is sooooooo cute, I love le France".

    As I said, I know the theory (for queens English anyway), I just don't want to look like a fool when trying to speak with a right accent. And English has so many accent that it's confusing. I don't know any other language that has so many. Some people pronunce the word often : OfTTen, others say offen, some say Ovten. How are foreigners supposed to know which one is right?

  4. Yes. I LOVE that English, and England specifically, has SO many different accents. Look at Liverpool and Manchester. 20-30 miles apart and completely different accents. Listen to this video of Gary Neville (from Manchester) ( and Steven Gerrard (from Merseyside, near Liverpool) ( Quite different.

    I like different accents. If everyone spoke in the "Queens English" then things would be very boring. I certainly don't speak with that accent.

    And my personal preference for "often" is "off-en".


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