Introduction to Phonetics

This video is an Introduction to Phonetics and we are going to be looking at Phonetics and Pronunciation.

So what is Phonetics?

Phonetics is the study of the actual sounds that make up the words of a language. Every language has its own characteristics and there are sounds in English that you might not use in your Language, and sounds in your language that we might not use in English and one of the more difficult things about English is the spelling and pronunciation. This introduction to phonetics will look at the difference between the written spelling and the actual pronunciation. We only have 26 letters in the alphabet but modern English uses about 44 different sounds. So when you look at word, it can be difficult to know, from the spelling, how to pronounce it because the same letters can be pronounced differently in different words.

Introduction to Phonetics: Look at these examples.

  • Busy
  • Word
  • Queue
  • Laughter
  • Comb
  • Chaos

All of these words and many more can be difficult to pronounce because spelling in English is not phonetic and it’s often inconsistent. So in our introduction to phonetics we look at how to get around this by looking at the actual sounds that make up a word and not how it is spelt. In the Phonetic Chart, there are three sections.

We have made additional videos about each section of the chart, as well as a video called Phonetic Chart Explained.

Introduction to Phonetics: Pronunciation is Physical.

The key to good pronunciation is to understand that making the sounds of speech is a physical thing. If you are not accustomed to speaking English it won’t feel natural for you to use your mouth and your tongue in the way that you need to. So if you want to improve your pronunciation, think about these questions;

  • Where does each sound comes from?
  • Is the jaw open or closed?
  • What shape is the mouth?
  • Where should the tongue be?
  • Does air come out of my mouth when i say the sound?
  • Is it voiced?

Incorrect pronunciation is almost always the result of trying to produce the sound in a way that is physically incorrect. If we look at those difficult to pronounce words again. We can spell them out using the phonetic symbols to see exactly how they are pronounced.

  • “Busy”- here we can see that the “u” does not make the sound we might expect. Instead it makes an /ɪ/ sound. It is not “boozy” or “buzzy”, it’s “busy”.
  • “Word” – the “o” here, together with the “r”, is pronounced /ɜ:/ and that’s confusing because that sound if often spelt with “e-r”.
  • “Queue”- This word has a lot more letters than you might expect and most of them are silent.
  • “Laughter”- You might expect there to be an “r” in Laughter but there isn’t, also the “f” sound is represented by the letters “gh”, this is a very unusual spelling and causes a lot of confusion.
  • “Comb”- This word has a “b” at the end but we do not pronounce it.
  • “Chaos”- This is spelt with a “Ch” and “Ch” is more commonly pronounced /tʃ/ like in Church, but in Chaos it is /k/ like in cat.

So you can see how there are many inconsistencies in English between spelling and pronunciation. So phonetics gives us a way to write words as they are pronounced. We have also made a video summarising the most common pronunciation problems that people have. If you are having problems and want to improve why don’t you have a look, you will probably find something that will help you. We talk about:

  • Minimal Pairs which are when two sounds are often confused, like /l/ and /r/.
  • Consonant Clusters this is when there are several consonants together without any vowels and that produces a sound that can be difficult to produce. Like “Bl” in “Blend” and “sh” in “Splash”
  • Homophones are pairs or groups of words that are pronounced in the same way but different spelling. Like “too”, the adverb, and “two” the number.
  • Heteronyms are pairs or groups of words that have the same spelling but a different pronunciations. Like “Excuse” the verb and “Excuse” the noun.

The best way to improve your pronunciation is to talk with someone who will correct you when you make mistakes. If you don’t have someone who you can do this with, you can book a class here with me or one of our other teachers. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, we can study together over Skype. You can also contact us on Twitter and Facebook. We are here to help you so if you have any questions or comments or would like to arrange an online class please do get in touch. Thanks for watching.

4 Responses to “Introduction to Phonetics”

  1. peter-paul March 25, 2016 at 12:04 pm #

    The video was awesome and I find it helpful and useful. But I want to make this an everyday routine of staying close to the videos and would like you to provide me with the download of this video.

    • Colin April 26, 2016 at 4:52 am #

      English language club is funded by the advertising that appears on our website and YouTube channel. For that reason we are unable to offer the videos offline. However, we will consider making some downloadable packs of videos available for purchase from the site soon.

  2. Thanh Hai July 4, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

    Is it British or American pronunciation? Thank you.

    • Colin July 10, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

      The content on this site refers to British Pronunciation.

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