Phonetic Chart Explained

In this video I will make the phonetic chart explained and talk about the purpose and overall structure of the Phonetic chart for English Pronunciation.

In this video we are going to be looking at the phonetic chart.

At first it looks like a meaningless collection of symbols. But each symbol represents a different sound.

In spoken form, most of the English language can be broken down into 44 separate sounds. The phonetic chart shows us how these sounds relate to each other. There are three sections to the chart.

Phonetic Chart Explained: Vowels

The first section is single vowel sounds. These are also sometimes called monophthongs. When we think about the alphabet we normally think of there being 5 vowels A, E, I, O, U.

However, there are many ways that these letters are pronounced, so the pronunciation is very inconsistent. This makes things difficult when learning English especially as in many other languages the vowels sounds are pronounced more consistently with how they they are spelled.

On the top row we have the sounds

  • /I/
  • /ɪ/
  • /ʊ/
  • /uː/

With all these sounds the mouth is almost closed and the sound is made at the top of the mouth. That is why they are on the top row.

On the second row we have the sounds

  • /e/
  • /ə/
  • /ɜː/
  • /ɔː/

Now the mouth is open a little more and it feels like the sounds comes straight out through the middle of the mouth. That is why they are on the middle row.

On the bottom row we have the sounds

  • /æ/
  • /ʌ/
  • /ɑː/
  • /ɒ/

To make these sounds our mouths should be almost wide open and it feels like the sound is coming from the bottom of the mouth. That is why they are on the bottom row.

The columns are also important because they give us an idea of the position of the tongue.

With the left column the tongue is at the front.

  • /iː/
  • /e/
  • /æ/

The tongue moves back a little for the second column.

  • /ɪ/
  • /ə/
  • /ʌ/

Back a little more for the third.

  • /ʊ/
  • /ɜː/
  • /ɑː/

And now finally at the back

  • /uː/
  • /ɔː/
  • /ɒ/

Phonetic Chart Explained: Diphthongs

The second section is the diphthongs, on our charts that is the section in red. Diphthongs are also vowel sounds, but they are combinations of two vowel sounds that appear together within the same syllable producing a new unique sound.

They’re arranged according to the second sound.

In the first column we have the /ə/ sounds

  • /ɪə/
  • /ʊə/
  • /eə/

In the second column we have the /ɪ/ sounds. We should note that the symbols for these diphthongs are written with the /ɪ/ symbol but the sound is often the longer but similar /i:/.

  • /eɪ/
  • /ɔɪ/
  • /aɪ/

And in the third column we have the /ʊ/ symbol. Again sometimes the sound is more similar to the longer /uː/.

  • /əʊ/
  • /aʊ/

Phonetic Chart Explained: Consonant Pairs

The third section is the consonant sounds, The first 2 rows are sometimes called consonant pairs. This is because the sounds of each pair are produced in a very similar way. Lets look at the first pair.

  • /p/ and /b/

The sound is similar but the physical shape of mouth is almost exactly the same. The only difference is /b/ is voiced which means that we use our vocal chords to produce the sound. If you feel you neck when you say the sound you should feel some vibration. Now if you say /p/, if you say it correctly you will not feel that vibration.

The same is true of the next pair

  • /t/, and /d/

/d/ is voiced and /t/ isn’t.

  • /ʧ/ and /ʤ/
  • /k/ and /g/
  • /f/ and /v/
  • /θ/ and /ð/
  • /s/ and /z/
  • /ʃ/ and /ʒ/

Phonetic Chart Explained: Single Consonants

Finally in the bottom row we have the single consonants

  • /m/
  • /ŋ/
  • /h/
  • /l/
  • /r/
  • /w/
  • /j/

So you can see now, that the phonetic chart is not just a random collection of symbols but useful tool learning correct pronunciation. For an even more detailed explanation of one of the sections, click on one of the annotations on the left of the screen. We have also produced an interactive chart using YouTube’s annotations. So you can click on a symbol and it will jump to the part of the video that play that sound. So you can listen over and over to the sounds you want to study. Remember you can have online classes with me or one of our other teachers. Check out our website for details. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Skype. If you have any questions or comments please get in touch, we are here to help you.



One Response to “Phonetic Chart Explained”

  1. Mohamed April 27, 2015 at 7:16 am #

    No words to explain how much i’d enjoyed your lessons thank you !

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