English Phonetic System & International Phonetic Alphabet

The science that studies all human sounds is called phonetics. It analyses the production (articulation), transmission (sound), and perception (hearing) of sounds. The phonetic system of a language represents the way people use sounds in their speech. A language’s phonology classifies these sounds into vowels and consonants, long and short sounds, and many other language-specific parameters.

You can find detailed information on each of these aspects in this article by custom-writing.org experts, including how the English phonetic system relates to the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).

Phonetics definition.

📢 Phonetic System of English

The English phonetic system comprises the four components: speech sounds, syllabic word structure, stress, and intonation. To make it simple, it describes the way we produce and perceive the sounds of speech. Most ESL textbooks explain these components using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) which is described below.

Phonics vs Phonetics

Sometimes the meaning of phonics is limited to a simplified definition of phonetics. But it is incorrect. Phonetics is the academic study of the sounds of a language. Hence, this science is a branch of linguistics. Phonics is a method of teaching to read when each letter is pronounced as in the alphabet.

Phonetics vs Phonology

The phonetics and phonology difference can be explained by their approaches and methods as a science. The former is a descriptive discipline that analyzes separate sounds we use in a language. The latter is more theoretical and explores the patterns of sounds, their system, and combination.

IPA in English Phonetics

The International Phonetic Alphabet is a system of symbols representing each sound used in the English language. English language learning widely uses IPA. Linguists transcribe words in this alphabet for their research. Dictionaries use IPA to present the correct pronunciation of words. However, not some of the above use their own alphabets for various reasons. In most cases, they provide a reference table. But many American dictionaries transcribe words in a phonetic respelling system, which could be more comfortable for an unprepared reader.

🔤 International Phonetic Alphabet

IPA was developed in the XIX century but is presently used for the modern language. If you know how to pronounce each of the symbols, you will be able to use the transcription in a dictionary.

What Is an IPA Chart & How to Use It?

The IPA chart is a unique classification of sounds according to different aspects. There are 107 phonetic symbols and 52 diacritics in this phonemic transcription chart. Each of them represents its place in the mouth or throat. So everyone can reproduce the sound quickly.

The sounds in phonetics also vary by the manner of pronouncing them. What’s important here is how lips, tongue, and teeth work to produce one or another sound. The way you use breath is also essential.

The first thing to know about IPA is that there are two broad categories:

  • Vowels – these speech sounds in English are produced with air moving freely in different directions.
  • Consonants – these phonetic sounds are produced by air too, but are stopped by various parts of the mouth like tongue or teeth.

Below you’ll find consonant and vowel IPA charts. Note that you can check the phonetic symbols with audio, so you can always have an example before your eyes. Continue reading to know all the secrets of learning the transcription alphabet!

📊 IPA Vowel Chart with Audio

There aren’t so many vowel letters in the English language, but their phonetic spelling can be challenging to master.

Vowel chart.

Types of Vowels in Phonetics

Usually, vowels in phonetics have the following classification:

  1. Short vowels
  2. Long vowels
  3. Diphthongs – fusion of two sounds (e.g. ‘point,’ ‘though,’ ‘cloud’)

You can listen to any of them with the help of our IPA vowel chart below.

Vowels

Diphthongs

Consonants

Sheep or Ship? Short and Long IPA Vowels

Sometimes it’s challenging to distinguish long phonetic vowel sounds from short ones. A foreigner may think they sound the same, but the difference is noticeable for a native speaker. For that purpose, IPA and other alphabets use phonetic signs, such as the symbol /:/.

Still, it’s troublesome for many ESL speakers to understand that the same phonetic letters can sound differently. And it’s okay because a lot of languages don’t have such difficult letter pronunciation.

The difference between those phonetic sounds is easy to notice while pronouncing them. Long /i:/ takes more time than short /i/ to produce, and you have to tense your tongue more. At the same time, short /i/ is pronounced without any tension.

📈 IPA Consonant Chart with Audio

IPA phonetics regarding consonants is harder to remember. There are many types of phonetic consonants according to the manner of pronouncing them.

Types of Consonants in Phonetics

Usually, consonant sounds of the English alphabet are divided into the following categories:

  1. Fricative sounds – produced when the tongue rubs teeth or the roof of the mouth.
  2. Plosive sounds – produced by stopping airflow with an explosive sound.
  3. Nasal sounds – made through the nose.
  4. Glottal sounds – pronounced in the throat.
  5. Approximant sounds – similar to phonetic vowels.
  6. Affricate sounds – a fusion of plosive and fricative sounds.

Our interactive chart will help you with pronunciation if you have any difficulties.

How to Pronounce /R/?

If you’re an ESL speaker, you may wonder whether you should pronounce or omit the phonetic sound /r/. Well, it depends on the variant of English you use.

In the American variant of English, /r/ is always pronounced. In the British variant of English, you pronounce /r/ phonetic sound only if it comes before a vowel. In other cases, omit it. For example, in ‘print,’ you pronounce /r/ because a vowel sound follows, while in ‘park,’ you omit /r/.

Also, make sure to use linking /r/. It appears when /r/ letter pronunciation at the end of the word is omitted, but a vowel sound follows next in a word combination. For example, in the word ‘bear’ the phonetic sound /r/ isn’t pronounced. But if there is the word combination ‘bear eats’, then the sound /r/ appears in British English spelling.

❗ Primary and Secondary Stress in IPA

Most languages have stress in their pronunciation. The English phonetic system has an element like this, too.

In IPA transcription, you mark it with a symbol /ˈ/. But what’s interesting is that English phonetic spelling can have two stresses at once. Primary stress is a regular phonetic symbol used in words with three syllables. Secondary stress appears when there are more than two syllables in a word. It emphasizes the syllable that is weaker than the primary stressed one but stronger than the last syllable.

The IPA symbols list represents secondary stress as /ˌ/. For example, the IPA transcription of the word ‘alphabetical’ looks like /ˌælfəˈbetɪkl/. The first syllable here is secondarily stressed.

You may wonder if it is challenging to learn IPA pronunciation symbols. Well, it depends on how much time you spend on it. Almost every teacher would advise you to look up every new word in a dictionary. It can help you understand the English phonetic system in a short time.

However, students often ignore IPA transcription and trust their ears instead. It’s nice if you have excellent listening skills, but remember that you’re more likely to see words for the first in the text rather than hearing them somewhere else. Moreover, native speakers can use many different variants of the language! That’s why it’s useful to know how to read new words without the help of native speakers.

Now that you know how to avoid pronunciation mistakes, you may be interested in this article. It’ll teach you how to write correctly.

🔗 References

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