English Pronounciation Guide

THERE ARE 44 BASIC SOUNDS IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, REPRESENTED BY 26 LETTERS OF THE ALPHABET. Of these, 23 are vowels, which is quite a lot more than in some other European languages, like Spanish, or Italian.

Because of the mismatch between the number of sounds in English and the number of letters used to represent them, there are often difficulties in trying to spell English words phonetically. This is actually one of the biggest complaints of non-native speakers when they learn English.

To overcome this problem, phonetic symbols were developed to represent the natural sounds of English in a scientific way. The International Phonetic Association has created a system that describes the sounds which can be used not only in English, but any language in the world (even Klingon, and Sindarin!).

Introducing the Schwa, the Upside Down e

WHILE SOME of the IPA symbols look quite familiar to most people (for example, [i] and [y]), others are more abstract. The letter [ǝ], otherwise known as the schwa, is one of the most important sounds in the English language, but is often ignored by foreign learners. It is a vowel, designated as the Mid Central Vowel to be specific, and sounds something like "uh". Because it doesn't exist in many languages apart from English, it is difficult for English learners to master.

When native speakers speak English at a regular speed, certain words are stressed while others are left unstressed. In general, new information is often stressed, while old information is not.

Often the unstressed words are the "grammatical" words, like modal verbs ("have", "can" and "will"). Articles, pronouns and prepositions are also unstressed. The schwa is often used to replace unstressed syllables.

Here are some examples:

"I'll have gone home by then" .......... I'll ǝv gone home bī then.
"You can sit down here" .......... You kǝn sit down here.
"I do yoga every morning" .......... I dǝ yoga every morning.
"Do you know the way to the station?" .......... Dǝ yǝ know thǝ way to thǝ station?"

Some other common vowels in English are [æ], which is pronounced like "a" in "bat", and [ɛ], pronounced like the "a" in "fat" in New Zealand English, or the "e" in "bed" in North American dialects.


Stress & Articulation

STRESS REFERS to the prominence given to particular syllables in a single word. While some languages like French stress syllables at the end of the word, in English the first or second syllable are stressed. Interestingly, loan words from French have maintained their French style of pronunciation (such as "hotel" (hoTEL) and "café" (caFAY)).

When the noun and verb of a word with the same meaning have the same spelling ("insult", "address", "lecture", etc), the syllables are stressed differently. For nouns, the first syllable is accented; for verbs, the second syllable is accented.

Some other examples: PROGRESS, PRODUCE.

When two words are often said together (like "White House"), the noun is given more stress than the adjective, since it is the important part of the phrase (thus, "the White HOUSE".)

presearch

Vowels are pronounced with the mouth open.

When a word ends with a consonant and then "le", the word is divided just before the consonant: for example, "peo/ple".

When a word ends with "l", "r" or "f" or other consonants and the next words begins with a vowel sound, the consonant moves to the beginning of the next word. For example:

"Later on" .......... Latǝ ron
"Far away" .......... Fa rǝway
"Still advertising" .......... Sti ladvǝrtīziNG
"Surf's up" .......... Sǝrf sǝp

When an unstressed word starts with the letter "h", the "h" sound is not pronounced. For example:

"I wouldn't have met her" .......... I woodn tǝv me tǝr.

Labials
Labial sounds are consonants made by either of the lips.

Dentolabials are found only in pathological speech.

COMMON PROBLEMS FOR EAST ASIANS
Photo/photography.

Using rising intonation to contrast different parts of the sentence, or to end a sentence in a question.

Voiced vs unvoiced sounds

VOICING IS is a distinctive feature of English. In English, sounds can be voiced or unvoiced. This makes a contrast with some other languages like Korean, which do not recognize any distinction between the two.

Voiced sounds are produced by vocal chord vibration. For example, all vowels are voiced, while "l" is unvoiced. The choice of how to pronounce the "ed" at the end of verbs in the past tense is determined by whether the final sound in the verb stem is voiced or unvoiced.

If a verb base ends in a voiceless sound, then "ed" is pronounced "t". If the base ends with a voiced sound, it is pronounced as "d". If the base ends with a "t" or "d" sound, then the full "ed" is pronounced.

See Google's pronunciation tool!

TH sound: push your tongue into the top teeth, and blow air out.

Common Weaknesses in Different Language Backgrounds

CHINESE WEAKNESSES
See here.

INDIAN WEAKNESSES
P/B.
Alveolar trill (rolled [r]).

MALAY MISTAKES
Lack of aspiration.
Use plural "s" after verbs, nouns, etc, inappropriately.

Consonants: click here.

RUSSIAN MISTAKES
Open-mid back rounded vowel.

THAI MISTAKES
Say "gammer" instead of "grammar".

SHADOWING

RECOMMENDED WEBSITES & WEBLOGS
» Star Pronunciation
» Ted Power




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