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The sound of English

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Phonetics’ role in pronunciation

Phonetics is a science that deals with the sounds of human speech. It is our way to communicate. The sounds of human speech are very complex and have been studied for centuries. Through the history of linguistics as a science, phonetics has always been an important part of studying a language.

Did you know that the first phonetic examinations occurred as long ago as 500 BC in ancient India? So if it makes you feel any better … people have been struggling with it for thousands and thousands of years.

Phonetic AlphabetScreen Shot 2017-02-16 at 15.26.43.png

The International Phonetic Alphabet is important because it allows everyone, not just linguistics, to learn the pronunciation of an utterance- no matter what language is used. The International Phonetic Alphabet has one symbol per sound. The complete Phonetic Alphabet table includes all the sounds for all known sounds in every language.

Every child should be taught in phonics, because then the child will recognize sounds in words and will be able to spell them correctly. Phonics reading is highly essential in every child’s education. It will be impossible for a person to spell any word correctly if the person is not able to recognize the sounds of the letters used in forming the words. A child, which is taught in phonics is able to recognize sounds in word and will be able to spell them correctly.

However, children do not necessarily have to be taught phonics at school in order to recognise the different sounds that make up words of a language. In fact, speech is something that is hard-wired in our brains from the moment we are born. There are areas of our brains dedicated to the understanding and production of sounds in speech such as Broca’s area located in the frontal lobe of the brain and the Wernicke’s area located in the dominant temporal lobe. It is for this reason that children learn speech naturally from their parents. Remember getting told off by your family when you were a toddler for saying a word wrong? It was all trial and error when you were a kid!Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 15.28.59.png

Since learning a new language requires students to reproduce sounds and patterns like a native speaker of that language, it is important that the teachers provide learners with instruction on the different sounds of the source language and explain these differences to the students. It will help them to understand and speak the language more accurately.


The English language is often mispronounced by people from other countries who have a totally different language singsong or other vowel sound positions. They do not use the shape of their mouth in the same way or pronounce the vowels long or short or just say a different vowel than it is.

For example in many languages the sounds /θ/ and /ð/ do not exist and it is also difficult because there are two different sounds that correspond.

Three, thought, those, them, that, these, this, thirty, third, clothes

Many foreigners often replace the ‘th’ sound with [t, d, s, z, or f].

Also learners of English have problems with words like these: Feel/Fell/Fill, Luck/Look, Bought/Boat, Ice/Eyes; which all have different vowel sounds and these sounds have to be produced correctly in order for your speech to be more accurate.

Other words that English language learners get wrong are:

  • Jewelry = not JE-WE-LE-RY, better say TSCHU-LE-RY
  • Colour = CO-LOR not CO-LAR
  • Swordfish = you better say SORD-FISH than SWOERD-FISH
  • Wednesday = WENS-DAY
  • Business = it’s BEE-SNESS not BU-SI-NESS
  • Island = don’t say IS-LAND or ICE-LAND, say I-LAND

And these are just a few!! Mispronunciations happen because language learners tend to stick to the sound system employed in their first language because it comes so naturally to them; therefore, studying phonetics involves not only learning theoretical material but also undergoing training in the production and perception of speech sounds. If you want to sound more native then learning phonetics is one way to sound more natural in your second language BUT it requires work and patience – no one said it was going to be easy! You are after all learning a new sound system.

If you want to give it a go, then you can always try out our class on Wednesday afternoon (3:30pm – 5:30pm) dedicated to The Sounds of English.





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