Phonetics and English sounds

Phonetics?!!!  What  the *!” does that mean?

Teacher :    Have you ever picked up a dictionary to look for the meaning of an English word?

Teacher: Yes, of course you have. What a silly question!!!

Teacher:     Have you ever noticed some funny scribbles on the right side of the word?

Student:     Yeah! What are they?

Teacher:     Which of the following options is your choice?

Student’s possible answers

  1. Dictionary! What’s that?
  2. The scribbles are rude words like the ones that appear in some comics.
  3. The scribbles are a special secret code, only for spies.
  4. The scribbles correspond to the sounds that are in the word.


 If you chose option 1, you’d better change it quickly before somebody reads your answer!

If you chose option 4, CONGRATULATIONS!!!

If you chose options 2 or 3, carry on reading.

  • Phonetics, refers to the area of linguistics that deals with the sounds in words.
  • Phoneticians are people that carefully listen to words and represent the sounds of them through phonetic symbols.
  • As an example of this, look at the following English words written in phonetic symbols. Phonetic symbols are called phonological transcriptions.
  • Phonetic transcriptions are written between slashes / /.

English word                          Phonological transcription 

         Cat                                          /kæt/

         Car                                          /ka:/

         Bath                                         /bɑːθ/

         dog                                          /dɒɡ/

Those words were easy. What about these?

         Castle                                      /kaːsəl/

         cucumber                                  /'kjuː kʌmbə/

         computer                                  /kəmˈpjuːtə/

Phonetics then, writes the sounds that are in the word, so that we know how to pronounce them correctly.

  • What is Standard English pronunciation? 

A lot of countries in the world speak English as a first language: England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, U.S. and Canada are only a few of them. In these countries, the English language spoken is different due to different features in the language and one very important one of these important features is what is know as accent. Like the Spanish language spoken in the different parts of the world, the English spoken in these countries is different because of the way people pronounce the words

For this introduction on English sounds, we have only chosen one of the many types of the “Englishes” spoken in the world, Standard English. Standard English is the type of English that is spoken on many British radio stations or on TV so it is easy to hear a lot of samples on the Internet of this variety or to hear it in many of your English text books.

  • Why Phonetics?

Phonetics is useful for two very good reasons.

  1. Because, there are many sounds in the English language that are not in the Spanish language. Actually, there are over forty different sounds in the English language!
  1. Because the English pronunciation of words is not like the Spanish pronunciation. On many occasions a learner of the English language does not have enough information of how a new word is pronounced because the writing seldom gives this type of information. What’s more, in English it is very common to come across situations like the following.

Tear  /tɪə/ =lágrima            Tear /teə/=romper tela o papel

          For these two reasons, it is very important to learn the sounds of the English language. Not only can Phonetics  help you learn a new language like English with a good pronunciation but also, it can help you learn more English words by yourself.

One thought on “Phonetics and English sounds

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