A2 · B1 · B2 · phonetics

Silent letters in English words

When you have a phonetic language like Spanish, for instance, it is quite easy to say the words you have learned from a book or  a dictionary because if you know the sounds of each letter you can do quite well when speaking the language and everybody will understand you. But this is not the case with English, which for a lot of people seems like a `crazy´language with its own rules. I already mentioned this feature of English in a post on phonetics and here I’m going to mention another feature that will also look pretty strange to many language learners, that is, letters that appear in the written form of language but should not be pronounced. These letters are called ‘silent letters’ because we do not pronounce them. About two years ago I created a slide lesson, but now that I (unfortunately), have a lot of time, I have also made a video where you can see and hear the examples some of the most typical silent letters.

There’s a quiz button at the bottom of this post.

Serena’s blog
B1 · B2 · Learning English with songs · Listening · phonetics

Learning English pronunciation with songs: I’ll Keep you Safe

A great way to learn English is watching a film, but the thing is, how many of us have the time to watch films these days? I mean, I can hardly remember the last time I was able to relax on my settee with this intention, let alone watching one in a foreign language!

Definitely, present-day duties just don’t seem to understand our needs, do they? So, unless we can plug vocabulary, stress patterns and pronunciation into our brains just like those guys did in The Matrix, we’ll need a backup plan.

Why not try listening to music? It’s easy and fun. You can do this, working, cooking, driving, walking the dog, writing or whatever (as long as it doesn’t make you get up and start dancing). Music can also teach us structures that we need to get our tongues around, and a great number of songs have really catchy tunes that we’ll enjoy trying to understand and even learn.

Here I’ve exploited the soundtrack from the movie Up by Disney. The song is I’ll Keep you Safe by Sleeping at last. It´s a wonderful song along with a beautiful video (watch out! It could make you quite emotional! ) and although the title is great for dealing with ‘will’ used for promises, here  I’ve exploited it to practise some of the English sounds and to help students become more familiar with phonetic symbols. If you haven’t  seen anything about phonetics yet, you may want to brush up a bit on them before doing the activity (you’ll find plenty of introductory activities if you click on the menu Phonetics and English sounds).

Anyway, hope you enjoy the lesson.

PS If you don’t see me around much lately, it’s just that I’m SO STRESSSSSSSSSSSSSEDDDD OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUT!!!!!!!!!!!

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Intermediate B1 listening activity · phonetics

Listening Intermediate B1:Benjamin Zephaniah’s Talking Turkeys

Benjamin Zephaniah’s poem on animal rights and Christmas, is not only thought provoking, but is also put in such a humorous and clever way, that you actually can’t help admiring him as one of Britain’s  top post-war writers.

Zephaniah, a dub poet and Rastafarian, once mentioned that his mission was to fight the dead image of poetry and take it to the streets with messages that concerned the daily lives of ordinary people; like you and me.

As an ESL teacher, having the  opportunity to introduce students to the culture of my native UK and to  poets such as Zephaniah, is really something awesome.


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A1 · A2 · B1 · B2 · Listening · phonetics

/id/ /d/ or /t/ in regular past verbs?


One of the typical problems learners of English frequently come across is how to pronounce the endings in regular past English verbs. When I mean regular I mean all the ones that end in -ed/d like ‘walk>walked’, ‘study>studied’. There are actually some simple rules that  will help students get this right almost all the times.

Rule number one: careful not to pronounce the final -ed

It is very unusual to pronounce an ‘e’ before a ‘d’ in a past simple tense unless the consonant before the final -ed ends in either a ‘t’ or a ‘d’ (we’ll see this in a minute). So the past sound of final -ed in a verb like ‘designed’ would sound like  /dɪ ‘zaind/ and not  /dɪ ‘zained/.

Rule number two: pronouncing the final -ed and making it sound like an /id/

Verbs that end in a ‘d’ or ‘t’ do sound the final -e. Why? Because if you don’t sound it, you won’t be able to distinguish the difference between a present and a past tense. See this for yourself by saying the following  verbs without pronouncing the ‘e’.

  • start > started */sta:t/
  • depart> departed */depa:t/
  • exceed> exceeded */ek’si:d/

Was it easy? Could you hear the difference between the present and  past? Actually, these verbs  should sound /sta:tid, dipa:tid, ek’si:did/.

You may have noticed that what actually comes out of your mouth isn’t exactly an -ed sound. Instead of this, you get an /id/. Well, this is basically because when people pronounce the final /d/, it is in the upper part of their mouths which is almost the same place as where the /i/ is pronounced. If you really want to make your final -ed sound like an -ed and not an -id, you’d have to sort of stop in the middle of the word, lower your tongue and focus really hard on it, which looks and sounds quite strange (and if you don’t believe me, try doing this in the mirror and see what you look like. Ha, ha, ha!!!).

Rule number three. Getting your ‘ts’ right

Pronouncing a /t/ instead of a /d/ isn’t a matter of choice. Rather it is due to the final sound in the word.  If the final sound in the verb happens to be an unvoiced consonant like a ‘k’ or a ‘p’ or a ‘sh’, for instance, you’re are going to get that very English /t/ sound whether you like it or not. If you happen to get a ‘d’ sound instead, it probably means that you’re pronouncing the -e  which isn’t correct.

So, with verbs like ‘walk’, work, flap, burp,  should sound /wɔ: kt, wɜ:kt, flæpt, bɜ:pt/ when saying them in the simple past.

Lets do some listening activities to grasp the ideas we’ve just explained.

  • Not making the -e sound in all verbs that do not have a ‘t’ or ‘d’ ending. And, not making that -ed sound like a ‘t’ because the last sound is voiced (meaning that the vocal chords are vibrating).

glue> glued –  listen> listened – cry>cried – hug>hugged – curve>curved

  • When we MUST pronounce the -e in past tenses. TIP: when the last consonant is either ‘t’ or ‘d’. Listen to these verbs in the present tense and try to guess how they would sound in the past simple.

start – waste – flirt – imitate – affect – import 

  • Last one! Now the ‘t’ sound. This happens when the last sound of the verb is silent (no vibration of vocal chords). We have quite a few and we can’t always trust writing as some of you will already know that English sounds don’t always correspond to the written form of a word.

Try to figure out what these words would sound like in the past simple before you listen to the audio.

finish – flash – cup – laugh – wash – watch – ice – hack – work – walk


Phonetics: English sounds /r/


  • The sound /r/ is quite different to the Spanish /r/. The English /r/ is not articulated with the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth. Rather the front of the tongue (not the tip!) curls upwards and rises towards the top of the mouth cavity.
  • Another big difference between Spanish /r/ and /English /r/ is the in initial position (at the beginning of a word), Spanish /r/ is pronounced like a double ‘r’. Try saying the words rojo and perro. In both words the /r/ is the same. In English initial  rs are much softer and do not vibrate in the same way.


  • Another important thing to say about /r/  is that in the English language, pronouncing or not the ‘r’ that comes at the end of a syllable divides the different varieties of the English spoken in the world into two main groups (according to this criteria), rhotic and non-rhotic.
  • Rhotic or non-rhotic refers to the sounding of ‘r’ at the end of syllables e,g, car /ka:/ or /ka:r/.
  • The variety of English spoken in England does not sound the post syllabic ‘r’ whereas General American, Irish English and Scottish English, do pronounce the ‘rs’ at the end of syllables.
  • Some non-rhotic English varieties are: British English and New Zealand English.
  • The spelling of this sound is usually r or rr like in: red and carry /red/ /kæri/
  • Rh like in the word rhyme /raɪm/
  • wr like in write /raɪt/




Phonetics English consonants /dʒ/ /j/

/dʒ/ for job

  • Words with this sound can come with:
    • J like in the word jam /dʒæm/
    • g like in magic /ˈmædʒik/
    • dg like in judge /dʒʌdʒ/
    • dj like in adjective /ˈædʒektɪv/


/j/ for yes

  • The spelling of this sound is:
    • y like in the word yes /jes/
    • i like in onion /ˈʌnjən/
    • u like in pupil /’pjʋː pəl/
    • ue like in argue /ˈɑːɡjʊː /
    • ew like in new /njʋː /



Phonetics: /ʃ/ /tʃ/


 /ʃ/    for sheep

  • This sound has a lot of different spellings.
  • Spelt ‘sh’: shoe /ʃʊː /
  • ‘ch’ like in the word ‘machine’ /mə’ʃiː n/
  • -s, -ss like in: sure and passion /ʃʊə/ or  /ʃɔː /  /’pæʃən/
  • -ti like in the word nation /ˈneɪʃən/
  • -ci like in special /ˈspeʃəl/
  • -ce like in ocean /əʊʃən/
  • -si like in mansion /ˈmænʃən/


/tʃ/ for cheap

  • This sound has a lot of different spellings.
  • Spelt ch like chair /tʃeə/
  • tch like in watch /wɒtʃ/
  • -ti like in question /ˈkwestʃən/
  • tu like in nature /ˈneɪtʃə/

Notice the difference between these pairs of words:





Phonetics: /ɵ/ & /ð/

/ɵ/ for three

  • Always spelt ‘th’.
  • Some words with this sound are: thief, method, health, breath.
  • The transcription of these words are: /θi:f/ /’meθəd/ /helθ/ /θri:/
  • This sound is made without the effect of vocal cords and placing the tip of the tongue on the back of our two front our upper teeth (incisor).
  • Listen and try to repeat the words.

 /ð/ for there.

  • Always spelt ‘th’.
  • Some words with this sound are: this, there, father and mother.
  • The transcription of these words are: /ðɪs/ /ðeə/  /’fɑ:ðə/ /’mʌðə/
  • On the contrary to /ɵ/, to this sound is made with the effect of vocal cords ( sounded) although the position of the tongue is the same as in the  /ɵ/
  • Listen and try to repeat the words.

Becareful because there are some words in English that contain ‘th’, however, this sounds like a /t/. Two examples of these words are: Thailand and the Thames.



Phonetics /k/ & /g/

/k/ for cat

  • Regularly spelt with c, cc, q, or k .
  • Sometimes k is in the spelling of the word but it is not pronounced like in know or knife.
  • Some words with this sound are: cat, cake, consequence

The transcription of these words are: /kæt/ /keik/ /’kɒnsəkwəns/

 /g/ for game

  • Regularly spelt with g,gg, gh and gu.
  • Some words with this sound are: go, egg, ghost and guitar.
  • The transcription of these words are: /ɡəʊ/ /eɡ/ /ɡəʊst/ /ɡɪ’tɑː /
  • Some words contain a g in the spelling that does not sound: sign, high, reign and light. Notice that these words are spelt with a -gn- or a gh.The phonetic transcription is: /saɪn/ /haɪ/ /laɪt/ /raɪn/.
  • Some other words contain a g in the spelling that sounds as a /dʒ/ (we will see this sound in following lessons). This happens with words that have a d in front of a g like in hedge and sledge or a g followed by an -e as in cage.

Try to pay attention to the difference in sound of these pairs of words.

cap – gap     clue-glue      back-bag      duck-dug      crate-great

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