There are more than a million words in the English language. A single word may be pronounced in different ways by different people. The spelling of an English word does not necessarily tell you how to pronounce a word. Therefore, Phonetics, the study of speech sounds, with the use of phonetic transcriptions, is essential. Phonetic transcription is the visual representation of speech sounds, which consists of symbols.
As a first time learner, you may feel that the phonetic transcriptions are confusing but once you understand how to use them to speak better, you will find them very interesting.
Similar to the English alphabet, Phonetics follows a slightly different phonetic alphabet. They consist of 12 vowel sounds, 8 diphthongs and 24 consonant sounds.
The vowel sounds in English are:
Depending upon the length mark [:], the vowel sounds are divided into long and short vowels.
A diphthong refers to the union of two adjacent vowel sounds occurring in the same syllable of a word. The combination of the two sounds gives a unique vowel sound that is distinct from both as in main, hate, bee, high, bone, few and note. Given below is a chart of the 8 diphthongs with examples.
[‘] Used to indicate which part of a word has to be stressed i.e. with extra force. e.g. for the word alarm, the stress occurs as a’larm.
[:] Used to indicate the length of the sound that is pronounced. e.g. for the word feet, the phonetic symbol is /fi:t/, where the symbol [:] is used to indicate length of the sound.
[.] Used to indicate the pause between the sounds in a word while pronouncing. e.g. for the word marble, the phonetic symbol is /ma:.bl/, where the symbol [.] is used to indicate the pause between the two syllables.