Why do we sometimes find it difficult to speak and understand English? We can write an email, read a magazine but sometimes we struggle to understand native people talking to us.
One of the reasons for that are the sounds of English. English is made up of 44 sounds (phonemes). If we can learn how to pronounce the different sounds, we can improve our speaking skills and understand native speakers better.
Let’s start with the symbols on the phonemic sound chart!
Alba’s Phonemic Chart clearly shows how the 44 English phonemes are categorised and can be written using the phonetic alphabet. The 44 sounds are divided into two categories: vowels and consonants.
- Sometimes they are long, or short, sometimes they move from one position to another
- The first feature of vowels is the time we spend to produce the sound: some vowels are short and some are long. The long vowels have a double dot (:) in the chart.
sheep /’ʃi:p/ and ship /’ʃɪp/
good /’gʊd/ and moon /’mu:n
‘Double vowels’, also known as diphthongs, start with one sound and finish with another:
Sometimes they are voiced (with vibration), sometimes they are unvoiced (without vibration)
Did you know that two consonants can produce the same sound, with the only difference that one can be voiced and the other unvoiced?
Here is an exercise that helps you to feel the difference between voiced consonants (blue on the chart) from unvoiced consonants (green on the chart): touch your neck with your hand and pronounce first the /p/ sound and then the /b/ sound:
When saying the /b/ sound you will notice that your voice box (or larynx) will produce a vibration but when saying the /p/ sound there is no vibration.
This picture might come in handy:
On the phonemic chart, we show the link between voiced and unvoiced consonants with a small line, as reminder that the two sounds are produced in the same area of our mouth, but they are different because one is pronounced with vibration and the other one without vibration.
pen /’pen/ and ball /’bɔ:l/
table /’teɪbəl/ and dog /’dɒg/
chips /’tʃɪps/ and jam /’dʒæm/
But where should you put your tongue?
Have a look at the following diagram which shows where you make the consonant sounds with your tongue, lips or teeth. Try to copy this with your own tongue and start to practice your pronunciation!
To find out how the different sounds are pronounced, watch our spoken English video in which our teachers present all the English sounds to you!
Why not write the phonemic transcription of the words you have a problem pronouncing (or find the transcription in a dictionary), and practice it!
We hope you feel a bit more comfortable with the English sounds!
Keep improving your English pronunciation! /ki:p ɪmpru:vɪŋ jɔ:r ɪŋglɪʃ prənʌnsɪjeɪʃən/!
Some interesting vocabulary:
= Find something difficult. He struggled to write his university thesis in 1 week.
= Consists of. The UK is made up of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
= the larynx (the part of your body (in your neck) that produces sound.
= For something that you keep which will be useful. My dad always says we should keep spare screws – they might come in handy one day!
= a connection between things. There is a train that links Edinburgh and Glasgow.
N = noun, V = verb, Adj. = adjective, Adv. = adverb, I = idiom
Here is a transcript of the video:
The Alba English Phonemic Chart
The 44 sounds of English
iː : sheep – eagle – field
ɪ : ship – busy – started
ʊ : good – put – should
uː : moon – grew – through
ɪə : ear – here – career
eɪ : train – say – plane
e : bed – dead – said
ə : about – police – the
ɜː : bird – hurt – work
ɔː : door – walk – saw
ʊə : your – dure – tourist
ɔɪ : boy – point – oil
əʊ : coat – low – note
æ : apple – cat – mad
ʌ : up – money – cut
ɑː : car – bath – safari
ɒ : not – what – because
eə : hair – careful – there
aɪ : by – high – fine
aʊ : now – our – house
p : pen – hopping – jump
b : ball – hobby – herb
t : table – little – watched
d : dog – added – played
tʃ : chips – itch – picture
dʒ : jam – danger – fudge
k : key – car – luck
g : green – hug – league
f : fire – laugh – phone
v : video – move – of
θ : thick – healthy – teeth
ð : mother – this – with
s : see – city – notice
z : zebra – cosy – has
ʃ : shop – nation – special
ʒ : television – visual – leisure
m : man – tummy – lamb
n : no – funny – knife
ŋ : sing – uncle – angry
j : yes – onion – view
l : light – smelly – feel
r : right – berry – wrong
w : win – where – one
h : house – hungry – who