When learning a new language there are typically four categories which should be covered. These are reading, writing, listening and speaking. For many learners speaking can be the most difficult aspect of language learning due to pronunciation. In this blog post I will outline the importance of learning phonetics when it comes to pronunciation.
Phonology, Phonetics and Phonemics
These terms all sound similar and also carry similar meanings. Each term is explained below:
Phonology is the study of sounds and how they are used in a language. Sounds and sound patterns lead to different pronunciation patterns for speakers.
Phonetics is the study of the sounds every person makes around the world. It is a branch of linguistics and involves the study of the universal sounds people make.
Phonemics is the study of the sounds associated with a particular language and the grammatical aspects associated with these sounds.
This Youtube video by the English Language Club gives a brief overview of phonetics and shows a phonetic chart. The speaker also gives examples of words and shows their phonetic spelling. A video like this one can be a useful learning aid for pronunciation practice. The video is shown below:
What is a Phoneme?
Phonemes are the smallest units of sounds in the sound system of a language. Each language has a finite number of phonemes. Different languages use different amounts of phonemes. Phonemes can be consonants, vowels and diphthongs.
There are 44 phonemes used in Standard British English, including 12 vowel phonemes, 24 consonant phonemes and 8 diphthongs.
The International Phonetic Alphabet
The International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, represents all of the different sounds used across many different languages. It can be used across all languages as each symbol is used for each possible human sound. As a result it is very useful to know since it can be applied to every language and can be a resource for language learners across the globe.
The IPA groups sounds according to:
- Place of articulation
- Manner of articulation
- Whether the sound is voiced or voiceless
.Phonemes used are vowels, consonants and diphthongs.
- Vowels are always voiced. They are sounds with audible noise and are produced by constricting the tongue.
- Consonants can be voiced or voiceless. They can be produced by constricting the tongue or the vocal tract.
- Diphthongs are two sounds combined to create a new sound.
While at first it may seem more confusing to learn the phonetic symbols, in the long run it can be very beneficial. By reading the word phonetically students can see how to pronounce the word. They can also learn different vowel sounds which they may not have been using otherwise, leading to better pronunciation. However, phonetic symbols are rarely used outside of a dictionary so unless a student is really struggling to create the different language sounds it might be better to focus their learning in other areas.