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Pronunciation in English


Correct pronunciation is key

Forget about accents. The only thing you need to concern yourself when learning English is simple: speak correctly with good grammar and pronunciation. 

How to speak English with correct pronunciation

No doubt, English pronunciation, unlike Spanish, for example, is irregular, unfortunately. There are, though, several things you can do as well as some tricks and rules that will improve your English pronunciation tremendously. 

English pronunciation is irregular

What do we mean by this? Let’s give a quick example as to why English pronunciation is very irregular with the following pair of letters “ea”: 

  • Beach = / bʧ /
  • Hear =  / hɪə /
  • Heart =  / hɑːt /
  • Early =  / ɜːli /
  • Steak =  / stk /
  • Breakfast =  / brɛkfəst /
  • Pear =  / p /

There are seven sounds for the pair of letters “ea”. The sounds of the words above are illustrated with IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).

So, how do you, the learner, get around this? 

As mentioned before, IPA – International Phonetic Alphabet is the transcription of the words, that is, IPA is simply the representation in sound of all languages in the world.

As you’re learning English, you’ll only need to focus on the part of IPA that deals with English.

Given that there are many English accents, for simplicity’s sake, we will use the IPA chart for British English.

Remember, as stated earlier, you need not focus on acquiring a British or American accent – concentrate on having correct pronunciation. 

So, as a learner trying to improve your English pronunciation, whenever you come across a word that you’re unaware of, simply head over to any good dictionary such as Oxford or the website Tophonetics and type in the word – you’ll get an instant transcription of the word as well as an audio recording. This is one way you can tackle the problem. 

Moreover, if you like to read with an electronic device such as a Kindle, make sure you download a dictionary that can display the IPA for any book you might be reading.

To learn or not to learn IPA?

You don’t necessarily need to learn IPA to achieve good pronunciation. 

Rather, gloss over the symbols from time to time as well as use it only when you need it, that is, when you come across a word you don’t know how to pronounce – simply look it up and check out its IPA transcription. 

Try to pay attention to the symbols only when you need to. 

We tend to learn best when the item is of immediate importance. This would be more productive than trying to memorise the whole chart. 

Check out the IPA chart and introduction in the links above, as well as the lesson on the “ed” past participle or past ending of verbs in English

Contrary to what you might think, the correct pronunciation of the “ed” suffix is governed by a rule!