International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)
The International Phonetic Alphabet is a system of phonetic notation that assigns a unique symbol to each sound that we can find in a language. Its symbols are applicable to any language, that is, if two different languages feature the same sound, the exact same symbol is going to be used to transcribe it. Let’s see an example:
In some languages like Spanish, there is a clear correlation between written letters and transcribed sounds, however, it is not so much the case in English. In general, a letter can have different sounds (think of come and cinnamon), and a sound can be associated with different letters or clusters of letters (think peas and meet).
You can go on our IPA chart page to take a look at the set of symbols that describe the sounds of English, or you can go to Wikipedia and look up the IPA chart of whatever language you would like.
An English learner can benefit from IPA if he or she learns to identify the symbols and their pronunciation as sounds. With English, it’s not easy to just see a word and know how to pronounce it right away. Or, sometimes, a learner can doubt whether the pronunciation of two sounds is the same or slightly different, and they can’t quite make it out by just hearing the word being pronounced by a native.
Moreover, a great tool we have found to learn IPA and use it to our advantage is Lingorado, a website that allows us to transcribe words or sentences into IPA. We can even choose to ask the website to transcribe using a British accent as a reference, or an American accent.
See the complete IPA chart