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Reference Guide to Phonetic Symbols

Phonetic symbols are a great help when it comes to learning to pronounce English words correctly. Any time you open a dictionary, you can find the correct pronunciation of words you don't know by looking at the phonetic pronunciation that follows the word. Unfortunately, learning the phonetic alphabet is not always the easiest thing to do. Begin by using this reference guide to phonetic symbols used in English. Phonetic symbols are referred to as the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The IPA is used to transcribe sounds in language and can therefore be used to transcribe all languages. There are a number of IPA symbols that are not used in English. The chart provided on this page refers only to English.

Important Terms

Phonetic symbol = symbol representing a specific sound Phoneme = sound represented by a phonetic symbol IPA = International Phonetic Alphabet Minimal Pair = two words that differ in only one sound (phoneme), for example: bat - bet

In English many words can have the same pronunciation but be written differently with different meanings. For example to, two, and too which all have the phonetic transcription /tu/. Sometimes, words can be written similarly but have different pronunciations. The "ough" combinations in thought, though, bough, and through. Another factor in pronunciation is syllable stress. Understanding the phonetic alphabet can greatly simplify the learning process, especially for students who do not have the opportunity to work with a teacher.

Vowel, Diphthong and Consonant IPA Symbols

Listen to the sound files as you review the IPA vowels, diphthongs and consonants charts. It's best to right click and open this file in a new tab.

Correct pronunciation of vowels and diphthongs
Correct pronunciation of consonants

phonetic chart

Here is an example text that has been transcribed into IPA phonetics. Notice how the text, as it would be spoken, differs from how each word might be transcribed individually. This is principally due to two factors; elision and unstressed syllables.

example text This text is the following:

There is a police message for motorists in the Barnet area of London. A lorry has shed its load at the Apex Corner roundabout on the A1. You are asked to avoid the area as much as possible. South-bound traffic will be diverted for the next two hours. That is the end of the message.

The phonetic alphabet seems like another language entirely. However, with patience, it can serve you well in improving your pronunciation.

Lesson Plans and Information about Phonemes and the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet)

IPA Symbol Card Game Lesson Plan
Minimal Pairs Lesson Plan
Reference Guide to Phonetic Symbols and Applied Pronunciation Terminology
Glossary of Pronunciation Terms and Terminology

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