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Reference Guide to Phonetic Symbols

As you probably know, 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.

This week's feature includes a phonetic chart with the majority of basic sounds in English. In English, as you certainly know, 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 as in the "ough" combinations thought, though, bough, and through. Another factor in pronunciation is the how the word is stressed. Understanding the phonetic alphabet can greatly simplify the learning process, especially for students who do not have the opportunity to work with a teacher.


Following the chart is an example of a text that has been transcribed in to 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. I will discuss these two factors in an upcoming feature. For now, becoming familiar with the phonetic alphabet is plenty…


phonetic chart

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.

As you can see, the phonetic alphabet seems like another language entirely, however, with patience, it can serve you well in improving your pronunciation.

Let me know what you think….

For Teachers

More Information about Phonemes and the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet)

Reference Guide to Phonetic Symbols and Applied Pronunciation Terminology

Glossary of Pronunciation Terms and Terminology

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