The Sounds of English (and the Phonetic Alphabet)

The links on this page are the work of the BBC Learning English team and this is gratefully acknowledged.

Alex Bellem on learning English sounds

The IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet)

Quickly read through the words on this chart. Notice how the underlined part of each word matches the symbol in large print. Try out the interactive BBC Sounds of English chart where you can click on the symbol and hear the sound.

Grateful acknowledgement to John & Sarah Free Materials 1996.

You should get to know the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). Why? There are about 44 sounds in the English language but only 26 letters. This means that some letters represent more than one sound (e.g. the A in banana), and some letter combinations represent more than one sound (e.g. TH in thin and that). Therefore, it is often difficult to work out how a word  will sound by looking at it, and it is often difficult to spell words you already know. The symbols in this chart represent each of the sounds of English, and your dictionary should have phonetic spellings of each word using these symbols. You don’t need to learn all these symbols at once. Do make use of the interactive BBC Sounds of English chart. This (and your dictionary) will help you to work out how words sound before you try to use them in speech. You can also use the BBC Sounds of English chart to work out which sounds don’t exist in your mother tongue. Learning new sounds is very important. Go to the BBC Sounds of English page for help doing this.

Smartphone users

You can download an interactive IPA chart (touch the symbol and hear the sound). Just go to Google Play or App Store and look for the Macmillan Pronunciation App.*

Using the BBC Pronunciation Tips site

If you go to BBC Pronunciation Tips: Introduction you can:

  • learn how to get started on improving your pronunciation
  • work on sounds that are very similar (but can completely change meaning as in shior sheep
  • learn facts that will help you to improve your spelling
  • find out how words change their sounds in connected speech
  • test your knowledge with interactive quizzes.

If you go to BBC Pronunciation Tips: The Sounds of English you can:

  • Diagnose which sounds might be a problem for you
  • Learn more about using the IPA to improve your English
  • Learn exactly how to use your lips, teeth, tongue, breath, and voice to produce the English sounds you find difficult. (There is a video for each sound. Just click on the one you want to learn about.)
  • Open the interactive BBC Sounds of English chart by clicking ‘Listen to the Sounds of English’  – then just click on the sound you want to hear.

There is even more to learn by going to other BBC Pronunciation Tips pages, for example:

Note

* The sounds for /l/ and /r/ (Macmillan Pronunciation App) are not correct. When you click these symbols you hear la and ra. However, the correct sounds are lll and rrr.

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