The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a set of symbols that represent all the sounds in a language.
All the sounds that make up American English pronunciation can be represented by symbols.
English words are not always pronounced the way they look. An English word doesn’t always tell you how it is pronounced. In some languages, you can read a word and know immediately how the word is pronounced. You can’t do that with a lot of words in English.
However, if you know the IPA symbols that represent the sounds of American English pronunciation, you can look up any word in the dictionary and know immediately how it is pronounced. (There is a list of online dictionaries for English learners at the end of this post.)
The mouth position for each pair of consonant sounds below is the same, but one sound is unvoiced while the other sound is voiced.
unvoiced = only air comes out of your mouth
voiced = your vocal cords produce a sound
More Consonant Sounds
The American R Sounds
Here’s where things get confusing.
One of the main differences between British and American pronunciation is that Americans pronounce the R after a vowel, and the British don’t. The American vowel R sound (like at the -er end of brother) is written a few different ways.
When the American vowel R sound occurs in a one-syllable word or a stressed syllable, you will see it written these ways:
When the American vowel R sound occurs in an unstressed syllable, you will see it written these ways:
Dictionaries for English Learners
All the major online dictionaries for English learners use the IPA. Use these dictionaries to look up new words. You will know the correct pronunciation by reading the IPA transcription!
Cambridge Dictionaries Online
(Choose American English from the list of dictionaries.)
(Make sure the bottom of the entry says “This is the American English definition of ________.” If it doesn’t, then click on “View American English definition of ___.”)
Each set of symbols is the IPA transcription of a common English word. The apostrophe symbol ‘ tells you which syllable is the stressed syllable.
What is the word that each set of symbols represents?
The answers are in the first comment below.