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.
I strongly believe that all English learners should learn the IPA. I use the IPA in many of my pronunciation video lessons and in the transcripts of the English Teacher Melanie Podcast.
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.
This is the symbol for the American R consonant sound:
However, in most dictionaries, books & on websites, this is the symbol used for the American R consonant sound:
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 ___.”)
Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary (American)
Oxford Advanced American Dictionary
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.
Amal Attaya says
Thanks a lot How a useful illustration. I benefited a lot .
Thank you.. It was an interesting post :)
It’s a very useful post. Thank you.
very useful. You need some time to be confident with them but in a glance you can have a better pronunciation
Thank you so much it was really helpful Melanie :D
Cineas Basile says
thank you very much teacher.
Very helpful. thank you so much :)
very helpful thank u
it is very important.
raja prodhan says
thanks for this course. actually I teach English in secondary school in Côte d’Ivoire most of the student find it very difficult to pronounce English
Very very useful. I will continue to use it to improve my pronunciation.
All People in Thailand don’t understand almost all native english speakers said because They don’t know how to pronounce each word correctly and Thai teacher of English always mispronouce!. Now I’m working with The Education for libetaration of Siam group! I will revolt English teaching.
Noor Fatima says
Thanks a lot my TEACHER
Thank you so much for your help. I’m new in USA but I came to learn quickly by learning the pronounciation
thank you so much!
Jean-paul Mulamba says
Thank you! This is an important lesson.
Hi Melanie, I am very glad for have found your website on my search for ways to improve my English,and when I compare with others, I dare to say “you are second to none”. Congratulations and a lot of thanks for what you are doing.
it very very helpful.THANK YOU
Thank you so much. This is an amazing and simple introduction of ipa. Very good
Hi dear Melanie, I am an ESL Learner from Côte d’Ivoire and today is the first time I came across your website. You are really doing a great job! You are helping us. All my congratulations!
José Roberto says
I loved this text because It´s very important know how read and pronounce any word and don´t stay embarassed in public.
Alzira de A. Camporez says
Hi, Melanie !
I just love each one of your lessons.They`re really dynamic and up to dated.I,ve been forwading them to many other people interested in learning and mastering their English. Thanks a lot . You,re doing an excellent job which I believe is helping learners all over the world. Thanks a lot.
Thank you so much for your beautiful words, Alzira! I am so grateful and I am so happy to hear that my lessons are useful to you!
Benedict Min says
I am learning something new every day.
Thanks to Melanie
djeti kouadio ghislain says
i love your teachings because it’s beneficial and free. thank you so much may God bless you!
thank you for the informations
it was super