P.O.V: you are next to introduce yourself in the new English course you enrolled in. You want to tell people that you are an engineer, that you like iced mochaccinos and that you enjoy going surfing at the beach. “I work as an engineer, I love to drink iced mochaccinos, I love going to the b*tch.” Suddenly, there is a short and uncomfortable silence. The teacher promptly thanks you for your participation and moves on to the next student. However, everyone knew the slip. The dreaded confusion between the short and long ‘I’ sound claimed yet another victim.
All English learners have embarrassing stories due to their incorrect pronunciation of some confusing phonemes. In English, this is common due to the phonological characteristics of the language. English is labelled as a deep, or opaque, language phonetically. This means that there is a disparity between the letters of the language’s alphabet and the sounds that these letters represent in different linguistic contexts. So you can imagine how hard it is to understand its pronunciation. Sometimes you have words like ‘thought’ [θɔtʰ] and ‘though’ [ðoʊ] with a rather similar spelling but very different pronunciation.
The many faces of sounds
Take the example of the comically constructed word ghoti. This parody word is constructed based on the sounds of the language instead of the spelling. The ‘gh’ letter combination is used to demonstrate the ‘f’ sound after ‘ou’ and the ‘ti’ letter combination sounds like ‘sh’ when it is followed by vowels. The ‘o’ letter represents the ‘i’ sound similar in the way you would pronounce the ‘o’ in the word ‘women.’ Because of issues like these, many intellectuals, such as Alexander J. Ellis, have called out for a spelling reform to reduce this confusion for future speakers and readers of the language.
Phonetics allows you to understand the x-ray version of the letters or combinations of letters. This can be used to understand the reason why some words are not pronounced the way they are written. This is a very common complaint about English by learners from all parts of the world. Here’s how a good knowledge of phonetics can help you: When you are reading and don't know a word. Reading is a great way to improve your lexical resource, amplifying your vocabulary range, but it does not provide you with the important aspect of how that word should be pronounced or what part of the word has stress. Having knowledge of phonetics allows you to take more control of the production of the word by allowing you to recognize the sounds you already know.
Phonetics in the classroom
If you are a teacher, it can help you when you teach pronunciation in class. Making teaching resources, like posters or interactive visual presentations, can aid in understanding the segments of sounds and break down words piece by piece. A big part of a language is its oral, speaking form. This means that the sounds of that particular language should be clear and easy to understand for its learners. Having a good base control of the sounds is essential and therefore exposing these items to learners early on is a wonderful idea. Phonemes can be presented in different ways: individually, by category or in a real example. For instance, one could separate them into: single vowels, diphthongs and consonants. These could be presented at the beginning of courses or simply be displayed around the classroom throughout the duration of the course.
Phonetics in medicine
People who have problems speaking can also use it, in particular children. Some children develop speech production issues that persist as they age, known as RSSD (Residual Speech Sound Disorders) and need to undergo therapy to better understand the phonetic difficulties that produce these misarticulation in children and adults. Using modern visualization technologies along with a knowledge of articulatory phonetics allows clinicians to understand and correct issues with speech production among a variety of individuals.
Start using phonetics now!
Phonetics is a cheat sheet for the sounds of a language. It is not the only tool you should use but it is a very helpful one. Check out those difficult sounds at our site and share this with your friends that love languages or have difficulties with pronunciation so they can also start mastering the sounds of all languages. Happy learning!