Learn why we need the International Phonetic Alphabet: words that looks like they should rhyme don’t rhyme, heteronyms and homophones are common. English is not a phonetic language, and the IPA helps us know exactly what sound we’re talking about.
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In this American English Pronunciation video, we’re going to go over why we need the IPA. This video was created for a course on IPA that is part of the Rachel’s English Academy, but I thought it was worth sharing here.
Rachel’s English Academy is a collection of courses I’ve created to help you speak better English. Courses on everything you need to know about pronunciation, listening comprehension, conversation courses, phrasal verbs, and so on. You can join the Rachel’s English Academy here for a small monthly fee. Once you join, you’re locked in to that price for life even if the price goes up. Okay, without further ado, the lesson.
The International Phonetic Alphabet was created by the International Phonetic Association as a standardized way to write the sounds of spoken language. Why do we need this? Because English is not a phonetic language — that means there’s not a 1:1 relationship between letters and sounds. For example, these words:
They look the same except for the first letter. They look like they should be pronounced the same except for the first sound. But that’s not the case. ‘Love’ has the UH as in BUTTER vowel. ‘Cove’ has the OH diphthong, and ‘move’ has the OO vowel. Uh, oh, oo. Love, cove, move. There are no rules to tell you which word should be pronounced which way, you just have to know. You just have to learn the pronunciation when you learn the word.
Let’s go a little further. What about this word? It looks like the other three words, and its pronunciation is ‘dove’, just like ‘love’. Wait, no. Its pronunciation is ‘dove’, just like ‘cove’. Actually, both pronunciations are right. For the noun, the bird, it’s ‘dove’. UH. But for the verb, past tense of ‘dive’, it’s pronounced ‘dove’. So again, we need IPA to write these different sounds so we can see that words are spelled the same, may still be pronounced differently. This is called a HET-er-uh-nim. heteronym.
One more confusing point: homophones. Words that are spelled differently, but pronounced the same. For example, pear. Just one pronunciation for these two words: pear, pare. There are lots of homophones in American English. So we need the IPA to see, oh, they’re spelled differently, but they’re pronounced the same.
When you write a sound, in IPA, with a symbol instead of a letter, there’s no confusion. You’re going to see a lot of IPA in the Rachel’s English Academy, so this course is to help you get used to these symbols, to help you start to recognize them.
For information on joining the Rachel’s English Academy, click here. That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.