Writing Speech Sounds, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

Writing about the sounds of language requires a way of describing the sounds. In theory, that’s what alphabets a for, but the Roman alphabet used to represent English has far fewer sounds than English does  This will be explored in detail later.  In this course, I introduce you to an alphabet called the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). It has symbols for all the sounds in all the languages. There are lots of them and we only need a relatively small number of them in English. 

The IPA categorizes sounds by the way they are made. Understanding how the sounds are made will help you identify habits from your first language and the new habits you need to develop a clearly understandable English accent.

As I mentioned, it will allow me to spell out words in English as to how they sound, and as you learn the IPA you can sound out words you have never heard.  Additionally, the IPA is widely used. For instance, it is used by Wikipedia as well as several major dictionaries. When linguists transcribe indigenous languages, they use the IPA, so if you know the IPA you can sound out words from languages you have never heard and might never hear spoken.

It also allows me to notate stress and rhythm in English. Placing stress on different parts of a word or sentence in English can change the meaning, and there is a rhythm to English that native speakers use. Studies have shown that one of the things that is most strongly perceived as a “foreign accent” is incorrect rhythm. This course leads up to learning English speech rhythms.