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Today I was looking at my early videos, my second one, actually.
In this early video English lesson, I asked the question, "Why are phonetics important?"
In its five years online, the video has had over half a million views.
Half a million confirmations that I was right - phonetics are important.
Phonetics were important in 2009, and phonetics are just as important today.
Phonetics are your key to better English pronunciation.
And not just pronunciation.
Phonetics will help you to better understand spoken English, too.
I live in Spain and I teach students around the world using Skype.
Surprisingly, I have many students in the UK, the USA, Canada, and Australia.
Even in English-speaking countries, students find it hard to master an English accent.
This is where the British IPA chart and its 44 symbols and sounds can help.
An important step towards perfect English pronunciation is to master the IPA chart.
The chart's 44 symbols represent the 44 distinct sounds of British English.
Why 44 symbols and sounds when there are just 26 letters of the English alphabet?
Of the 26 letters of the English alphabet, only b, d, f, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, t, v, w, and z have fixed sound values.
This means that where you see the letter b or d, you will hear the /b/ or the /d/ sounds.
Except where you don't, like in the words lamb and grandfather.
To further demonstrate the problems, let's take a look at the letter k.
The letter k has the fixed sound value of /k/.
Whenever we see the letter k, we know that it must have the /k/ sound.
Except where it doesn't, like in the word know, for instance.
The word know has a letter k, but no /k/ sound.
We find the letter k and the /k/ sounds in words like like and kitchen.
We also find the letter k in the words knife and the word knight, but we don't hear the /k/ sound.
Bizarrely, some words don't have the letter k but they do have the /k/ sound.
Words like queen, for instance.
The same is true for the word cat and bouquet.
This problem of letters not matching sounds occurs in many other words, too.
When it comes to the vowels, the problem is even bigger.
There are only five vowel letters in the English alphabet.
You know them, I'm sure.
a, e, i, o, u.
If you didn't know them, I owe you an apology.
There may be five vowel letters in the English alphabet, but there are 20 vowel sounds.
These 20 vowel sounds can be spelt with a bewildering range of letter combinations.
Look at the vowel /ɔː/, for instance.
This long vowel sound can be spelt with any of these letter combinations:
AR, OR, ORE, OUR, OAR, OOR, AU, AUGH, A, AL, AW, OU, OA, WOR
Don't believe me?
Let me demonstrate.
or and oar
Now you believe me, don't you?
I almost forgot to mention that these letter combinations are not always pronounced the same way.
Take the word slaughter, for instance.
Remove the s and we get the same letter combination, but a completely different pronunciation.
And look at the behaviour of the our combination I mentioned before.
So, the 26 letters of the English alphabet do not always tell you how to say a word.
However, the 44 symbols of the British English IPA chart will always tell you exactly how to say a word.
Learn the chart and I promise that you will never mispronounce an English word again.
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