The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) – A Dinosaur for Learning English Pronunciation
The IPA was developed in 1886, in 1989 it received its first and last major overhaul and in 2005 received its last revision, a single letter. The general principle of the IPA is to provide one letter for each distinctive sound and serve as a reference for pronouncing every sound in every language known in the world today.
I tried to find exactly how many IPA symbol combinations there are to represent all the world’s languages and the best figure I came up with is 184 consonant sounds. But before I go any further, let me state emphatically that I believe the IPA is an extremely useful tool for linguist wanting the world to have an idea how the language of some newly discovered or ancient people, sounds.
I also believe it is a useful tool for speech pathologist and many other language professionals. But how useful is the IPA for a student wanting to learn English pronunciation, and is learning the IPA a wise investment of time in your English pronunciation learning strategy?
Time is money and life is short!
When I was a child there was no internet. the only English pronunciation resources I remember were the IPA in the front of dictionaries and a five album LP record set I discovered, that provided word definition and pronunciation; I’d listen to it at home while doing chores.
Resorting to the dictionary’s IPA was always a frustration, trying to remember what sound the symbols represented and if in fact, I correctly deciphered the symbols and was speaking the word correctly.
I cannot count how many times I embarrassed myself mispronouncing words.
We are living during a technological revolution. Information about everything and anything, literally, right in our pockets. Having no desire to be a linguist or a speech pathologist, can anyone give me one good reason for me to devote precious time and energy to learning the phonetic alphabet?
Certainly, we might want to familiarize ourselves with a few IPA symbols, but I do not encourage my mentees and students to waste their time dwelling on memorizing an entirely different set of symbols they ultimately must relate to the English alphabet anyway. Why not just learn the English sounds as they relate to alphabet letters and letter combinations from the start?
In a nutshell, here is the lesson of this essay. thefreedictionary.com!
No, I am not receiving any compensation or favors to promote thefreedictionary.com, but it is the best online resource for understanding English words, that I have so far discovered.
First, thefreedictionary.com offers both an American and British English audio pronunciation of every word. The words are spelled for you phonetically (not pure IPA and (I think) easier to decipher phonetics). Words are also broken into their syllables for you, which is very important in understanding English phonics and reading.
Of course, there are definitions for the words, but more, there are multiple definitions with synonyms and antonyms. There are also medical, law, financial, acronyms, idioms, and a thesaurus tabs for you to study words till your heart is content.
The IPA is a big old beast you will never learn to speak good English with.
So, I am the old man telling you old fuddy-duddies investing your precious time to study the IPA, this is not 1886 dudes, we are so close to 2020; Your time is better invested in listening to the word pronounced perfectly, mimicking it and delving deep into studying the word’s meaning; this is how to invest your English pronunciation learning time.
Study the dictionary, not the IPA!
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Your pronunciation is the biggest thing people will notice about your English;
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Mentor Josephan P. Sterling