Friday, April 27, 2012

Pronunciation Poems

These chinchillas' favorite day of the week is "Fun Friday" and they're ready to PARTY! (Image)

Good afternoon, and welcome to "Fun Friday"! As usual, I'd like to offer the disclaimer that "Fun Friday" is indeed fun for me, but maybe I'm a bit of a language nerd. If you don't think Fun Friday posts are actually fun, then I'm always open for suggestions!

So, today's post is about pronunciation. My mom recently sent me a poem that she found on the internet, and the basic premise is that English pronunciation is difficult. And that's true. These pronunciation poems are actually fairly common. You can find printed examples here, here, and here. And here's an example (with subtitles) of one of these pronunciation poems:

The one my mom sent me is a bit different, but it's got the same idea. The point is that in English, it's crucial to remember that spelling and pronunciation are two different --sometimes frustratingly different-- things. If you look at the words tough, though, thought, through, and thorough, all have the letters "ough" together, but each word is pronounced differently.

These are sometimes very "advanced" language points, but you can still use this advice even if you're a beginning English learner:


1. When you learn a word, always try to learn how the word is spelled and pronounced at the same time. It will make things a lot less difficult in the future.

2. To learn pronunciation, it can help to group rhyming words together, especially if their spelling is different. For example, if you make a "Rhyming Words List," you could include groups of words like heard, word, bird, slurred, and herd --yes, they all rhyme, and they're all spelled completely differently! If you make lists of rhyming words, they're easier to remember than trying to learn them all individually.

3. It's often useful to learn some phonetic symbols (here's a complete list). Most online dictionaries now let you click on a word to hear it pronounced, but if you only have a paper dictionary, most of them use phonetic symbols for pronunciation. It's good to know basic, common symbols like:
- /I/ as in hit, sit, and fit
- /i/ as in heat, seat, and feet 
- /æ/ as in cat, fat, and Matt
- /ʃ/ (often spelled with the letters "sh") as in shock, shoe, and push
- /ʧ/ (often spelled with the letters "ch") as in check, chew, and Charlie
- /ʤ/ (often spelled with the letters "j" or "g") as in jelly, gin, and John
- /s/ (the basic "s" sound) as in silly, say, and Samantha
- /z/ as in zero, fuzz, and please (remember that the letter "s" is often pronounced like a "z" in English)
- /θ/ (a "th" sound with no vibration) as in think, thanks, and bath
- /ð / (a "th" sound with vibration) as in the, brother, and this
That may seem like a lot of symbols to learn, but if you learn at least these basic ones, they'll help you a lot in your pronunciation studies.

4. Actively try to practice pronunciation. You can do this by speaking with native speakers and asking them to comment if you say things incorrectly. You can also read books out loud, even if you're alone. You may not have feedback that way, but it will help you get used to speaking and pronouncing words in English.

What other ways can you think of to improve pronunciation? If you have any ideas or questions, I'd love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

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