Phonetic Reader – Improve Your Pronunciation and Prosody

Phonetic readers contain phonetically transcribed texts which you have to read properly. Not only you have to know how to pronounce phonemes, but you also have to pay attention to prosody, that is, to the rhythm, stress, and intonation of your utterance (spoken sentence).

During my English Language studies one book was very useful in Phonetics classroom, and helped me and other students to practice spoken English word. After introductory classes about different phonemes in English and detailed instructions on how to pronounce the phonemes, we began practicing. We would listen to our teacher and her perfect English accent that flawlessly conveyed every syllable in the Reader, and then we would practice our pronunciation. The first attempts were unsatisfying, and we had to work hard for the final exam.

Pronunciation

To learn more see article
Top 5 Phonetic Charts

You are probably wondering what we used in classes? We used great little book titled Advanced Phonetic Reader, written by J. D. O’Connor and published by Cambridge University Press. The book consists of three parts. The first is an introduction to different utterance boundaries (pauses in the speech) and tone marks (varying of the stress).

Rhythm, stress, and intonation
Rhythm, stress, and intonation

The second part consists of phonetically transcribed texts. This is the most interesting part of the Reader, and it contains transcription of different spoken styles: declamatory, formal colloquial, colloquial and familiar. See the pictures bellow for the samples, click to see the larger version.

Formal Colloquial Speaking Style
Formal Colloquial Speaking Style

The third part of the Phonetic Reader contains “normal” text, that is, text previously written by using phonetic symbols now is printed in orthographic characters. It is great to read the normal text later and feel how you acquired proper intonation and stress for each spoken style.

Colloquial style in speech
Colloquial style in speech

I would really recommend the Advanced Phonetic Reader to all aspiring English learners. It is such a great resource of knowledge and skill that one always returns to.

I am not sure if you can buy it online, but you might want to check.

Pronunciation is a physical exercise

If you’re learning a foreign language it helps to understand that pronunciation is a physical process, and that dealing with the way speech sounds are created makes you aware of how to improve your diction and accent.

Learning about how articulators (speech organs) interact in the sounds of foreign language can greatly improve the pronunciation. The underlying idea is that learners imitate (acquire) the pronunciation of the target language; for some people this acquisition is simple and easy, while other need to put more effort into it. However, this does not mean learners with difficulties cannot improve pronunciation. They only need to take a different approach. The speech organs are controlled by our brain, and we are unaware of this automated process when speaking our first language. It helps to reverse the flow: learn how sounds are spoken in foreign language, and make their correct pronunciation almost reflexive.

IPA Chart and Human Brain
IPA Chart and Human Brain

What’s so physical about pronunciation? Pronunciation is a complex synchronization of many muscles, primarily of those in the process of expiration and inspiration (lungs and diaphragm), muscles of jaw, face, larynx, and of course – tongue. The sound is produced when all speech organs are in correct position and when air from lungs makes vocal cords produce the sound which then resonates.

The conclusion is that you need to know how to position your lips, teeth and tongue, and how to control your breath while saying a sound. You should read the instructions, stand in front of a mirror, focus your attention on position of speech organs and try uttering the sound – and you repeat this time after time, hour after hour. In this way you exercise the pronunciation. Constant and vigorous practice is very important, but it is also important not to make the pronunciation improvement too “physical”, that is: you must listen how the sounds are vocalized by native speakers.

It is just like in any other form of exercise which includes precise movements and concentration; this also means that whole process will become automatic and easier to perform, and you will permanently improve your pronunciation.

For further reading and references visit Phonetics on Wikipedia, or browse some of the books about pronunciation.

Top Five English Phonetic (Phonemic) Charts

Phonetic transcription that is included in quality dictionaries is great, but what use of the transcription if you do not know phonetic alphabet? We have selected for you five places with free interactive content, perfect for quick reference. The list is based on several evaluation points, including free use, interactivity, outlay and offline content. Our aim was to show phonemic charts as a reference only, and not to discuss lessons about IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).

1. Macmillan Phonetic Chart

This tool is provided to us by Macmillan Publishers and we have selected it as one of the best phonetic charts online. The outlay is very simple and straightforward. After clicking on a symbol, the phoneme is articulated, followed by a full word in which the phoneme occurs.  Macmillan Phonetic Chart is available as offline content, in form of a simple program that comes in two flavors. The first version displays the phonemes in small window. The second, however, uses full screen, which is simply perfect for presentation (realia) in a class. One of the things we would like to see is written form of spoken example word. The software is free for use.

2. Phonemic Chart by British Council

The forerunner on our list is Phonemic Chart by British Council. This simple software uses clear outlay with nicely grouped and uncluttered vowels, consonants and diphthongs. After clicking on a phonetic symbol, the sound of the phoneme is played.

Phonetic Chart by Macmillan
Phonetic Chart by Macmillan

We think that written word in which the phoneme is used or word read after the phoneme (like in Macmilan’s Chart)  would be more natural than isolated symbol. We place this tool on the second place because of its simplicity and the fact that download versions are available both for MS Windows and Mackintosh.

Chart by British Council
Chart by British Council

3. Sounds of English by BBC Learn English

The third place is reserved for BBC English. The most basic of all in the list, this tool is opened in a browser window and it is not available offline as a separate application. The chart itself is simple with clearly articulated phonemes. We have decided to select it because of quality content that is available on the same place if you decide to hang around – pages named Pronunciation tips. BBC is in the top of the game, with great lessons on English pronunciation. Each of the sounds is explained in a separate lesson, accompanied by video content. Another great site from BBC.

Chart by BBC Learn English
Chart by BBC Learn English

4. The Phonetic Chart by EFL Productions

On this site the phonemes are presented within the words, and isolated phonemes cannot be heard. It is great companion to previously mentioned charts, because it is possible to hear the phoneme in the context. However, the content is available online only. If you wish to use it on your computer offline, you will have to buy it. It would be good to mention that the software offers simple pronunciation quiz and phonetic diagram (both available online). The downside is somewhat strange voice recordings and not-so-friendly design for your eyes.

Phonemes by EFL Productions

5. The Sounds of English by Antimoon.com

This page is the least interactive of all listed here. When a user clicks on a word, the pronunciations are played as mp3 recording (whole words are read, and not the phonemes). We decided to include the site here because it offers American and British versions of the pronunciation. To more advanced students, extra explanations in plain English will be of use and great introduction to International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The content is available online only, unless you are ready to save each file individually.

This closes our list for time being. Do you know of any great online phonetic charts? Feel free to share in the comments.