The benefits of learning Phonetics

22nd February 2016

Phonetics: /fəʊˈnɛtɪks/ relates to speech sounds and their production.

I made the decision early in my career as an elocution teacher to teach all of my students phonetics because I strongly believe that it is vital to improving the strength of your speech.

I teach phonetics not only to my foreign students, but also to my native English speakers and even my very youngest clients, some of whom are only six.
I first came across phonetics at drama school. We learnt it so that we could develop our RP (Received Pronunciation) for Shakespearian acting, and also to allow us to dissect and learn regional accents.

At first, I was a little overwhelmed by all the symbols, and I really felt as if I were learning a new language. The more I studied phonetics however, the more familiar the symbols became, and I began to realise the huge benefits it brought about, not only for pronunciation but also for articulation.

Each symbol of the phonetic chart represents a sound used in British Southern English, and each symbol has its own unique tongue and lip position. By putting the symbols together in a certain order they make a word; for example, the phonetic spelling for hello is hɛˈləʊ.

The other great thing about phonetics, and something which my foreign students find particularly useful, is that only sounds you can hear when pronouncing a word are used in the phonetic spelling, so all silent letters are taken away. For example, numb is spelt nʌm as the b is silent.

Also, phonetics is vital in helping students learn to differentiate between words that have a similar spelling but are pronounced differently, such as Charlotte /ʃɑːlət/, Charlie /ʧɑːli/ and Chris /krɪs/. Or different spellings with the same pronunciation: there/their /ðeə/ or stare/ stair /steə/.

For my native English students, phonetics makes them more aware of their speech, and the individual sounds that combine to create a certain word.

This reduces mumbling and lazy tongue. This is the main reason why people are so often asked to repeat themselves; it’s often not the fact that you have a thick regional accent, but more that the sounds you are making are being muffled, which could be down to lack of confidence in your voice and/or a lazy mouth and tongue.

Phonetics forces you to not only think about what you are saying, but also how you are saying it.

If you are interested in learning phonetics please visit my website www.cambridgshireelocution.com.