[0] Introduction to Phonetics

Introduction

This guide on “How to speak English like a native” has been written to help learners of English improve their pronunciation, and thus their ability to communicate in English, as efficiently as possible. Essentially, the activities in this guide are tailored to a Swiss-German speaking audience and the articulations found among its speakers; however, the activities are geared towards any language group. It assumes that learners do not wish to achieve perfection in native-like sounds, but rather be understood. To this end, the activities are geared towards small changes that make a measurable difference and focus on common problems facing learners of English.

This guide attempts to provide a maximum of input with a minimum of theoretical jargon. The approach to pronunciation chosen here is based on the following criteria. It should be

(1)  accessible: for both teachers and students, no funny diagrams of the mouth and only a modicum of phonetic transcription;

(2)  systematic, focusing on areas that impede understanding while improving fluency;

(3)  useful, helping students make sense of inconsistent spelling with a minimum of rules and a maximum of frequent expressions;

(4)  universal, freeing the instructor (as far as possible!) from the constraints of NRP or GA while offering an acceptable model for international students and teachers alike; and

(5)  measurable, based on a realistic means of assessing proficiency in English pronunciation with a view to providing feedback on weak areas.

A note to NRP and GA speakers of English: in the two main areas where these accents differ, I have sought a compromise: 1) LOT, PALM and THOUGHT words have all been reduced to /ɑ/; many GA speakers (such as myself) pronounce this sound the same, whereas others recognize the NRP LOT as a main difference between the two accents. For the Swiss learner, however, the important point is to pronounce /ɑ/ not a dipthonged /əʊ/ when faced with cost, opportunity, problem, process, etc (see section 1). Students usually have strong preferences about which particular accent they wish to emulate, and teachers will not be able to overcome this. 2) The TRAP-BATH distinction have both been realized as /æ/ (GA). This will also be relevant for learners South African and Australian English, both of which maintain the TRAP-BATH split (NRP).

Categories

Five areas have been chosen to define proficiency in English pronunciation. These areas cover all aspects of English accents and seek to provide timely feedback on remedial work as a guiding principle.

  1. Vowels: minimal pairs, worry words
  2. Consonants: fortis-lenis, silent letters, spelling
  3. Melody & Rhythm: weak forms, connected speech
  4. Word Stress: correct stress patterns on individual words
  5. Idiomaticity: native-like language use