Why I don’t use the phonetic chart or IPA
My first time ever teaching pronunciation I prepared from books and brought my phonetic chart into the classroom. After the first 10 minutes one student said to me, “but I’ve already studied this chart and it didn’t help”. I took a moment to breathe. Then said, “you’re right, this doesn’t work”. And I threw it out.
The phonetic chart or IPA is a set of symbols to represent the sounds in English, since English is not a phonetic language and the letters, ABCD…etc do not represent the sounds of the language. So the Phonetic chart is a clever solution to show how the words actually sound. If you look in the dictionary you will see the word and then under the word the phonetic symbols to show you how to pronounce it. This is all true and accurate.
But we don’t speak like a dictionary.
Natural speech is full of cute little sounds that have no representation in the phonetic chart.. like the ‘rolling /t/’ which is something like the Spanish /r/ if you know that. Not to mention that once you start combining words into phrases then the sound MUST change to accomodate fluent effortless speech. so…
“I like that thing” will sound something like “eyelieathing”.
The other big issue is you really can’t learn native speech by seeing the words or symbols in your head, whether it is alphabet or IPA. You have to learn to use your ears. Can a singer learn to sing beautifully by reading music? Ridiculous! You must hear the sounds in your head, and then reproduce them. Focusing on the phonetic chart tends to encourage people to use their visual learning capacity rather than their auditory. I want you to develop your ear.
So in my classes we listen and imitate, and learn by ear, then translate those sounds to the written word. This is dynamic, alive and incredibly stimulating.