Understanding how to pronounce different parts of English is essential for speaking clearly and concisely. This website offers videos, interactive quizzes and materials to help you master the key components of standard southern British English pronunciation.
The OED’s pronunciations do not capture all of the variation that exists within a variety, nor are they intended to be precise (phonetic) representations of articulation. Instead, they use limited symbols that illustrate meaningful contrasts and vowel qualities within that variety.
Vowels are the group of sounds that form words. They can range in length from long to short and usually appear before or after consonants in a sentence.
Consonants can be represented by letters normally reserved for consonants, or by combinations of those same letters which create various sounds simultaneously. A vowel, such as the short ‘a’ made by the letter ei, or a diphthong like FATHER’s a, or an ars like in ‘fly’ (flying), could also be represented.
The quality of a vowel is determined by its articulatory features, such as tongue height, backness and roundness (as shown in the IPA vowel chart on the right).
Consonants are sounds that close the vocal tract, such as /p/, /b/, /t/, /k/, /g/ and /f/. Vowels on the other hand do not close off this pathway: a, e, i, o and u; although occasionally h, r and w can also produce vowel sounds.
English recognizes 24 distinct consonant sounds, including voiced and voiceless pairs such as /p t tS k/ (fortis) and /b d g v s z/ (lenis). There are other consonants which produce distinct tones, like the soft “c” represented by “k,” or the hard “c” that is pronounced sibilantly like in ceosan.
Consonants and vowels are distinct parts of a syllable, with the more sonorous part being a vowel and the less vocal part a consonant. While this distinction may be universal in most languages, there are various models for how vowels and consonants function that may not be as unambiguous as some phonologists would like it to be.
The Dark L
The dark L is a difficult sound to pronounce, often changing the vowel sound before it. This may make the sound difficult to identify if you’re not used to hearing it in your native language.
The Dark L sound is produced with the back of your tongue, where you feel tension and restriction similar to how the word OH sounds. It may become habitual to round your lips in order to produce this sound, but doing so only compounds the problem.
Here is a video of someone making the Dark L. You can see his tongue pull back at the back, while its tip remains down.
The Thinking Vowel
The thinking vowel, as its name suggests, is the most significant letter in a word. It helps children remember to shape their lips, pull their tongue back and keep their teeth away from their lips when reading aloud.
This sound can be heard in words such as kit, mirror, rabbit, foot and cook. It also makes /i/ in hike and /u/ in goose; dress, merry strut curry trap //lot and orange //@/ ago and sofa (these last two being plural!). With so many uses for this syllable it’s no wonder why teaching it to children is an integral part of any reading program! Keeping kids interested while making it fun and interesting for everyone involved pays off!