Oct 2, 2020 in Analysis

Teaching the International Phonetic Alphabet

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) refers to a system used to represent the sounds of a language. The IPA is used many times to guide readers who use the dictionary and would like to know how to pronounce the particular words. It employs the use of internationally accepted symbols to represent the spoken sounds in a language. Despite varying pronunciation from different parts of the world, the IPA provides a structured and uniform approach to have such transcription. The English dictionary has used the IPA to show pronunciation for all the words from time immemorial. This system, therefore, does not use letters necessarily. However, its alphabet represents particular phonation in language. In essence, the IPA has a representation of nearly any consonant or vowel made by humans. This paper focuses on three approaches to teaching the IPA to different ages and levels such as learning by contrasting cases, translation for deliberate practice and, word formation. It also highlights how the success or failure of these approaches shall be measured.



Every aspect of life is determined. According to International Phonetic Association, knowledge of the synthetic phonic teaching principles is critical. The learners need to know the letters and sound correspondences. The skills that govern learning here are decoding, encoding, and handwriting. For decoding, the sounds are blended with the printed word so that the unknown word is readable whereas, in encoding, the learner identifies the sounds in the spoken word for the purpose of spelling and select the correct graphemes to represent the noted sounds in that word. When using handwriting, the learner needs to know the spelling and its corresponding sound progressively. Then it is required to sequentially keep the simple code revised and begin to introduce spelling and pronunciation alternatives for the complex system at a rate appropriate to age, stage, and the learner’s ability.

As was mentioned earlier, the IPA helps in the pronunciation of different languages. People find words that have almost similar pronunciation but various structure and meaning. The difference is small, and through learning, individuals can make a greater difference through such words. For example, sell and shell, ship-sip and chip. Pronunciation of these words can be a difficult task for many people. The students need to know these words that have the almost similar pronunciation in English, proceed and compare them to one another and build on that formation. These words include for example teen /ti:n/, ten /tɛn/, lease /li:s/, and less /lɛs/. Based on these examples, the students should be able to fill the missing phonation in the transcription of the IPA. Distinctive vowel sounds are noted here. Phonation of vowels is made when the tongue moves in a particular position. These areas range from top most, bottom to the front-most part of the mouth. Besides, as people pronounce these vowels, the vocal apparatus such as lips and jaw are in use. The tongue position is of great significance in this regard. Different sounds emerge when the tongue is moved towards the roof of the mouth as well as when pushed towards the front of the mouth. The IPA is represented by symbols that are times recognizable or others that look like gobbledygook like ɞ. It is important to understand where these symbols are placed with other like symbols.

In the IPA, there are rounded and unrounded vowels. An example of the rounded vowel is the “oo” in the “room”, and the unrounded vowel is the “ee” in “fee”. Most of these symbols appear close to each other. Their position determines whether it is rounded or unrounded. In this instance, the symbol on the left is for an unrounded vowel, thus, no rounding of lips during pronouncement. The symbol on the right represents a rounded vowel implying that the lips are rounded when the sound is pronounced. Vowels are, therefore, classified as rounded and unrounded. There are stand-alone vowels in the IPA. This is because there are no languages that have been identified with rounded vowels known as phonemes in such positions. Nevertheless, there are consonants also in the IPA. Their pronunciations also vary since others would involve the lips often referred to as plosives whereas others are pronounced while engaging the nasal cavity. There are unusual consonants in the IPA, which are harder to read. These include /r/, which represents the “thrilled r” pronounced in Spanish for instance. In this pronunciation, the “r” does not touch any part of the mouth.

The IPA consonants are pronounced basing on the position of the vocal apparatus used. The vocal apparatus contains the throat, lungs, tongue, and many other parts of the body. This first part is suitable for the formative stages of development. It can be useful to little children who are learning to talk. When they are taught proper phonation, they learn the necessary pronunciation in the language they are learning. However, this can also apply to those that are learning a foreign language so that they also have the correct sound formation. The success of understanding can be assessed by listening to speeches or talks from those that were learning. In the converse, the failure can be elicited when the learner cannot pronounce the words correctly.

10% word count difference
(300 words instead of
270 words per page)
15%ff for a first-time order


In this section, the student is given more tasks for the purpose of exposure and practice. Words and phrases in the IPA format are given to the participants, and they have to translate them into plain English. Translation is a deliberate practice where the IPA symbols that were previously introduced are put into use by the qualified student. Reading demonstrates learner’s ability to put into practice what has been learned and, therefore, shows greater integration. Learning is said to be effective when an individual can apply the classroom content into practice (Richards & Schmidt, 2014). Through the latter, the learners have the potential to get progressively faster in the task which is attributed to constant practice. It is also a means of verification of the knowledge gained by the students. The adoption leads to the accumulation of a wide range of words, texts, and codes as well as sentences that help people to enhance their learning experience. Translation paves the way for an opportunity for the learners to practice their acquired skills independently.

Further, it is crucial to point out that there is a need for resources in a bid to spearhead the accumulation of reading books that can be decoded at the code level. The instructor should pay particular emphasis to the accent and the Schwa effect for learning activities especially construed to reading. The process of differentiating cases and deliberate practice has the potential to yield significant positive learning results. Both methods stem from an improvement of the other. Students are supposed to understand and internalize the IPA characters they can apply. Limited practice is likely to lead to difficulty in word formation from the learners. Both of these processes should be verified using a test to demonstrate internalization. The outcome of this test shows the success or failure of the method. Finally, in this process, different ages can be subjected to the trial having in mind the content that should vary in complexity depending on the test. The subdivision of the test into different age groups provides an avenue to take advantage of the maturity status of the students. For example, there are some words that third graders are likely to decipher easily as opposed to second graders.

Word Formation

This approach is a hands-on strategy where the learners are made to recall and put to practice what they had learned. Word formation may be done by using symbols or materials that help students integrate what they have learned. The words are formed by means of the IPA symbols and are a clear evidence that integration has occurred. Word formation by use of objects elicits a game like a feel and eventually results in an increase in interest and persistence. The students easily understand and integrate this approach. It is easier to structure the sentence provided if there is an appropriate knowledge of the symbols. A hand-on approach is particularly suitable for the lower level learners despite the fact that it can also be used by those at higher levels. If the students can structure sentences by using this method, it is evident that learning has occurred. If not, it is possible to say that education has failed. It is, therefore, easy to measure the success or failure of this method and approach. The International Phonetic Alphabet is important for all learners. This system helps the students make the proper pronunciation of the words regardless of the language.

When children learn a new language, it is vital that they get the correct way of pronunciation as it influences their way of expression for the rest of their lives. Through correct pronunciation that people can express their views on various topics, and this will, in turn, enhance the perception or reception of information by third parties. The IPA, therefore, plays a very significant role in the language lives of learners. There is no doubt that its learning is important for students of all levels. For this to happen, exposure to the symbols followed by practice results in mastery of the art. Our way of expression through the pronunciation of words influences the reception of whatever we like to pass across. The world today is becoming cosmopolitan, and learning of different languages for effective communication is important. It is, therefore, crucial to teach IPA to all learners.


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