Learn All English Sounds & Pronounce Words Perfectly with the IPA!

Lesson Overview

Learn how to pronounce ALL English sounds using the IPA to improve your pronunciation! I’ll help you to learn the sounds of English AND help you study how to use the IPA to practise your pronunciation!

📝Download the workbook to keep practising!
👄Skip straight to the practice @12:00

🤓 Use this English lesson to practise again & again!
Once you have learned the English sounds, use this video to practise & review the sounds & symbols with me!


Video Transcript

Hey there, I’m Emma from mmmEnglish.

This lesson will help you learn all English sounds, but more specifically, how to learn and remember the IPA symbols so that you can study and improve your pronunciation more effectively.

The IPA is the International Phonetic Alphabet. It’s a set of symbols that represents the different sounds in English, and I know that the thought of learning what must seem like an entirely new alphabet in order to know how to pronounce English words must be really frustrating.

But in order to know what sounds to produce, to pronounce a word correctly, you need to be able to see and to recognise which sound you need to make. And this is where the IPA can help you. Instead of looking at the letters in this word and trying to pronounce them, maybe saying “busi-ness,” you’ll see the actual sounds that combine to produce the word and pronounce it correctly: “business.”

Now I want you to tell me down in the comments right now, what English word is most difficult for you to pronounce. If you add it down below, I’m going to try and make some short videos helping to explain the pronunciation for you. But right now in this lesson, I’m not only gonna teach you all of the English sounds, but I’m also going to train you to associate the sounds with their symbols so that you can start using the IPA as a tool to pronounce any English word that you learn correctly.

Now, because this lesson is a big one, there’s a lot to take in, there’s a lot to learn, I’ve created you a free PDF workbook that you can download using the link in the description below. If you follow the link, you add your email address, I’ll send that PDF to you straight away. It’s going to have all of the sounds that we’ll practise in this lesson today and all of the example words as well, so it’s a really useful resource. Go grab it after the lesson to review what we practise right now.

This is just a friendly reminder that my accent is an Australian English accent, so everything I’m teaching in this lesson relates to Australian English pronunciation.

So by now, you probably have already noticed that English is not a phonetic language. There are twenty-six letters in the English alphabet, but there are forty-four or forty-five different English sounds, depending on who you ask. Vowel sounds, in particular, are a challenge because there’s only five vowel letters in English, but there are nineteen different vowel sounds. This is why you need the IPA.

So let’s take a look.

These are the forty-four sounds of English. You’ll notice that some of these sounds look like English letters, so that makes it easy, right? You can see the letter B for the /b/ sound, the letter K for the /k/ sound.

But there are some different symbols here for other sounds. For example, this one represents the /ʃ/ sound. We use this symbol to represent the sound because it can be written with different English letters in English words like “show,” “relation,” “passion,” and “chef.”

Vowel sounds

Notice how the IPA is divided into different sections? The top half shows all of the English vowel sounds. On this left side, you’ll find all the monophthong vowel sounds. It’s a complicated name for a very simple thing. These are just the pure vowel sounds. Let’s go through them:

  • ship /ɪ/
  • sheep /i:/
  • book /ʊ/
  • move /u:/
  • egg /e/
  • her /ɜ:/
  • teacher /ə/

This is our relaxed lazy schwa sound. We really need to relax our jaw.

  • door /ɔ:/

I like to remember this one by imagining the shape of my lips, the same shape as that symbol.

  • cup /ʌ/
  • on /ɒ/
  • car /ɑ:/

So here’s a quick tip: The sounds with the two dots are long vowel sounds. This right side has the diphthong sounds. They are also vowel sounds but they are different because each individual sound is made up of a combination of sounds. Compare that monophthong sound, which is just one sound with the diphthong sound, which is two sounds combined to make one sound. So the diphthong sound is actually made up of the /ɔ:/ and /ɪ/ vowel sounds.

Let’s go through all of them now:

  • /eɪ/ as in day
  • /ɔɪ/ as in boy
  • /aɪ/ as in like
  • /eə/ as in hair
  • /ɪə/ as in here
  • /ʊə/ as in tour
  • /əʊ/ as in show
  • /aʊ/ as in mouth

Consonant sounds

The bottom half of the IPA table shows all of the English consonant sounds, and you’ll see that some of these symbols are the same as English letters. That makes things simple. There are two main types of English consonant sounds, unvoiced and voiced.

Unvoiced consonant sounds are made by pushing air through your mouth, and it’s the air that creates the sound. So actually when you make unvoiced consonant sounds, you should be able to hold your hand in front of your mouth, and you should feel the air coming out.

So let’s practise, and keep your hand there if you need to:

  • pea /p/
  • far /f/
  • think /θ/
  • top /t/
  • say /s/
  • she /ʃ/
  • chip /ʧ/

That sound /ʧ/ is a combination of the t and ʃ. Remember that when you’re looking for this symbol:

  • key /k/

Voiced consonant sounds are made using your vocal cords. So when you’re using your vocal cords, you can feel them vibrating or moving. You shouldn’t have a lot of air coming out of your mouth when you’re making voiced sounds. The sound is made here:

  • beat /b/
  • van /v/
  • this /ð/
  • dog /d/
  • zip /z/
  • vision /ʒ/
  • jam /ʤ/

This is a combination of the /d/ and /ʒ/ sounds.

  • gap /g/
  • man /m/
  • next /n/
  • young /ŋ/
  • hope /h/
  • win /w/
  • love /l/
  • run /r/
  • you /j/

Learn English sounds & IPA symbols

The thing is, if you can learn to recognise and to produce these English sounds, you’ll be able to pronounce any new English word that you learn perfectly just by breaking it down into the correct sounds. But it’s also going to help you to use the correct syllable stress, sentence stress, rhythm, and help you to speak much more clearly and naturally. So the question is, how do you memorise all of these symbols and sounds? We practise!

Okay, so we are not going to focus on the sounds that look exactly like the letters. They’re the easy ones.  We’re going to focus our energy on these vowel and consonant sounds that we need to learn how to recognise.

So you’ll see them come up on the screen just here, and when they do, don’t just think about the sound, I want you to make the sound as you see it. So what we’re trying to do is associate the sound with the movement of your muscles. This is really important, okay? This is why we’re practising together. So just try and pronounce the sound. The word is going to be there just to prompt you, okay, but I want you to focus on memorising the sound. Let’s start with…

  • breath /e/
  • edge /ʤ/
  • breeze /i:/
  • flute /u:/
  • hide /aɪ/
  • tissue /ʃ/
  • author /θ/
  • biscuit /ə/
  • happen /æ/
  • shiver /ɪ/
  • breathe /ð/
  • fishing /ŋ/
  • vision /ʒ/
  • change /ʧ/
  • comb /əʊ/
  • hood /ʊ/
  • oil /ɔɪ/ 
  • firm /ɜ:/
  • father /ɑ:/
  • flower /aʊ/
  • place /eɪ/
  • young /j/
  • hearing /ɪə/
  • daughter /ɔ:/
  • bother  /ɒ/
  • tour /ʊə/
  • share /eə
  • whole /əʊ/
  • cup /ʌ/

Now we’ll go through all of these same sounds again in a different order and without my voice this time, so you need to guess. You need to make the sound out loud. After one second, I’ll give you a little clue, I’ll add that word up on the screen, and then you’ll hear me make the sound so you can check if you’re right. We’re working with your memory here; we’re trying to make these sounds and symbols stick:

  • edge /ʤ/
  • flute /u:/
  • hide /aɪ/
  • tissue /ʃ/
  • apart /ɑ:/
  • bother /ð/
  • angry /ŋ/
  • bath /θ/
  • breeze /i:/
  • cook /ʊ/
  • happen /æ/
  • cap /æ/
  • hair /eə/
  • sip /ɪ/
  • know /əʊ/
  • culture /ʧ/
  • cure /ʊə/ 
  • measure /ʒ/
  • boy /ɔɪ/
  • hurt /ɜ:/
  • cup /ʌ/
  • how /aʊ/
  • pay /eɪ/
  • yes /j/
  • beer /ɪə/
  • poor /ɔ:/
  • soft /ɒ/
  • show /əʊ/

Practice

Okay, you’ve made it to the last part! This is where we get to have some fun, all right?

You’re gonna see some sounds come up on the screen, and you need to guess the word. Remember to do this out loud. It’s important that you’re training your ears, your eyes, your mouth, all together. They’re working as a team here:

  • yacht
  • young
  • brochure
  • greet
  • breathe
  • groceries
  • jungle
  • mission
  • mechanic
  • moustache
  • nationality
  • nurse
  • pouch
  • qualify
  • reservation
  • single
  • special
  • technique
  • toenail
  • urgent

So I really hope that you enjoyed that practice today. I designed it so you can continue to come back and test yourself, maybe skip over the sounds and come straight to the practice because it’s going to take you some time to practise and to remember all of these different sounds.

I know when I was learning them, I found it really helpful to associate the different shapes and the different sounds or combinations of sounds that came together to produce these words. It really helped me to remember them.

Watch it again, test yourself, remind yourself about all of these different sounds, keep practising, make it stick in your mind. And if you want me to make another practice lesson just like this one, let me know down in the comments below. Practice makes perfect, doesn’t it? I’ll see you in the next lesson.

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