Pros and cons of using phonetics:
It helps to differentiate sounds
Some words are pronounced in a very similar way in English, and to some students, it is not always clear exactly which sound is being used, especially in regular and fast speech. Seeing the correct phoneme written as a phonetic transcription may help students to distinguish these similar sounds.
It can be applied to other languages
The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) was created in 1886 as a way of ‘romanising’ spoken language and can, supposedly, be applied to any language. Therefore, if you know how to pronounce the letters from this alphabet well enough then you should, in theory, be able to learn the pronunciation of any spoken language if it is accompanied by this system of phonetics.
It can tell us how a new word is pronounced without the need to hear it
Many students will, hopefully, continue to learn and study outside the classroom and may come across a word while reading which they do not know, and since written English is not phonetic, it can be useful to see the word written phonetically. If you look up any word in any good dictionary, you’ll see the word written in this script. (Note: this can be equally useful for native speakers of English looking up new words).
It can lead to confusion if not understood well enough
As not all of the phonemes resemble any specific letter of the alphabet that we normally use, e.g. /ʌ/, they can easily be confused, causing words to be learned and pronounced incorrectly by learners.
Potentially overwhelming, especially to new students
When students begin learning a new language, especially if it is their first time learning a new language, they can often feel overwhelmed just by the new vocabulary and basic grammar structures. Add a completely new alphabet to this and many students may even begin to feel that this approach is actually slowing down their progress. Some teachers would also say that it is ok for lower-level students to pronounce some words incorrectly in English, as long as the meaning and overall communication is clear.
Not universal – pronunciation varies greatly from one region to another
Look up the word ‘cut’ in the dictionary and you’re most likely to see it written phonetically as /kʌt/ (rhyming with ‘nut’). However, if you go to certain regions of the UK, e.g. the north of England, you’ll hear it pronounced by many people there as /kʊt/ (rhyming with ‘put’). Because spoken English varies so greatly from one region to another, this way of writing English in a standardised phonetic way could be thought of as near impossible to be correct 100 per cent of the time.
If you’d like some tips on how you can improve your English and pronunciation in Madrid, feel free to come and speak with us and our native English teachers at either one of our English academies in La Elipa and La Almudena (Metro line 2) in Madrid. We also offer Cambridge examination preparation classes, as well as other languages, such as French, German, Portuguese and Italian.
We hope to see you soon!