Study the Phonemes of Your New Language

One step in learning your new language, or learning English as a second language, is to learn the sounds that make up the language. Which sounds are not present in your native language? Which sounds are new to you? Learning these phonemes correctly in your new language will are important as you work your way to fluency.

Finding the differences in the sounds of your language and the language you’re learning will be crucial in helping you master the pronunciation of your new language. Without concentrated effort to learn the sounds of the native language, your pronunciation will only be heard and understood with difficulty by native speakers, if understood at all. You can see the benefit of spending time to learn the phonemes of your new language.

Let’s go over the first step. Which is to think of the phonemes of the English language. The next step is to compare the English phonemes with the phonemes of the language you’re learning, identifying the differences.

The 44 Phonemes in the English Language

Learning Phonemes of a languages. Sounds photograph.

Before you learn the phonemes of your new language, simply review the phonemes of the English language. There are 44 phonemes in English. Let’s look at the vowel sounds first.

/i:/ as in ‘see
/ɪ/ as in ‘sit’
/e/ as in ‘say
/æ/ as in ‘cat’
/ə/ as in ‘about’
/ɜː/ as in ‘learn’
/ʌ/ as in ‘cut’
/aɪ/ as in ‘buy
/u:/ as in ‘glue
/ʊ/ as in ‘put’
/ɔː/ as in ‘corn’
/ɒ/ as in ‘hot’
/ɑː/ as in ‘bar

The consonants in English are as follows:

/b/ as in ‘bat’
/d/ as in ‘dog’
/f/ as in ‘farm’
/g/ as in ‘go’
/h/ as in ‘hen’
/k/ as in ‘clock
/l/ as in ‘learn’
/m/ as in ‘man’
/n/ as in ‘nap’
/ŋ/ as in ‘ring
/p/ as in ‘pen’
/r/ as in ‘risk’
/s/ as in ‘sand’
/ʃ/ as in ‘shake’
/ʒ/ as in ‘beige
/t/ as in ‘tiger’
/θ/ as in ‘think’
/ð/ as in ‘they’
/v/ as in ‘van’
/w/ as in ‘wet’
/j/ as in ‘yam’
/z/ as in ‘zebra’
/dʒ/ as in ‘jam’
/tʃ/ as in ‘cheese’

Learn Phonemes of the Target Language and Compare!

Learn Phonemes in your language. Sound wave image.

You have your list of sounds in English. Now you need to do the important step of comparing these sounds to the sounds in your target language. Learn the phonemes of that language. What English sounds are not in the target language? (These sounds will be difficult for natives of that language to pronounce when they speak English. You can expect that those sounds will often be replaced by phonemes from that language, and you will be able to understand why.)

What sounds are not in English that are in your target language? These will be the most difficult for you to adjust to and learn. Mind your sounds carefully, make sure that you are not simply replacing the sounds with an English phoneme. This would only result in improper pronunciation in the target language.

Also, know that our brains map out the sounds of our language from our youth. Not only is it difficult to pronounce the new sound, but quite possibly you could have great difficulty even hearing the sounds. It’s been suggested that you can acquire a new sound within an hour with intense training.

Depending on the language you are learning there may be only a few differences, or there may be many difficult sounds outside the phonemes of the English language.

An added piece of advice is this. It’s been said if you’re mouth doesn’t hurt when pronouncing these new sounds, you’re not doing it correctly. Haha! Yes, indeed! Your mouth or jaw should hurt, as you’d be using specific muscles in a way you haven’t used them before. Expect to be sore, but work toward getting that pronunciation perfect!

So get started! Learn the phonemes in your target language and begin sounding more like a native and less like that tourist pronouncing every word as if it were English.

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