Using phonetics in the ESL classroom

Julienne   Tuesday, May 27, 2003, 05:32 GMT

Could you help me with a couple of queries please? I'm giving a workshop to some ESL teachers in Brisbane about Teaching Phonology. They asked specifically for info on the following:

A Interesting teaching approaches to teaching the phonetic alphabet and it's (sic) use in the classroom.

B Information about the various phonetic alphabets and the IPA - there has been some confusion about the symbols and/or other alphabets - is it a case of some fonts using a completely different symbol or is it a different symbol from another alphabet?

A Do you have any suggestions? I know a lot of students in China eg learn the phonetic alphabet and I like using it to demonstrate prob areas for my ESL students too but I know that most students in our Cert TESOL and MEd TESOL courses shy away from learning it themselves and so never use it in the classroom. This is OK I feel but they are missing out on an opportunity. As for teaching it to ESL students, I'm not sure that I would be prepared to take up class time to do this specifically. I'm not sure how I would go about it apart from using a tape or texts like Ship or Sheep?

Your opinions and suggestions are anxiously sought as the lecture is next week.

B I've also noted a few different versions of what is referred to as the IPA. The differences often occur in the e versus E? (sorry can't do it but you know what I mean?) and in the a sound which is sometimes printed as the a in cursive writing.

Would really appreciate your opinion here. I tend to think that for classroom usage, ie mainly to explain differences to students, that this does not matter as long as you are consistent in your own usage eg on the whiteboard and in your own pronunciation (Aussie of course) of these sounds.

Your info here would be most gratefully received.

C My query: What is the easiest way of downloading phonetic symbols so that y ou can then use them in your lecture / teaching notes? I mean without having to pay a lot too - of course.


Jim   Tuesday, May 27, 2003, 07:09 GMT
Well, Julienne, mate, I dunno how much this is gonna help but here's a good site by the department of linguistics at Macquarie University. I know you're after a Brissy accent and Mac Uni is in Sydney but it's close.

To clear up any arguement about which symbols belong to the IPA and which don't why not go this site

where you can see the full chart in all its glory. I'm not quite sure to what you are refering when you mention the different versions of the IPA and I have not a clue as to the difference between the "e" and the "E" you mention.

As for how to persent this stuff in an interesting way to the class, there are some vowel charts on the Mac Uni website for different accents that may be interesting. I suppose you could go into the story of how Old English used to have eth, thorn and ash. Icelandic still has them. In the IPA eth and ash are used. Well, I can't promise that this will be interesting but I think it is.

I don't know the best place to find the fonts you're after. Your best bet is probably to search the old web. Though at the second website I mentioned there are fonts. See
mee   Tuesday, May 27, 2003, 18:26 GMT
the thing about the "e" and the "E" is that they officially exist in the full ipa chart, but many people tend to use "e" to represent both sounds.

in australia they usually use the "e" sound, in ocasions that other english dialects would normally use the "E" sound.

for example the word "met" would be generally pronounced by australians as /met/, while british and americans would usually say /mEt/.

these sounds are very similar, but the "E" sound is produced with the mouth opened wider.

the ipa chart is unique, but people tend to simplify it, that's why there seems to be different versions of it.
Jim   Wednesday, May 28, 2003, 01:41 GMT
Do you mean the unrounded open-mid front vowel on the IPA chart, the one they represent with a letter that looks like a back t' front "3"?
Tom   Wednesday, May 28, 2003, 09:35 GMT
A. I don't know any "interesting" approaches to teaching the phonetic alphabet. I always do it the straightforward way -- by introducing the phonemes one by one.

B. The 'a' in [a:] is really supposed to be written using the "italicized" kind of "a". However, some dictionaries use the same kind of "a" that is used in [ai] and [au]. Even the alphabet presented on Antimoon is guilty of this minor inaccuracy.

About the two [e]'s -- I think you're talking about the two kinds of [e] that can be seen in the transcription for "bed". The regular "e" is the British [e]. The kind that looks a bit like a reverse "3" is the American "e" that sounds a bit like [@]. Dictionaries almost always use the British kind -- the reader is supposed to know that the AmE version is pronounced a bit differently.

I agree that these differences are not important.
mee   Wednesday, May 28, 2003, 11:27 GMT
yes jim, i refer to the "E" sound as being the unrounded open-mid front vowel on the IPA chart.

the difference between the "e" and the "E" is stronger in american english than in british english, that's another reason why is not uncomon to find both sounds represented by "e" in many trancriptions.

it varies from dialect to dialect, but the difference does happen, including in british english.
mee   Wednesday, May 28, 2003, 11:47 GMT
that's why for instance, it's usually difficult for english speakers to pronounce properly spanish or french words such as "cafe".

they can't produce the "e" sound alone, only followed by the /I/ glide like in "say" /seI/. so for the word "cafe", they would normally produce something like /cafeI/, or even /cafE/, but not /cafe/.

the "e" sound in english, generally comes only in the "ay" diphtong.
mee   Wednesday, May 28, 2003, 15:21 GMT
/k/ not /c/
Chantal   Friday, May 30, 2003, 21:59 GMT
to Tom,

Could you please explain where "schwa" is used in phonetic symbols by giving some examples. When schwa was first used in phonetic symbols and why a hebrew word is used for this symbol ?
Tom   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 10:28 GMT
There are plenty of examples here:

I don't know how the word "schwa" got into phonetics.
mee   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 12:15 GMT
i've not a clue about the history of that symbol either. does anyone?