I love the International Phonetic Alphabet (otherwise known as the IPA). It’s so useful to be able to have a uniform sound reference across languages, since every language assigns different sounds to letters.
I didn’t always love it, though. Only since I’ve spent hours practicing writing in this alphabet while working on pronunciation lessons. (A good sign you love your job is when you start loving the tools of that job.)
When I started practicing pronunciation, I hated having to add another thing to learn to my obligations. Now I can read the symbols representing English with little problem- when I started, I always got the symbols for the two ‘th’ sounds mixed up. And I could never remember which symbol represented ‘ch’ or ‘j’.
The worst part was all the scientific words for mouth parts. Alveolar fricative, laryngeal, lateral flap. *sigh*
Yeah, I pretty much still ignore those descriptions.
What I did instead, was just come up with my own names for the areas in my mouth and assigned the sounds those descriptions.
The linguistic community needs those super specific terms because it’s a scientific discipline. We don’t need them. We just need to be able to remember which parts of our mouth is involved in making a sound. If I need to call a sound ‘tongue tip to gums just behind teeth’ instead of ‘alveolar lateral approximant’ that’s okay for me.
So take some time to get to know your mouth. Move your tongue around and feel how different the different areas feel. Look at some diagrams and try to imitate the placement of a sound- how would you describe that placement in your own words?
Let’s take this image, how would you describe the placement of your tongue as you imitate the picture?
That’s the placement for the /l/ as in luck. That’s the sound I described above- ‘tongue tip to gums just behind teeth’. Go ahead and practice that placement and make the sound a few times. Pretty soon the movement will come so naturally, you won’t even think of the description.
If you’d like some help getting to know the mouth and how to make English sounds better, I’d love to be there for you. Check out my courses or just sign up for the Pronunciation Habit newsletter where you’ll get weekly practice techniques. Plus, exclusive special offers.
And if you found this post helpful, feel free to post it around. We can all use all the help we can get with our goals.
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