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ESL forum > Ask for help > Using phonetic symbols    

Using phonetic symbols

United Kingdom

Using phonetic symbols
Hi All

How can I persuade a Spanish-speaking absolute beginner that it would be better to learn and use the phonetic symbols instead of adopting his own tailormade "pronunciation" guide, which is kind of phrasebook style, eg. beautiful - biutiful. He says he finds it very hard to connect the spelling with the pronunciation but I feel that by teaching his brain an alternative "spelling" it ´s detrimental in the long run. For example, he ´s not allowing his brain to start making connections between spelling and pronunciation.

What do you think?


8 Nov 2011      


Hi! my piece of advice for you could be that you start "showing" him the advantages of learning the phonetics symbols so that when he ´s alone, he can look the pronunciation up in a good  monolingual dictionary and he will be able to produce the word in the correct way. maybe, you can start teaching him simple vowel sounds and contrast them with minimal pairs. I hope this can be helpful!!! Regards! Jessica from Argentina

8 Nov 2011     

maryse peyé

Hi Colibrita,
Phonetic is natural for us as we are used too.
So when I have to explain why it is so useful I am used to speak about how opera singers learn words of a foreign masterpiece : how better than with phonetic when they are not able to speak that new language for them. A short explanation of what they are singing and that is alright.
Then I am used to write a Japanese word in Japanes writing (arigato, which means "thank you") and ask them to read it. Then I ask them to read this word. Of course most of them are unable to do that. So I write the phonetic of the word and ask them again to read. And that time it is ok.
I explain them that phonetic is an international language and that is the 1st step to a good "HEARING" AND "pronunciation". The way to pronounce Spanish and English is really different so the Spanish spelling of the words is also really different of the English one. Phonetic makes easier a good pronunciation as it prevents a bad one from the natural 1st movement to pronounce a group of letters or some combinations we are used to in our mother tongue. Once a good pronunication set your student will be able to memorize the good spelling AND the good pronunciation.
I hope this may help you.

8 Nov 2011     

United States

Perhaps just continuously using the symbols in the classroom will help--everytime you are explaining or clarifying the pronunciation of something write it in phonetics as you say it.  This way he wil begin to start recognizing the symbols and will eventually begin to use them himself. 
Personally, I think trying to "force" him to use these symbols will not be to successful--he is using a system that "works" for him so the change has to be slow and realtively painless.  It shouldn´t complicate the learning process too much.  Essentially, you are asking him to learn two languages at once.

8 Nov 2011     


When I teach this topic, first

1. I write Hungarian (which is my students ´ mother tongue) words written with phonetic symbols on the board.

2. Ss try to read the strange words aloud.

3.  Then their homework is to collect Hungarian words with lots of symbols (in the most Hungarian words there are few symbols, as we usually write what we say )

4. On the second lesson when they are familiar to the topic, I give them a dictionary, I tell them a page number, and Ss have to read aloud the first word in the first column.  I try to find absolutely unknown English words for them.

5. We do Step 4 many times with lots of words.

Step 4. totally persuades them and they will learn the symbols with pleasure because they find them useful.


Am I clear? If you do not understand me, please write!



8 Nov 2011     

United Kingdom

Thanks everyone for your tips!

Hugs from a sunny but breezy Barcelona!


9 Nov 2011