English Sounds and Spelling – English Pronunciation Lesson

Hello, I’m Oli. Welcome to Oxford Online English! In this pronunciation lesson, you can learn about sounds and spelling in English. If you just look at a word in English, do you know how to pronounce it? Not always. It can be difficult because, in English, the way we write a word and the way we say it are not always the same. In this lesson, you can learn more about the differences between how we write a word and how we say a word in English.

Part one: the same letter can have different sounds. Look at three words: phone, clock, for. All of these words contain the letter O. Is the letter O pronounced the same way in each word? No. In “phone,” the letter O has an /əʊ/ sound. In “clock,” O has an /ɒ/ sound. In “for,” O has an /ɔː/ sound. So here, we have three different words, all with the same letter, but with three different pronunciations. Part two: different letters can have the same sound. Let’s look at three more words: big, England, busy. OK, some questions: what sound does the I in “big” make? What sound does the E in “England” make? And what sound does the U in “busy” make? Listen again: big, England, busy. These three letters all have the same sound: /ɪ/. So here, we have three different letters, I, E, and U, but they all make one sound, /ɪ/. OK, at this point, it should be clear that letters and sounds are not the same thing in English. So let’s look at this in more detail. Part three: how to count letters and sounds. OK, look at three more words: fast, seven, ted. I want you to think about two questions: how many letters do these words have, and how many sounds do these words have? OK, well, the first question is easy.

“Fast” has four letters. “Seven” has five letters, and “red” has three letters. What about the second question? How many sounds do the words have? Well, actually, “fast” has four sounds. /f/-/ɑː/-/s/-/t/. “Seven” has five sounds: /s/-/e/-/v/- -/n/. “Red” has three sounds: /r/-/e/-/d/. So all of these words have the same number of letters and sounds. “Fast” has four letters and four sounds. “Seven” has five letters and five sounds. “Red” has three letters and three sounds. That makes these words easy to pronounce because you see the word, one letter equals one sound. It’s easy. But are all English words like this? No, most English words are not like this. This is what makes English pronunciation difficult. So let’s look at this again. Part four: letters and sounds are not always the same thing. OK, listen to three more words: coffee, teacher, shopping. Think about the same questions we asked before: how many letters does each word have, and how many sounds does each word have? So, “coffee” has six letters, but how many sounds? Just four.

The two Fs together make one /f/ sound, and the two Es together make one /i/ sound. So there are four sounds. /k/-/ɒ/-/f/-/i/. Teacher has seven letters. How many sounds? Four, again. So the two letters EA make one /iː/ sound. The two letters CH make one /tʃ/ sound, and the two letters, ER, make one /ə/ sound. So there are four sounds in the word: /t/-/iː/-/tʃ/-/ə/. “Shopping” has eight letters. How many sounds? Five. S and H together make one /ʃ/ sound. The two Ps together make one /p/ sound. The letters NG make one /ŋ/ sound. So that leaves five sounds: /ʃ/-/ɒ/-/p/-/ɪ/-/ŋ/. Often, a word has more letters than sounds because two or more letters together can make one sound.

Sometimes three or four letters together can make one sound. For example, look at the word “four,” F-O-U-R. In this word, the three letters, ‘OUR’, make one sound: /ɔː/. Let’s look at three more words: one, use, Europe. Same questions: How many letters? How many sounds? Well, let’s look at “one.” “One” has three letters and three sounds, so that’s easy, right? But what are the three sounds? /w/-/ʌ/-/n/. Where does that /w/ sound come from? What about the other words? Well, “use” has three sounds, again, /j/-/ʊː/-/z/.

Again, you can see a /j/ sound, which is pronounced, but which isn’t obviously in the written word. “Europe” has five sounds: /j/-/ʊə/-/r/-/ə/-/p/. Once again, you can see there’s a /j/ sound in the pronunciation, which isn’t written clearly in the word. So to review: very often, words have more letters than sounds because, very often, two or more letters together can produce one sound. Sometimes there are extra sounds which are not obviously written, but which are pronounced when you say the word. Okay. Let’s do some practice together. I’m going to give you five words: apple, because, student, cheap, Wednesday. Think about the same questions: how many letters do these words have, and how many sounds do these words have? If you want, pause the video and think about your answer. We can start again when you’re ready and look at the answers together. OK, ready? Let’s check. “Apple” has five letters and three sounds: /æ/-/p/-/l/.

“Because” has seven letters and five sounds: /b/-/ɪ/-/k/-/ɒ/-/z/. “Student” has seven letters and eight sounds. How’s this possible? Let’s look: /s/-/t/-/j/-/ʊː/-/d/-/e/-/n/-/t/. Eight. There’s an extra /j/ before the /ʊː/, which again is not obvious from the spelling, but it’s in the pronunciation. “Cheap” has five letters and three sounds. /tʃ/-/iː/-/p/. Wednesday, nine letters, six sounds: /w/-/e/-/n/-/z/-/d/-/eɪ/.

OK, that’s the end of the lesson. Thank you very much for watching. You can see more of our free lessons on our website, www.oxfordonlineenglish.com. In the video description, you can see a link to the full version of this lesson. The full version includes a quiz and the full text, so you can review and practice this topic some more. But that’s all. Thanks again for watching. I’ll see you next time. Bye bye!.

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