Phonetic reading has become the method du jour in the last two decades for teaching young students how to read. There is much controversy surrounding this teaching method and the division seems to, roughly, follow along the generational division lines. Regardless of personal feelings on teaching students how to read, the value of phonics, especially to those learning a new language, cannot be denied. There is a difference between phonetics and phonology, however, which often seems to be overlooked. Phonetics revolves around the physical manifestation of speech sounds and speech production and perception by human beings, a prior understanding of language itself is irrelevant. Phonology is about the patterns of sounds that are made in speaking. These can vary between languages, certain combinations of letters, and their corresponding sounds, are not seen in english
, but may be commonplace in a language such as Swedish (note the /tv/ sound seen in the Swedish number two, tvu). There is also variation in phonology within languages. Knowledge and understanding of both phonetics and phonology is essential for a proper grasp of any language and english
is no different.
Phonetic language can be learned just like normal reading and writing. Phonetic language has its own alphabet, and not even just the one, there are several phonetic alphabets that have been transcribed for various languages. The two main phonetic alphabets are the American Heritage Dictionary representation, and the International Phonetic Alphabet.
The International Phonetic Alphabet was developed in the late 1880's by the International Phonetic Association as a standardized representation of of the sound mechanics found in spoken language. The International Phonetics Association was started by a group of British and french
s so the alphabet was specifically designed to database the sounds used in language production and assign unique characters to those sounds, thus enabling people of all nationalities to learn new words and languages by associating those characters with sounds in words they already know. The American equivalent is the American Heritage Dictionary representation. The American Heritage Dictionary representation is learned by American school children
across the country. It is based on the Latin alphabet and derivations of it can be found in all the major dictionaries published in America. Figure 1 shows both the International Phonetic Alphabet and a version of the American Heritage Dictionary representation and how they compare to one another, representing the same sounds with a different set of characters.
Phonetic alphabets carry with them many advantages for the language teacher
as well as the student. Especially in the case of the International Phonetic Alphabet, its presence is ubiquitous in educational and reference texts, such as digital and hard copy dictionaries and course books. This is excellent for students learning a new language as an understanding of the phonetic alphabet allows students the freedom to go away and learn on their own. Anything novel they come across that they do not understand can be looked up and pronunciation as well as definition can be ascertained without having to wait until the next lesson to ask the teacher
. When learning can be approached from two fronts in this manner—both teacher
-motivated in the classroom, and self-motivated in the real world—learning objectives can be achieved much quicker and students may find themselves flying through their course work with a sense of accomplishment!