THE FCE BLOG by Claudia Ceraso

Monday, October 09, 2006

Sounds and Spelling

Under the SPELL of English

‘Dearest creature in Creation,
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
It will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye your dress you'll tear,
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer,...’



Sounds of English revisited
On a previous posting we discussed how to study the sounds of English and minimal pairs. At this learning stage, you probably find that some sounds are not so easy to produce just by hearing and imitating. It takes a bit of an extra effort to learn them -particularly those sounds that do not exist in our mother tongue. We need to analyse in more detail what is necessary to sound better and get rid of a strong foreign accent. Do not blame it on your vocal cords or lack of a musical ear: Point and manner of articulation have to be adjusted. It is amazing how different you can sound when you know a few tricks!


Here is a site from the University of Iowa that will clarify the mysteries of the production of English sounds. You will find audio, video and graphics with step-by-step description to guide you.
http://www.uiowa.edu/~acadtech/phonetics/english/frameset.html
(You need Flash 7 or higher- Download here )

Pronunciation and spelling

Have you ever wondered how do native speakers learn to master English spelling at school? One of the methods is called Synthetic Phonics. Want to try learning like a child? Go ahead and give it a try!
http://www.fonetiks.org/foniks/
You will see a chart with 10 practice steps of increasing difficulty. Click on a box, then, hover your mouse on the words to listen. These exercises will help you find regularities between spelling and sound. English spelling is not that unpredictable after all.


A bit of extra practice
This is just one page which organises contrastive sound practice with varied techniques. You needn’t go in order; you can create your learning route.
http://international.ouc.bc.ca/pronunciation/
Includes 13 sound groups, practice with mp3 files. There are sentence dictations to do online and tongue twisters.


Just for fun...
Here are a couple of sites which collect poems on the craziness of English spelling.


Why do we need to focus on spelling when spell checkers can do it for you?
Just in case you think word processors can polish up your writing and you needn’t study spelling so much, have a look at these lines:

‘I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.’

Read the rest here:
http://www.spellingsociety.org/news/media/poems.php
(The title of this posting comes from one the poems here too)

Some stats
Did you know that the combination ough can be pronounced in 14 different ways?!

Check that here:
http://home.planet.nl/~blade068/languagefun/pronunciation.htm


We have often felt puzzled with some listening exercise when we do not have a clue of what the speakers are saying. Then, we desperately go to the listening transcript only to find the difficult chunk was made up of very simple words. Why couldn't we understand something so easy! What do you think you need to improve? More listening practice? Perhaps.

Have you ever thought it can be as difficult the other way about? I mean, to understand the pronunciation and meaning reading the transcript first? Scroll down that same site above to find "Ladle Rat Rotten Hat". This is a classic, worldwide known story you will have to read aloud to understand (there is a translation if you give up). The key to making sense out of it is to think of the intonation, not the spelling. It's fun. Try reading the beginning:

Wants pawn term, dare worsed ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage, honor itch offer lodge, dock, florist.' Disk ladle orphan worry putty ladle rat cluck wetter ladle rat hut, an fur disk raisin pimple colder Ladle Rat Rotten Hut. Wan moaning, Ladle Rat Rotten Hut's murder colder inset."Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, heresy ladle basking winsome burden barter an shirker cockles. Tick disk ladle basking tutor cordage offer groin-murder how lifts honor udder site offer florist. [...]

(Hint: Once upon a time, there was a little girl...)

Have you guessed the title of the story? Can you get the meaning from the sounds or are you still under the spell of English spelling?


Related posting: Pronunciation Starter Pack


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