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Sounds Over Letters

15th March is World Speech Day

Celebrating SOUNDS and ignoring LETTERS!

This month, in celebration of World Speech Day on 15th, we are looking at the sounds we create when we speak or sing in a language. I want you to try to put aside how we SPELL words in English and focus instead on the sounds we create when we make words.

Just like with any language (yes I’m back to languages again!) we use a specific alphabet to denote the sounds; the International Phonetics Alphabet (IPA). This is a special alphabet because it’s global, so once you know what sounds the letter represents you can pronounce any word from any language even if you have no clue what the word means!

This week’s blog is all about the different sounds rather than the different letters. If you’d like to find out more about this week’s topic, watch the video and then sign up to our newsletter to get ALL the gen in your inbox now and for the rest of the year!

The International Phonetics Alphabet

You may not realise it but you have probably all seen letters from this alphabet before. Think of random gobbledegook in either [square brackets] or parenthesized by /forward slashes/ at the beginning of a dictionary entry! This is telling you how to say the word or the SOUNDS of the word:

For instance “dictionaries” is actually pronounced [dikʃən(e)r(i:)s]

Don’t panic! I’m not here to teach you the alphabet by rote, but it’s useful to show the sounds by their ‘proper’ letter – think of in English how our written letter ”c” can either be a “kicking k” sound as in “key” /k/ or a “s” sound as in “snake” /s/. So writing a “c” doesn’t necessarily tell how to say the sound. But we know that a /k/ is always the sound used in “key” and /s/ is always the sound as in “snake”

Why am I going on about this? I want to look at vowel sounds and we can’t do that without having a way of distinguishing vowel sounds because again when “dough” and “doe” are the same sound but “cough” and “coe” are not, it can get confusing trying to use written English.

Five vowels, right? WRONG!

We all know the five vowels in the English language, right?

A as in “train”, E as in “tree”, I as in “bike”, O as in “phone”, and U as in “boot”.

Or to use the phonetic letters: /eı/ /i:/ /ai/ /oʊ/ /(j)u:/

However when as a child, or perhaps your own children, were taught those letters using different sounds A as in “cat”, E as in “egg”, I as in “fish”, O as in “clock” and U as in “bull” or to use the phonetic letters of those sounds: /æ/ /e/ /i/ /ɒ/ /ʌ/. Notice that the letters are totally different than those above, because the sounds being made are totally different.

So straight off we now have 10 vowel sounds: // /i:/ /ai/ // /u:/ /æ/ /e/ /i/ /ɒ/ /ʌ/. In fact we have 20 vowel sounds in spoken English and many others when we start looking at dialects.

Have a look at the 20 words below. Say the word and then try to just isolate and say the vowel sound. Say it clearly and confidently. Notice how some written vowels are used more than once, but the actual sound being made each time is subtly different – you have just found the 20 English vowel sounds. Don’t worry if they sound exactly the same (‘up’ and ‘bull’ for instance) as that could well be your accent;  up’ and ‘bull’ sound the same when I say them as I don’t really use the vowel sound /ʌ/ in my accent.

Spend this week thinking about how these different sounds make you move your lips, jaw and tongue in different configurations to get them.

Short vowel sounds








Long Vowel sounds






Dipthong sounds









15% off Speech Lessons all throughout March

To celebrate World Speech Day on 15th March I want to offer you all 15% off your Speech/Voice Lessons throughout March.

To book now, select a 1-hour slot for your personalised, one-to-one, online lesson.

Lesson Need-to-Knows:

  • Choose to have your lesson on Zoom, Skype, Google Meet or In-person (Consett, Durham) during booking process.
  • Links will be emailed to you latest the day before the lesson.
  • Please login to the call 5 minutes before the lesson start time (and have a glass of water with you!)
  • Headphones are not necessary but can sometimes help with background noise.
  • Payment required at time of booking. 
  • Suitable for age 10+

Let’s get your speaking steaming!

Hannah x