We all know that English pronunciation can be difficult, but why? The difficulty lies in differences between how some words are spelled and how they are pronounced. In more phonetic languages, such as Spanish, words are pronounced as they are written (with occasional exceptions, such as the silent “h” in Spanish). In languages such as Spanish, there is a direct relationship between how a word is pronounced and how it is written. In English, however, how a word is spelled does not necessarily indicate to the speaker how it should be pronounced. There are many complexities within the English language that effect pronunciation. In this lesson, we will discuss the various sounds in English. In later lessons, we will present an explanation of silent letters and syllable stress, two other factors linked to proper pronunciation.
Homophones, Homographs and Homonyms
First, to demonstrate how English spelling and pronunciation can differ, take a look at the explanations and examples of three different types of words in English.
Homophones are words with different spellings, but the same pronunciation.
In contrast to homophones, homographs are words with the same spelling and different pronunciations.
Homonyms are words that are spelled and pronounced the same, but that have different meanings. While homophones and homographs can only be found in less phonetic languages, such as English, homonyms are common in other languages, such as Spanish.
To review, the table below demonstrates the differences between homophones, homographs and homonyms.
Sounds and Phonetic Symbols
Homographs and homophones exist in English because, while the English alphabet contains 26 letters, there are in fact over 40 different sounds in English. These sounds are represented by phonetic symbols, as shown in the chart below. In order to learn proper English pronunciation, it is important to first have a good understanding of the different sounds. The fourth column contains the pronunciation of the examples using phonetic symbols. The pronunciation is found between two “/”, as can be seen in most dictionaries.
Note: Further explanation of the various types of sounds can be found in the lessons on pronunciation that follow.
To review, below you will find the examples of homophones and homographs presented at the beginning of the lesson, but this time with their pronunciation given in phonetic symbols.