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What is the International Phonetic Alphabet?


There is little consistency between the 26 letters of the English alphabet and the sounds we use when saying them out loud. Besides, there are just 5 vowel letters (a, e, i, u, o) and 15 vowel sounds. Furthermore, English alphabet has 21 consonant letters and 24 consonant sounds. So how can you pronounce a word you have never heard of? Guessing is a terrible strategy that leads to a lot of errors and bad habits. What is the way out? To pronounce words correctly, you need to learn to recognize all the sounds in American English and their symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

International Phonetic Alphabet or IPA is the system to transcribe words of any language as they sound using universal phonetic symbols. In the IPA, each symbol is associated with a unique sound. If you learn all the symbols, you will know exactly how to pronounce any word because most English dictionaries use IPA to describe pronunciation of the words. Using the IPA, you’ll be able to improve your pronunciation and feel more confident speaking English. Keep reading to learn how to pronounce IPA symbols.

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How to find the correct pronunciation of vowels?


When it comes to pronunciation, vowels are the hardest part of American English since 5 vowel letters hide behind themself 15 unique sounds. Here are the all the vowel sounds of American English. By following the links, you will find descriptions of pronunciation, additional example words, and practical exercises.

The following vowel sounds are diphthongs, meaning that they combine two sounds into one.

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How to ensure that you pronounce consonants right?


Pronouncing consonant sounds correctly is as important as vowels. Below is a full list of consonants used in American English. By following the links, you will find descriptions of pronunciation, additional example words, and practical exercises.

Despite /w/ is technically an approximant sound rather than a consonant, it’s still often grouped with consonants.

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Simple and useful strategies to master pronunciation


Now that you know how to pronounce all American English sounds correctly, it’s time to train your pronunciation skills. Here are some tips on how you can effectively master your American accent.

Listen as much as possible

Get your ear used to the way native speakers sound. Watch TV shows, movies, find free videos on YouTube, and listen to songs and podcasts. Focus on the sounds that don’t exist in your native language and learn to distinguish them. Besides, you should pay attention to difficult words and focus on the rhythm, breaks, and intonation.

Read out loud

Find interesting English texts and practice reading them aloud. When not sure how to pronounce a specific word, always consult a phonetic dictionary. English has many pronunciation exceptions. Pay attention to how you pronunce sounds, put syllable stress in words, and make sentence-level intonation.

Record yourself

The best way to achieve success in any challenge is to keep track of your improvements. Recording yourself is very important since it will give you an objective way to evaluate your accent. Once you are comfortable analyzing your recordings, try asking native speakers to comment on them. You can be surprised by the differences in what they will say what is important compared to what you would have thought.

If you’re curious how the recording of your voice impacts your assessment of your accent, take a look at Accent Hero's accent test for American English.

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How your native language makes it harder for you to pronounce English words right?

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When we learn a second language, our pronunciation is influenced by our mother tongue. The closer your native language is to the language you are learning, the better you’ll be able to speak the target language. For example, English learners whose native language is Spanish or French face fewer difficulties when learning English than those whose native language is Japanese or Chinese. Nevertheless, every non-native speaker has his or her own issues with English pronunciation.

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Which pronunciation mistakes Russian speakers make?

Russian speakers face many of the same obstacles to the correct English pronunciation that learners from other countries do but they also have their own share of pronunciation difficulties.

  • Russian speakers tend to pronounce dark l sound even darker than native English speakers. Besides, they pronounce dark l in all positions, even where light l should be pronounced.
  • Russian speakers often substitute /w/ which doesn’t exist in their native language with /v/.
  • They often pronounce “th” as s and z sounds because there are no /θ/ and /ð/ in Russian.
  • They often replace /h/ with its closest Russian equivalent /x/.
  • Russians typically say /n/ or /ng/ instead of /ŋ/ which doesn’t exist in the Russian language.
  • Russians find it challenging to pronounce various vowels and diphthongs, particularly, they struggle to pronounce /æ/ and often use /ɛ/ instead.

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How Chinese speakers tend to pronounce words not right?

Chinese speakers usually face a number of pronunciation errors because many English sounds don’t exist in Chinese and are new to them. Here are some of the most common problems that cause miscomprehension:

  • Consonant clusters don’t exist in Chinese and Chinese speakers find it challenging to pronounce a group of consonants especially if it contains “r” or “l” sounds. They often add vowel sounds between consonants or substitute consonants that are easier for them to pronounce.
  • In Chinese, words and syllables never end with consonants except with /n/ and /ŋ/. Chinese speakers often add an extra schwa sound after a consonant or omit the final consonant.
  • In Chinese, there is no word stress. That’s why most Chinese speakers have problems with vowel reduction and schwa sound.
  • English sounds /r/ and /v/ don’t exist in Chinese. Chinese speakers often replace /r/ with /l/ and /w/. Sound /v/ is typically replaced with /b/ or /w/.
  • Chinese learners often confuse /l/ and /n/ sounds.

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How do Spanish speakers say it wrong?

English and Spanish have a lot of differences in terms of phonetics and one of the most important of them is that there are 5 vowel sounds in Spanish and 15 vowel sounds in American English:

  • Spanish doesn’t have a distinction between short and long vowels so Spanish speakers often confuse pairs of short and long vowels like /i/ and /ɪ/, /u:/ and /ʊ/.
  • They often substitute the schwa sound /ə/ for another vowel sound, pronouncing the English letters as in Spanish.
  • In Spanish, words never start with consonant clusters such as /sl-, sm-, st-, sn-, sk-, sp-/ so Spanish speakers commonly insert a schwa sound before words that begin with /s/+ another consonant.
  • Spanish learners often voice and devoice consonants. They may have difficulties with z pronunciation in a combination /z/+ vowel and s pronunciation in /s/+ consonant.

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Which inaccurcies in pronunciation Japanese speakers make?

Japanese speakers can have a difficult time with English pronunciation due to the significant differences between English and their native language. The most common pronunciation problems for Japanese speakers are:

  • They confuse l sound and r sound because /r/ doesn’t exist in Japanese.
  • They insert vowel sounds in consonant clusters.
  • They add vowel sounds at the end of English words.
  • They often replace /θ/ and /ð/ which don’t exist in Japanese with /s/ and /d/.

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How to improve your pronunciation?


Despite the challenges that non-native speakers face, there are solutions that can help. One can hire an accent coach or take a pronunciation course. Sure, that takes time, but when your goal is to be fully accepted into a society, it is totally worth it.

If you consider taking a pronunciation course, we suggest to check out Accent Hero’s online accent courses, which are provided completely free of charge.