You are on page 1of 9





The aim of this topic is to study the English phonological system. In order to do so, the topic
will be divided into four different parts. The first part of the topic will describe the
phonological system, both segmental (vowel and consonant systems) and suprasegmental
features (stress, rhythm and intonation). Next, I will introduce the importance of a model of
pronunciation. Then, I will focus on how to teach and learn pronunciation, considering, on the
one hand, perception and discrimination, and, on the other, production and assessment.
Finally, the importance of phonetic correction is exposed and the main ways to achieve it.

In order to introduce the topic, I will define the concept of phonetics and phonology, and
then I will establish the difference between these sciences.
Phonetics is the science concerned with the study of speech processes, from both an acoustic
and a physiological point of view. By contrast, the main aim of phonology is to discover the
rules that organize sounds into a language system. "Phonetics gathers raw material, phonology
cooks it"
• From a phonetic point of view, vowels and consonants are distinguished by their
articulation and the acoustic energy.
• From a phonological point of view, we distinguish vowels and consonants in terms of
how these units are used in the structure of spoken language

After having defined the concepts of phonetics and phonology, I will concentrate now on the
English Phonological system. Linguists distinguish two areas of phonology: segmental
phonology and suprasegmental phonology. In order to develop the segmental features, I
will examine the vowel and consonant systems. Next, the suprasegmental features will be
analysed taking into account the concepts of stress, rhythm and intonation.
Segmental phonology roughly refers to "what you say". It is concerned with the fundamental
building blocks of sound structure: phonemes and their distinctive features' Next, I will
introduce the vowels and consonant systems. In English, we distinguish 12 vowels, 8
diphthongs and 24 consonants.
It is interesting explain the concept phone and phoneme.
A phoneme is the smallest contrastive unit in the sound system of a particular
language. They are represented between slashes.
A phone is an unanalyzed sound of language. It is the smallest identifiable unit found
in a stream of speech that is able to be transcribed with an International Pronunciation
Alphabet symbol.
Now, after this brief explanation about these concepts, we can look the differences between
vowel system and consonant system.
In all languages we speak with air from the lungs. We draw it into the lungs quickly and we
release it slowly and then interfere with its passage in various ways and in various places.
These are the speech organs:
 The vocal cords: The air released by the lungs comes up through the wind pipe and
arrives first at the larynx. The larynx contains two small bands of elastic tissue, the
vocal cords, lying opposite to each other across the air passage.
 The palate: This forms the roof of the mouth and separates the mouth cavity from the
nose or nasal cavity.
 The teeth: the lower front teeth are not important in speech except that if they are
missing certain sounds, like /s/ for example, will be difficult to make. But the two
upper front teeth are used in English to some extent.
 The tongue: This is the most important of the organs of speech because it has the
greatest variety of movement.
 The lips: the lips can take up various different positions to produce different sounds.
 .The jaws: the jaws are involved as well in the production of different sounds.

Vowels differ from consonants in that there is no noticeable obstruction in the vocal tract
during their production. Air escapes in a relatively unimpeded way through the mouth and/or
nose. Vowels are determined by changes in position of the lips, tongue and palate. These
changes can be very slight and difficult to detect.
Vowels can be described in terms of:
To describe each of the English vowels phonemes, we refer to the “vowel space” in the
centre of the mouth where these sounds are articulated.
The distance between the tongue and the roof of the mouth tell us if the vowel is “close”,
“mid” or “open”.
The part of the tongue where each of them is articulated gives us “front”, “centre” and
“back” vowels.
We have 12 vowels classified as follows:


(shee) (shoe)
I (ship) (good)
(pet) (uncle) (horse)
(word) (about) (dog)
OPEN (hat) (half)

A vowel sound whose quality doesn't change over the duration of the vowel is called a
monophthong, also called "pure vowels". In English, vowels can also glide into one another to
form diphthongs and even triphthongs

There are some problems for Spanish speakers when they learn English languages, Some
vowels and so do diphthongs and triphthongs, are difficult for Spanish to pronounce because
they have to learn to pronounce two or the sounds at the same time.

After having examined the vowel system, I will concentrate on the consonant system.
Consonants are created when that airflow is directly restricted, or obstructed, so that air cannot
escape without creating friction that can be heard.
To define a consonant, following characteristics have to be taken into account:

o Voiced or Voiceless.- The level of vibration of the vocal cords determines

whether a sound is voiced or unvoiced. If the vocal cords are apart, then air can escape
unimpeded. Sounds produced in this way are said to be voiceless. For example: /f/ like
a (fine). However, if the vocal cords are very close, the air will blow them apart as it
forces its way through. This makes the cords vibrate, producing a voiced sound. For
example /b/ like a (bad)or /d/ like a (did)
o The place of articulation. - Consonants are produced by obstructing the air flow
through the vocal tract. There are a number of places where these obstructions can take
place. Depending on the place of articulation, consonants can be:
• Bilabial. the lips are brought together /m/ like a (me)
• Labio-dental. the top teeth touch the lower lip /f/ like a ( fine)
• Dental. the tongue touches the teeth / / like a (thin)
• Palatal. the tongue touches the palate /j/ like a ( yes)
• Velar. the tongue touches the velum /k/ like a (key)
• Glottal. the glottis is closed or narrowed /h/ like a (happy)
• Alveolar. the tongue tip, or blade, touches the bony prominence behind the top
teeth. /z/ like a (zoo)
o Manner of articulation.- This feature describes the nature and extent of the
obstruction involved, According to the manner of articulation, consonants may be:
• Plosive: if the air is completely blocked and then released so
that slight explosion is heard. /g/ like a (get)
• Fricative.- if there is narrowing of the it passage such as to cause
audible friction /f/ like a ( flower)
• Affricate.- if the air is completely blocked and then released
slowly so that friction is heard / / like a (chin)
• Nasal.- if the air passes through the nose /n/ like a (no)
• Lateral.- if air is channelled down the sides of the tongue while
the front of the tongue makes some kind of contact with the passive
articulators /l/ like a (leg)

After having developed the segmental features, I will focus on the suprasegmental features.
Suprasegmental phonology, on the other hand, roughly refers to "how you say what you
say". It involves phenomena such as stress, rhythm and intonation in speech. These
suprasegmental features affect all the segments of a unit of speech, whether a syllable, word,
phrase, or clause. These features are manifested, among other things, as syllable length, tone,
and stress.
Next, I will develop all these features in detail:
o Stress. We can study stress from the point of view of production and of perception.
• The production of stress depends on the speaker using more muscular energy.
• From the perceptual point of view, stressed syllables are recognised because of
their prominence. This prominence is produced by four main factors: loudness,
length, pith and quality.
The stresses are unpredictable in the sense that there is no single position where the main
stress of a word can be expected.

o Rhythm. Rhythm is related with the variations in tempo. It is possible to speed up or

slow down the rate at which syllables, words, and sentences are produced, to convey
several kinds of meaning from urgency to emphasis. English speech tends towards a
regular alternation between stronger and tends to adjust stress levels to bring this about.
Closely connected with rhythm is pause.
o Intonation. lt refers to the variations in the pitch of a speaker’s voice used to convey or
alter meaning. In the study of intonation, pitch, loudness and length are the most
important factors. They work together to give certain syllables prominence over the
others. The concept of intonation is closely related to stress, the difference being that
stress is concerned with individual words, whereas intonation extends over a phrase or
There are five clearly discernable intonation patterns that are used on a regular basis in
English: Level, Falling, Rising, Fall-Rise, Rise-Fall intonation, I will describe the ones
that pupils must know:
 Falling intonation is used in statements, question tags, commands, wh-
 Rising intonation is used in. Yes/No questions, Polite requests, Utterances
containing and element of protest or surprise, echo questions.
 Falling-rising intonation is used in sentences where something is left unspoken:
contrast, to denote a warning or a threat.
Intonation performs a wide range of functions.
 Attitudinal function. Intonation enables us to express emotions and attitudes as
we speak.
 Accentual function. Intonation helps to produce the effect of prominence on
syllables that need to be perceived as stressed,
 Grammatical function. The listener is better able to recognise the grammar and
syntactic structure of what is being said by using the information contained in the
 Discourse function: Looking at the act of speaking in a broader way, we can see
that intonation can signal to the listener what is to be taken as "new" information
and convey to the listener what kind of what is already "given', or can response is
Once the segmental and suprasegmental features of speech have been considered, I will go on
to analyse the second part of the topic, the choice of a model of pronunciation. English, as
many other languages, is pronounced differently by people from different geographical places,
from different social classes, of different ages and different educational backgrounds. The
most extended and recommended variety for foreign learners studying British English has for
a long time been identified as Received Pronunciation. RP originally meant the regionally
neutral accent found in the speech of the Court and the public schools, and its prestige was the
result of social factors rather than linguistic ones' Later on, the standard was taken as the
variety of English "received" through the mass media, particularly the BBC, which used to
recommend this form of pronunciation for its announcers, principally because it was the kind
of English most likely to be universally understood.

Also, the role of pronunciation in ESL teaching has been changing through history.
Pronunciation was not considered at all for the Grammar- translation method, but it was a
main objective for the Audio- lingual Method and other conductive approaches.

The primary goals of pronunciation teaching are the learner to develop intelligible speech
and to be able to effectively communicate in the target language.
Morely identified four basic pronunciation goals:
• . Functional intelligibility.
• . Functional communicability.
• . Increased self- confidence.
• . Speech monitoring ability and speech modification strategies.
Scholars commonly distinguish three main approaches to the teaching of pronunciation:
 Intuitive- imitative approach: the learner listens to and imitates the sounds and rhythms
of the target language without explicit instruction.
 Analytic- linguistic approach: here the student is just an organism who must be trained
to get the right answer judged by the teacher, who is both a model and an authority.
 Current integrative approach: it is especially suitable for our primary school pupils.
Within this approach, pronunciation is viewed as an integral component of
communication, rather than an isolated drill and sub- skill.
Though the latter seems a bit idealistic, it is important to make students become as near-
intelligible English speakers as we can.

In order to reach these aims, it is essential to focus on teaching and learning pronunciation.
That it is third part of the topic. Students have to be aware of the English pronunciation
features. They must be able to perceive and discriminate. They must also develop a concern
for pronunciation. This will be important because of the role that self-evaluation and
monitoring will play in their production improvement. lt also is important that the
pronunciation teaching does not concentrate only on individual sounds, but also in
suprasegmental features such as intonation, rhythm and stress.

After this brief presentation, l will point out the concepts of perception and discrimination;
and, afterwards, production and assessment.

First, it is important that students should be aware that the sounds they are hearing are
English. Thus, they must be able to perceive and discriminate sounds, As people tend to
hear the sounds of a new language in terms of the sounds of their mother tongue, we must first
ear-train them.
English word stress patterns importance may be demonstrated by showing concern for the
correct pronunciation of the names of well-known places and people. Once the recognize
word stress, we may begin with rhythm and intonation.
In English, stress beats occur at roughly equal interval of time. We can show rhythm by
clapping the strong beats in songs, rhymes and chants. Intonation awareness can be developed
by telling students to hum rather than say dialogues.

After having analysed perception and discrimination, l will develop the concepts of
production and assessment in relation to pronunciation. In the early stages of learning,
learners will have to acquire some discriminatory skills in order to develop their own internal
criteria of what is acceptable and what is not. This exposure must be enjoyable and
motivating: games, songs, rhymes, short dialogues and interesting topics will proved the
necessary input. The output, their production, must be evaluated and it is highly
recommendable to encourage students to self-monitor, asking for a repetition of a speaking
activity or track their progress by recording

Activities that required their best pronunciation. These opportunities to excel give pupils
knowledge of their progress while motivating them.

Once I have dealt with the teaching and learning of pronunciation, l will consider the last

part of the topic, the phonetic correction. When learning a foreign language, we tend to
transfer our own sound system and produce sounds which we use in our native language.
Thus, pronunciation of a foreign language is inhibited by our own articulatory habits. As soon
as we realize this, we see that learning a foreign language does not merely imply learning a set
of words different from our own, but also a new set of sounds, not to mention the peculiar
native rhythm, stress, and intonation.
Accuracy in pronunciation is very hard to get and demands constant effort on both sides.
Teachers should enable student to understand a wide variety of English, working with real
language which is adequate to learners´ needs and communicative purposes.
The knowledge of the English phonological system and the basic principles of phonetic
correction are two main factors that teachers should deal with in their TEFL.
Pronunciation errors may have different origins:
- It is hard for L2 learners to hear and make differences of sounds which are not
important in their mother tongue.
- There are similar sounds in the mother tongue and the L2, which often drive to errors.
- Sounds that do not exist in the L1 need a training to be produced and heard.
Whatever the origin of pronunciation mistakes, three main questions always arise: What,
when and how do we correct?
Correcting a student can be disturbing for him and for the normal pace of the class. Not all the
mistakes have the same importance and depend on the stage of learning, and many other
factors. It is for the teacher to decide. All these decisions have to be taken fast in order not to
interrupt the flow of the lesson.
When pronunciation problems are not generalized it is better to work with them individually
in or out of the classroom in order not to alter the pace of the lesson, or signal a student in
front of his classmates.
Regarding how to correct mistakes, firstly the teacher should know what the mistakes is about
and what the cause is. Secondly, the teacher should decide when the correction can be carried
out and in what way.
Correction from the side of the teacher, and self- correction within the group of students. It is
quite useful because it is one of the ways of focussing the attention of the group when one of
the students is making use of the language, for they will not only be attentive to the content
but also to the form.
Teachers should never forget that errors are essential for learning mainly because they are part
of the process of acquiring a language and reveal the student’s Interlingua and, therefore, their
progress in learning the foreign language.

The emphasis on teaching the phonological features of English has traditionally been on the
accurate pronunciation of vowels and consonants, that is, the segmental features of language.
Fortunately, o new approach has extended in English as a foreign language teaching contexts
and the suprasegmental features of language, such as stress, rhythm and intonation, ore
considered very important in comprehension and production stages.