EFL teacher David Appleyard
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Playful Pronunciation Practice

The 44 sounds of English English, one at a time
On this page...
Introduction The 24 Consonantal Sounds
The 20 Vocalic and Diphthongal Sounds Problem Sounds for Japanese Learners



Speaking clearlyIn an attempt to take some of the pain out of learning the kind of clear English pronunciation that reduces communication problems, I have here devised a set of memorable sentences as practice drills. The full range of English sounds is gone through systematically and spoon-fed in a form overseas students will want to repeat to themselves and then to the world.

First they might think it's some kind of entertainment. Before they know it they'll be speaking like a native!


The 20 Vocalic and Diphthongal Sounds

ɑ:  æ         e         ɪ   i:   ɪə   ɒ   əʊ   ɔ:   ɔɪ   ʊ   u:   ʊə   ɜ:   ʌ  ə


Sound Mnemonic
/ ɑ: / Famous stars smoke cigars in cars and bars.

/ æ / That fat cat sat on a rat. Now it's flat as a mat!

/ aɪ / Mike likes bikes with spikes to ride on ice.

/ aʊ / I doubt he'll clout the lout who stole his trout. He'll shout out loud!

/ e / The clever never ever say "Never ever!".

/ eɪ / If there's a delay, they pay to stay another day.

/ eə / They dare to stare at fair hair because it's rare there.

/ ɪ / If the stick isn't thick, you'll split it when you hit it.

/ i: / Don't freeze the cheese, please, Louise.

/ ɪə / It's clear the beer is dear here.

/ ɒ / Doctor Oscar often operates on opposition politicians.

/ əʊ / Joan won't go home to Rome by boat alone.

/ ɔ: / She caught her daughter in the water with a naughty boy.

/ ɔɪ / The noise from Roy's toys annoys other boys.

/ ʊ / The cook shook when he took a look at the cook book.

/ u: / Whose two new blue shoes did Sue lose?

/ ʊə / If the water on the tour isn't pure, you can't be sure there'll be a cure.

/ ɜ: / Bert wasn't hurt but got dirt on his shirt.

/ ʌ / If Mother had another brother, I'd have another uncle.

/ ə / A moment ago he announced a new address.


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The 24 Consonantal Sounds

b  p   d   t      tʃ   ð   θ   v   f   g   k   z   s   ʒ   ʃ   h   j   l   m   n   ŋ   r  w


Sound Mnemonic
/ b / Barry's barrel of beer was a better buy than Bob's bargain bottles.

/ p / Pete persuaded Pam to pick up Paula's parcel at the post office.

/ d / Dad does detest dealing with dogs' droppings in the driveway.

/ t / Toddlers' toilet training takes time.

/ dʒ / Jolting gelignite is generally jolly dangerous!

/ tʃ / Charles said cherries, cheese and chocolate are cheap in China.

/ ð / It's the weather there that bothers them.

/ θ / A thirsty thief thanked Theo for his thermos.

/ v / Vera values the variety of vitamins in vegetables.

/ f / Inefficient farmers fear future foreign food imports.

/ g / The giggling girls gradually got a grip on themselves.

/ k / Cairo kids quickly catch colds in Canada.

/ z / The zippy Zaire zebra zigzagged through the Zurich zoo.

/ s / Super salesmen soon succeed in selling something.

/ ʒ / We should treasure leisure for its immeasurable pleasure!

/ ʃ  / She showed the shy shogun a Shinto shrine.

/ h / When Helen had Harry, her husband hurried her to hospital.

/ j / You used your yellow uniform yesterday.

/ l / Larry lured lots of lovely ladies to his lair.

/ m / Most managers make much more money than me.

/ n / I'll naturally never know Naples like my Neapolitan neighbour.

/ ŋ / Karaoke king Bing sang a long song in Hong Kong.

/ r / Ronald Reagan wrecked his red Rolls Royce.

/ w / We await snowy winter weather without warm winds.

Problem Sounds for Japanese Learners

The Japanese language has roughly half as many sounds as English, but this doesn't prevent it from eagerly soaking up vast quantities of Western words and expressions. This process is uniquely facilitated by the existence of the katakana phonetic script, which basically compresses foreign words into the same limited range of sounds available for native ones. The Japanese themselves think that this system is very smart. The downside is that school children face an almost impossible task unlearning it when approaching real English in the classroom. They fail to distinguish between the separate English sounds in, for example, birth, bus and bath — all of which for local convenience are similarly transcribed in the katakana syllabary. 

After more than a decade of teaching English in Japan, I have come up with the following series of contrastive sounds that Japanese speakers really need to learn to tell apart if they are to avoid comprehension difficulties with English speakers who are unfamiliar with Japanese.


Sound Mnemonic
/ ɑ: / Be fast to be first! The firm farmer ran his farm like a firm.

/ ɜ: /
/ eɪ / That lazy lady is never ready!

/ e /
/ əʊ / Polish polish is popular in Poland. We won't want it!

/ ɒ /
/ i: / He's his own boss. The wheel will come off.

/ ɪ /
/ ɒ / He plays golf by the gulf but he's not a nut.

/ ʌ /
/ ɔ: / Grandma was born at home. Bowling isn't boring!

/ əʊ /
/ ɔ: / All over Turkey I talked to Turks who walked to work.

/ ɜ: /
/ ʌ / My uncle's ankles give him trouble when he travels.

/ æ /
/ b / This berry's very sweet. Rival rebel gangs. Travel troubles.

/ v /
/ r / Jerry really likes cherry jelly. A pleasant present. Arrive alive!

/ l /
/ s / Sue's shoes. It isn't selfish to sell fish or shellfish.

/ ʃ /