Phonetics / Phonology Phonetics has been defined by Roach

Phonetics has been defined by Roach (1992) as the 'scientific study of speech' (Roach, 1992: 81.) It is concerned with how speech sounds are formed, how we use them in our spoken language and how we can record these speech sounds using written symbols. Phonology on the other hand has been defined by Roach (1992) as 'the study of the sound systems of languages' (Roach, 1992: 82.)

According to Roca and Johnson (1999), the way in which we speak is somewhat similar to playing a recorder. This is because when you play a recorder you have to blow air from your lungs, as you do when you speak. However, to play a tune, you cannot simply blow air into the recorder; you must have your fingers over specific holes. Therefore, when we speak, we have to interfere with the air that comes out of our mouths to produce a variety of different sounds. Roca and Johnson (1999) gave the example where you 'place your lower lip loosely on the lower edge of your upper teeth and force the air out.' (Roca, 1999: 6) The sound that you produce here should sound like the letter 'f'. However, a problem can occur when attempting to spell words, particularly for those learning English. For example, the 'f' in the word food and the 'gh' in the word cough are pronounced identically yet spelt very differently. This suggests that the English spelling system is not a completely accurate way of describing how we pronounce sounds. As a result, The International Phonetic Association identified a transcription system where one symbol stands for a specific sound. Consequently, if foreign students learn this alphabet, they should be able to correctly pronounce any word in English.

Another important area of pronunciation that students should study is that of stress and intonation. Harmer (1998) explains how stress is related to emphasis that is placed on specific words or sentences. Therefore, when we pronounce the syllable with the added stress; our voice will either increase in volume or change pitch. Roach (1992) explains that 'the position of stress can change the meaning of a word' (Roach, 1992: 102.) or sentence. For example, if the stress in the sentence 'he played football yesterday' was on the word 'he,' we would imagine that it was him that played football. However, if the stress was on the word 'played', we would imagine that he only played football, not anything else. Furthermore, we frequently vary the pitch of our voice in a sentence. Roach (1992) believes that this conveys our emotions and attitudes; an example of this is when we are excited as here it is likely we will have a higher pitch of voice yet we will have a lower voice when we are bored. Often when we speak, we use a rise/fall intonation. This is normally perceived as a polite way of speaking and inviting the next person to speak. However, we also use a fall/rise pattern which indicates an element of surprise or disagreement with something that has been said by a previous speaker. It is therefore important that stress and intonation are studied by English students as this will help them understand the meaning of others sentences.

It can therefore be seen from the above information that it is very important to teach students learning English phonology and phonetics. This is because they are essential when trying to understand the meaning of people's sentences and when trying to learn how to pronounce certain words.


Harmer, J. (1998). How to Teach English. England: Longman.

Roach, P. (1992). Introducing Phonetics. London: Penguin Books.

Roca, I. and Johnson, W. (1999). A course in Phonology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.