THE ENGLISH ALPHABET

 

L - R

 

 Level: beginners, all levels

 Emphasis in bold

In my opinion it is not worthwhile to try to reproduce the sounds of a BBC announcer or a ‘perfect’ accent, if such a thing exists. Of course there are role models of good speech such as Imran Khan (Pakistan) James Earl Jones (USA) and Anthony Hopkins (Wales).

We should listen to them and try to imitate the sounds they make but I don’t think we should emulate the person’s voice as a complete voice system.

The sounds suggested here are indications of standard English as heard by a speaker of British English. I mention differences in North American English at each sound when they are relevant (and when I know about them).

 

PHONETICS

Since we are concerned with sounds, I must give you an example of each sound. You may wish to use the phonetics shown in a dictionary but I don’t use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), so I can’t help you there.

Digital dictionaries which ‘speak’ the words to you are an excellent choice if you have the money to buy one.

But for my students I just want to pass on an example of a sound, and for this I use well-known place names. If you follow sports you can hear the sounds of these places on your radio or television during reports of football or baseball matches.

 After each letter the little box [ ] shows phonetically how we pronounce the letter itself in the English alphabet.

 

L l [el] has only one sound, L of London or Lisbon. It can also be silent (see list below).

also, although (olthoh), almost, altogether

The sound of a double L is exactly the same as the single L in English:

will, shall, tell, bell, ballot, fill, falling, taller

The silent L

This is a key point in English pronunciation; you must not give it a sound but you should make the vowel sound longer, as if the ‘l’ was an extra vowel. Examples –

would - wood - oo of Liverpool

could [kood]

should [shood]

to walk [uok - o of Tottenham]

to talk [tok - o of Tottenham]

half [haf - a of Arsenal]

calm, [kam -   "   ]

folk [fok - o of Ohio]

folklore    "      "

salmon [samon - a of Arsenal]

palm [pam        "    "]

behalf - beehaf

 

M m [em]

Only one sound – M of Manchester United, Mumbai or Mombasa

 

N n [en]

Only one sound – N of Nigeria, Nehru or Nevada

 

O o has four sounds

1. as in Tottenham or Jordan

not, object* , offense, offend, observe, of, odd, off, top, stop,

*Pronunciation: as the verb, to object, as a noun, the object.

2. as in Ohio or Tokyo

no, odour, occasion (ohkeishon), open, glory, force, story

3. changed to a of Manchester or Arsenal

other, mother, ton, brother, Monday, cover, money, month, come, London.

You must think about this sound and practice it – the sound of ‘o’ as in Tottenham or Jordan is just wrong in these group 3 words (and many others in group 3).

4. as in Liverpool or Turin

to, two, do, who, whom, whose.

One point to note is that when the letter ‘e’ is nearby, the ‘o’ might act strangely. The most important example is in the word ‘one’. Whatever it might look like, this is pronounced UAN in all its uses. Examples –

 one (the first number), someone, no one, one-sided, one-way, one-off, one-time.

Because the sound is UAN the letter ‘e’ is silent in these words.

 

COMBINATION:

OW – as in Saudi Arabia or Kowloon:

how, now, cow, to bow, to plow (USA)

 OW can also be ‘o’ as in Ohio or Tokyo:

slow, crow, tow, snow, low, bow (and arrow).

You will learn these different, and confusing, sounds by practice.

 

OU – Please see Sounds of Two Vowels Together in English

 P p has only one sound, of Paris or Perth:

please, pass, pleasure, power, pest, punch, pedal, pride, pet, help, cup, tap

You must pronounce it strongly, especially at the end of a word, but see the silent P below.

 

COMBINATION: PH: the sound is F –

Philip, philately, photo, phrase, physical, phone, phantom, elephant.

In British place names 'ph' may not be a combination but two separate letters which are pronounced separately: Hemphill, Knaphill (Hemp-hill, Knap-hill).

 

THE SILENT P –

receipt (reseet), sychic (saikik), psyche (saikei), psalm (sam), pseudo (soodo), psychiatrist (sai-kai-at-rist), pneumonia (niumonia), pneumatic (niumatic), corps (kohr) (s is also silent),

 

Q q has only one sound – Quebec or Queensland

quaint (kueint), quality (kuolity), queer (kueer), quantity’ (kuontity), quarrel (kuorel), quit (kuit), question (kuestion)

 

There are a few exceptions, when it sounds like K, but generally it has the ku+vowel sound of ‘Queen’.

The few exceptions are quay (kee) conquer (konker) conqueror (konkeror)

 

R r has only one sound - R of Rome, Morocco or Portugal

English-speaking people from England itself don’t pronounce the letter ‘r’ much. The say ‘betta’ instead of ‘better’ and ‘peppa’ instead of ‘pepper’.

People from Scotland pronounce the ‘r’ too strongly: they say ‘betterrr’ instead of ‘better’ and ‘pepperrr’ instead of ‘pepper’. You should avoid these pronunciations and take the middle way – one letter ‘r’.

rich, race, reject, relax, rely, person, arrow, borrow, carry, rot, road.

The double ‘r’ can hardly be noticed, in view of the English and Scottish habits. You should assume it has the same sound as the single ‘r’.

 

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