Though phonetics as a science usually involves language experts only, learning correct phonetic pronunciation is related to all foreign language learners. Besides understanding grammar and vocabulary, learners are expected to have excellent spoken skills as well, and this includes practicing correct phonetic pronunciation.
A brief history of phonetics
Phonetics is a science that deals with the sounds of human speech. Though we may perceive sounds of a particular language as something simple and mundane, they are much more complex and have been studied for centuries. Through history, phonetics has always been an important part of language studies. The first phonetic examinations occurred as long ago as 500 BC in ancient India. Ancient Greeks made the first findings about phonetics and this enabled it to develop ever since. Now with the latest technological achievements there are better opportunities to examine speech sounds and track particular changes in spoken language.
Phonetics vs. Phonology
Phonetics is often mentioned in relation to phonology which is a connected branch of linguistics. The difference between the two is in the approach to the sounds of language. While phonetics mostly deals with phonemes or abstract cognitive units, phonology studies the concrete realizations of sounds and is interested in the way they are created, perceived and transmitted. Phonology deals with patterns of sounds, stress and intonation in a particular language and phonetics examines the sounds of human speech in general.
Significance of Phonetics
Language scientists have been studying the nature of human sounds for centuries and one of the most practical results of their research is coming up with phonological norms of different languages. The following video represents a more elaborate explanation for the need to examine the sounds of human speech:
When it comes to English, one of the most successful phoneticians is Henry Sweet, who is considered to be a father of what is known today as Received Pronunciation and serves as one of the standards for teaching and learning English as a second language.
Phonetic Pronunciation in ESL
English is spoken all over the world and understanding English phonetics is essential in ESL learning. With so many speakers scattered around the globe it would be difficult to distinguish between all the varieties of English without being familiar with the basics of English phonetics. Correct phonetic pronunciation is particularly important for ESL learners who have to be careful about the variety of English they learn and use. This enhances communication and makes a speaker appear more learned about the culture he or she is interested in.
In addition, correct phonetic pronunciation to a large extent contributes to a speaker’s good language performance. The ability to speak in a native-like manner may open many doors for ESL speakers. Now as English has become a lingua franca, everybody is expected to be in good command of English for more professional and academic opportunities. Correct phonetic pronunciation and understanding the importance of good verbal performance may lead to a better job position. This is why everybody should work on their pronunciation skills and keep practicing phonetic pronunciation until they are fully confident about how they sound in a foreign language..
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