How To Understand the International Phonetic Alphabet

The International Phonetic Alphabet is an attempt by linguists to transcribe virtually every human sound into a chart. The chart uses a unique symbol for each distinctive sound.


  • TIP: Each vowel position is occupied by a pair of vowels. The shape of your lips when pronouncing the vowel distinguishes between the two.
  • Step 1: Practice combining the position of your tongue with different degrees of openness of your mouth to produce the vowel sounds in the matrix.
  • Step 2: Explore articulation, phonation, tone, intonation, and stress representations in the chart if you want to understand it better.
  • FACT: The International Phonetic Alphabet was first published in 1886 by a group of French and British language teachers.
  • Step 3: Look at the vowel matrix. The chart arranges vowels according to the position of your tongue within your mouth – front, center or back; and how open your mouth is while pronouncing the vowel.
  • TIP: To produce a velar fricative, combine the velar manner of articulation, which means tightening some parts inside your mouth with your lips and teeth not touching each other, with the fricative place of articulation, which means blowing air through your mouth.
  • Step 4: Look at the consonant matrix. Consonants with the same place of articulation, or way of pronouncing the consonant, are in the same column; and consonants with the same manner of articulation, or origin in the mouth or throat, are in the same row.
  • TIP: Some entries in the consonant matrix include two consonant sounds. These sounds differ depending on whether your vocal chords vibrate when you pronounce them.
  • Step 5: Practice combining the manner of articulation with the place of articulation to produce the consonants in the matrix.
  • Step 6: Obtain a copy of the International Phonetic Alphabet chart. The chart is published by the International Phonetic Association and is widely available on the internet.

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