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The English Phonetic Alphabet is a Tool For English As a Second Language (ESL) Learners
Spoken English is made up of forty words including twenty-four consonants and sixteen vowels. With only twenty-six letters in the ABC’s, the Latin alphabet has never accurately represented spoken English.
Although the ABCs have worked well in writing the English language since 1476, there was no proper phonetic alphabet to represent the sounds of the language until 2001.
English Phonetic Alphabet
/b/, /d/, /f/, /g/, /h/, /j/, /k/, /l/, /m/, /n/, /p/, /r/, /s /, /t/, /v/, /w/, /y/, /z/
/CH/, /SH/, /TH/, /th/, /ng/, /Zh/
/Ayi/, /a/, /Ey/, /e/, /Iy/, /i/, /Uwu/, /o/, /Uw/, /u/, /^/, /Oy/, /Aw /, /Er/, /Ar/, /Or/
Effects of ABC on ESL – Story by May Chan
The secretary entered my classroom. “Can you come – now” she pleaded and disappeared down the hall. I directed my class to work independently and followed him. While I was in the computer room at the end of the school, I heard the sound of someone shouting. When we entered the lab, he stopped “I don’t understand what he is saying”, the engineer got up as he left the Chinese girl.
The computer lab at our inner-city school for adults was stocked with used office computers. May Chan, who graduated from our school, was hired there as an assistant. It was his job to install the appropriate software on each classroom’s computers. That day, he stood alone pointing to a large group of old people. A single tear rolled down his cheek. In my experience, Chinese people are exemplary students: they are proud, quiet people. I had never seen a Chinese student cry before and it broke my heart. May Chan pointed at the monitor and whispered, “To soun. Eyychoo. To soun.”
He was embarrassed by his Chinese accent and the rude expert humiliated him. I asked him what was wrong and he repeated, “To soun. Eyychoo. To soun.” But I did not understand his answer. “Can you write?” I asked him and gave him a pen.
ECHO, he pressed, and everything was heard. The computer was sending two words; it had words. He knew the right words, but in English knowing the right words doesn’t always help. What May Chan did not understand was English, letters do not represent sounds. The link between English letters and sounds is weak, no one can speak English while reading.
Lesson: Spontaneous speech
May Chan was making the classic mistake of ESL students by pronouncing words as they appear. English doesn’t work like that. Understanding the difference between written English and spoken English is the key. Letters, spelling, grammar and punctuation are all writing and have nothing to do with speaking. In English, spelling is not random and speaking is not writing out loud.
When a student’s ability to read and write English exceeds their speaking ability, writing is a good way to communicate hiccoughs (pronounced /hik ups/ – case in point). Something ESL students are surprised to learn is that native English speakers don’t know how to pronounce words when reading, either. English spelling has been hopeless for a long time.
The problem of the past
English as a spoken language has been developing since 450 AD and usually uses 40 words. The Latin alphabet (or ABC) with 26 characters has been used by common people to print the English language since 1476 AD when William Caxton set up his printing press in London. English uses more words than letters! The Latin alphabet has never accurately represented spoken English.
For example, what color is the letter ‘g’ in beige, garage? How does the letter ‘s’ sound in Asia, both conventionally and in movies? /Zh/ is a French sound and there is no common letter in English.
A solution that didn’t work
Dictionaries often use symbols called the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Unfortunately, these characters do not work well in English. The origin of IPA is French where the letter ‘e’ is known as ‘euh’ and ‘i’ is known as ‘e’ and so on. Despite its inherent confusion, the IPA thrived and survived for over a hundred and twenty years. Today there is little tolerance for this system, because the unknown IPA symbols have no representation on a standard computer keyboard.
The Solution That Worked
In 2001, English got its 40 characters, for computer use where each character represents one word in English.
Students must learn their ABCs in reading and writing and the English Phonetic Alphabet / ingli SH funedik alfabet/ in speaking. When the students see how the words sound, they say them with confidence!
• Write is an acceptable method if speaking does not work
· English writing and speaking English and other languages
· Latin letters do not represent English words
· The English Phonetic Alphabet (EPA) is a functional phonetic system
And make sure you burn the toys that make your students cry.
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