Free English Lessons

English Sounds and Spelling – Video

by Oli Redman on 12 February, 2016 , No comments

In this pronunciation lesson, you can learn about English sounds and spelling. English can be difficult to pronounce if you look at the letters of a word. It’s difficult because the letters we write and the sounds we say aren’t always the same. In this lesson, you’ll learn about English pronunciation techniques and English spelling. You can see the difference between how you write a word and how you say a word.

1. The same letter can have different English sounds

  • Phone –> ‘o’ = /əʊ/
  • Clock –> ‘o’ = /ɒ/
  • For –> ‘o’ = /ɔː/

The letter ‘o’ has a different sound in each word.

2. Different letters can have the same sound

  • Big
  • England
  • Busy

The red letters all have the same sound: /ɪ/.

3. Two or more letters together can make one sound

  • Coffee –> two f’s make one /f/ sound
  • Teacher –> two letters ‘ea’ make one /iː/ sound
  • Shopping –> two letters ‘sh’ make one /ʃ/ sound

English sounds and spelling - English letters

4. Some sounds are not written

  • One –> /wʌn/
  • Use –> /jʊːz/
  • Europe –> /jʊərəp/

The red sounds are not obvious from the spelling.

1. The Same Letter Can Have Different Sounds

Look at these three words: phone, clock, for.

These three words all have the letter ‘o’. But is the letter ‘o’ pronounced the same in each word?

Listen to the words again: phone, clock, for.

  • In phone the ‘o’ has an /əʊ/ sound
  • In clock the ‘o’ has an /ɒ/ sound
  • In for the ‘o’ has an /ɔː/ sound

So the same letter—’o’—has three different pronunciations—/əʊ/ like in phone, /ɒ/ like in clock, and /ɔː/ like in for.

2. Different Letters Can Have the Same Sound

Listen to some more words: big, England, busy.

  • What sound does the ‘i’ in big make?
  • What sound does the ‘E’ in England make?
  • What sound does the ‘u’ in busy make?

Listen again: big, England, busy.

They have the same sound: /ɪ/ — big, England, busy.

So three different letters (‘i’, ‘e’ and ‘u’), all make one sound /ɪ/: big, England, busy.

Let’s review: the same letter can have different sounds (phone, clock, for). But also, different letters can have the same sound (big, England, busy).

3. How to Count Letters and Sounds

Listen to three more words: fast, seven, red.

Think about two questions:

  1. How many letters do these words have?
  2. How many sounds do these words have?

The first question is easy. Fast has four letters (f-a-s-t), seven has five letters (s-e-v-e-n), and red has three letters (r-e-d).

What about the second question? Let’s look: ‘fast’—how many sounds are there? There are four: /f/-/ɑː/-/s/-/t/.

So fast has four letters, and four sounds. What about the other words?

Seven has five sounds: /s/-/e/-/v/-/ə/-/n/. Red has three sounds: /r/-/e/-/d/.

So these words have the same number of sounds and letters. This makes the pronunciation easier: one letter = one sound.

But are all English words like this?

No! Most English words are not like this. This makes English pronunciation difficult. Let’s talk more about English sounds and spelling.

4. Letters and Sounds Are Not Always the Same

Listen to three more words: coffee, teacher, shopping.

Think about the same questions we asked before:

  1. How many letters do these words have?
  2. How many sounds do these words have?

Coffee has six letters, but how many sounds are there?

There are only four sounds: /k/-/ɒ/-/f/-/i/. The two ‘f’s’ make one /f/ sound, and the two ‘e’s’ make one /i/ sound.

Teacher has seven letters. How many sounds?

Four: /t/-/iː/-/tʃ/-/ə/. So the two letters ‘ea’ make one /iː/ sound. The two letters ‘ch’ make one /tʃ/ sound. And the two letters ‘er’ make one /ə/ sound.

Shopping has eight letters? How many sounds?

Five: /ʃ/-/ɒ/-/p/-/ɪ/-/ŋ/. The two letters ‘sh’ make one /ʃ/ sound, the two ‘p’s’ make one /p/ sound, and the two letters ‘ng’ make one /ŋ/ sound.

Often, a word has more letters than sounds, because two letters together make one sound. Sometimes, three or four letters together can also make just one sound. For example, in the word four, the letters o-u-r together make just one sound: /ɔː/.

Let’s look at three more words: one, use, Europe.

Think about the sounds of these words: how many sounds are there?

One has three sounds. One also has three letters, so that’s easy, right?

Let’s look: the three sounds are: /w/-/ʌ/-/n/. Wait a minute, why is that /w/ sound there?

What about the other words? Use has three sounds: /j/-/ʊː/-/z/. Again, there’s a /j/ sound which isn’t in the written word.

Europe has five sounds: /j/-/ʊə/-/r/-/ə/-/p/. Again, there’s a /j/ sound at the beginning which isn’t written.

So, to review: very often words have more letters than sounds, because two or more letters together can produce one sound. Sometimes, words have extra sounds, which are not written as letters.

5. Practice

Let’s practice. Look at these five words:

  • apple
  • because
  • student
  • cheap
  • Wednesday

Think about these questions:

  • How many letters do these words have?
  • How many sounds do these words have?

Pause the video, and think about your answers. Start again when you’re ready.

OK? Let’s look at the answers:

  • Apple has five letters and three sounds: /æ/-/p/-/l/ —> apple
  • Because has seven letters and five sounds: /b/-/ɪ/-/k/-/ə/-/z/ —> because
  • Student has seven letters and EIGHT sounds! How? /s/-/t/-/j/-/ʊː/-/d/-/ə/-/n/-/t/ —> student
  • Cheap has five letters and three sounds: /tʃ/-/iː/-/p/ —> cheap
  • Wednesday has nine letters and six sounds: /w/-/e/-/n/-/z/-/d/-/eɪ/ —> Wednesday

Hope you enjoyed the lesson on English sounds and spelling! For more practice, see how the teachers can help you learn English pronunciation.

Sounds and Spelling Quiz

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Oli RedmanEnglish Sounds and Spelling – Video