Friday, 8 December 2017

English Phonetics and Pronunciation Practice

Last September saw the publication of English Phonetics and Pronunciation Practice (EPPP),
Routledge. The book is authored by Paul Carley, of the universities of Bedfordshire and Leicester, Inger Mees, Associate Professor in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at the Copenhagen Business School, and Beverley Collins (1938-2014), who held lectureships at the universities of Lancaster and Leiden and was Visiting Professor at Ghent University.

EPPP is an excellent resource book for both teachers and students, effectively bridging the gap between courses in English phonetics and those in English pronunciation.
My endorsement, included inside the front cover of the book, together with the words offered by such eminent scholars as John Wells, Jane Setter, Petr Rösel and Geoff Lindsey, is as follows:

“I’m absolutely delighted to welcome this excellently written book. The coverage and organisation are exceptionally good. The authors are to be congratulated on producing a groundbreaking textbook combining English phonetic theory with copious amounts of material for practice. Anyone studying or teaching English or wishing to understand or speak the language with clarity and accuracy should read this book.”

EPPP provides an up-to-date description of the pronunciation of a twenty-first-century model of educated British English, ‘General British’ (GB). Also, it demonstrates the use of each English phoneme with a selection of high-frequency words, both alone and in context in sentences, idiomatic phrases and dialogues.

The book is supported by a fantastic companion website featuring 2,615 audio files, including full recordings of the examples given in the theory sections, full recordings of the practice material by a male speaker from Wokingham, Berkshire (15 hours) and a female speaker from Petersfield, Hampshire (another 15 hours), and transcriptions of all the practice material. The 30 hours of practice material recordings are in two versions: one for self-study with only minimal pauses, and one for the language lab with pauses of different lengths depending on whether it’s a word, phrase, sentence, etc.

English Phonetics and Pronunciation Practice truly is the masterpiece that the English phonetics world had been waiting for!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Luke Nicholson's online British English pronunciation course

Luke Nicholson (picture left) is an experienced accent coach qualified by the International Phonetic Association and a member of both the Voice and Speech Trainers Association and the DialectCoaches Agency. Besides holding an IPA certificate, he has a BA in German Studies and Italian Studies from the University of Birmingham and an MA in Acting – Distinction in Voice and in Articulation. He has taught English pronunciation to people from over 65 different countries, including Bahrain, Ethiopia, Holland, Iran, Italy, Malaysia, Russia, Serbia, Thailand, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

He recently launched an online British English pronunciation course which includes in-depth information on the vowel and consonant sounds of English as well as the main features of connected speech, stress, rhythm, intonation and voice quality. You can take a look at the contents page here. The course is just excellent and a wonderful resource for anyone with an intermediate/advanced level of English who’s interested in improving their pronunciation as well as their listening skills.

The course starts with six introductory lessons. After completing them, you’re immediately directed to the language guides section of the course, where you can choose your native language and study the sounds that will make the biggest differences to your accent.

What is so helpful about this course is that it also contains numerous relevant links to native speakers to listen to, as well as suggestions of TV shows and films to watch. Additionally, the learner has clear guidance about how to practise, how to know if they’re making a sound accurately, and how to incorporate new sounds into everyday speech. Here’s one of the videos from the course about the schwa vowel.

Luke is also the author of two carefully planned and extremely useful freely available sound charts: the consonants chart and the vowels chart of Standard Southern British English (= General British). These are clickable charts which enable you to listen to recordings of the sounds of English as spoken by the author himself. At the bottom of the charts one finds questions about phonetic symbols and the realization of certain sounds to which detailed answers are provided which the reader will find extremely useful. Another highly recommendable resource for students (and teachers!) of British English pronunciation.

Congratulations, Luke!  

Monday, 21 November 2016

(Un)scientific English

The book you can see to the right is called Scientific English and was brought out by Zanichelli in 2007. It is essentially a guide containing tips and resources for those Italians who want to know more about how to write scientific papers in English. It deals with abstracts, journals, keywords and phrases commonly used in medical English, as well as with oral presentations.

The book also claims to provide some guidelines on the pronunciation of 'technical terms', though the section devoted to this subject is reduced to a mere 10 lines. Have a look at the bottom of page 153, under "Pronuncia" ('pronunciation'):

('The purpose of this manual is to provide the reader with information concerning the correct use of Standard English in a scientific context. For this reason, we do not give any indication as to how words are pronounced. Rather, we focus our attention only on the written language since we believe that if you mispronounce a word during a presentation, your native-speaker English audience will in all probability forgive you for doing that [my highlighting]. There are, though, two aspects of English pronunciation which you must bear in mind: 1) z is pronounced [zi:] in AmE but [zed] in BrE; and 2) in telephone numbers, 0 is pronounced like the letter o in BrE but zero or o in AmE.')

This is just absurd! How could the author have possibly written this?!

I’ve been teaching English phonetics to health care professionals both at the University of Tor Vergata and the Nursing Board of Rome (‘Collegio IPASVI’) for several years now and I know how vital it is for my students to be able to master pronunciation in English. My experience with doctors and nurses has also led me to write two books on the importance of English pronunciation in medical science. Please see my L’inglese medico-scientifico: pronuncia e comprensione all’ascolto (EdiSES, 2014) and my Health Care Professionals Speaking (EdiSES, 2015). For further info, also check this link.

An excellent example which illustrates the fallacy of the author's argument and highlights the crucial role English pronunciation plays in the science sector, is provided by Professor John Wells in his book Sounds Interesting (CUP, 2014; pp. 86-87):

"Much would be accomplished if medical school staffs emphasized orthoepy more" (Bradford N. Craver, Wayne University; Science, New Series, Vol. 96, No. 2490, Sept. 18, 1942, p. 273).

Monday, 27 June 2016

ˈbreksɪt ~ ˈbreɡzɪt

Some days before the UK’s EU referendum, Cambridge Dictionaries Online published an article on their blog About Words entitled European Union – in or out? The language of the UK’s referendum. The article, written by lexicographer Liz Walter, is essentially aimed at teachers and students of EFL who want to improve their knowledge of the language or use classroom material that is ‘original’. 

The passage Cambridge offer online is extremely useful for foreign learners of English, and I thought it might be a good idea if readers could be provided with a (mainly) phonemic transcription of it as well.

So what you’ll find below is the full text of the article linked to above completely transcribed in IPA, representing the way I would pronounce it myself in General British (GB) and using the symbols found in the new edition of Alan Cruttenden’s Gimson’s Pronunciation of English (2014, Routledge).

A note of caution: although all of the pronunciations represented below can be regarded as belonging to GB, they are not always recommendable to the EFL teacher as these may sometimes have distinct disadvantages for the student to copy.

jɔːrəpiːən juːniən - ɪn ɔːr aʊt? ðə laŋɡwɪʤ əv ðə juːkeɪz refərendəm

ɒn ʤuːn ðə twentiθɜːd, brɪtn̩ wl̩ dəsaɪd weðər ɔː nɒt tə rəmeɪn pɑːt ə ðə jɜːrəpiːən juːnjən (iːjuː). aɪm mɔː ðn̩ hapi tə bɔː frenz wɪð maɪ əʊn vjuːz ɒn ðə sʌbʤekt, bəʔ ðə pɜːpəs ə ðɪs pəʊst ɪs sɪmpli tə haɪlaɪʔ ðə laŋɡwɪʤ əv ðə dəbeɪt.

ðə prəsaɪs kwesʧn̩ wɪl bi ɑːnʦrɪŋ ɪz: 'ʃʊd ðə junaɪtɪd kɪŋdəm rəmeɪn ə membrə ði jɔːrəpiːən juːnjən ɔː liːv ði jɔːrəpiːən juːnjən?', ən ni ɑːnʦə wl̩ bi disaɪdɪd ɪn ə refrendəm (ə naʃnəl əlekʃn̩ ɪm wɪʧ iːʧ pɜːsn̩ haz wʌm vəʊt). ɔːl sɪtɪzənz əv brɪʔn̩, ɑːlənd ən ðə kɒmənwelθ (kʌntriz ðəp bəlɒŋ tə ðə brɪtɪʃ empɑːr ɪn ðə pɑːst ən stɪl hav ə kləʊs rəleɪʃn̩ʃɪp wɪð ðə juːkeɪ), kʌrənli lɪvɪŋ ɪn ðə juːkeɪ kəm vəʊt. ɪn ədɪʃn̩, juːkeɪ naʃnl̩z lɪvɪŋ əbrɔːd kən vəʊt ɪf ðeɪv bɪn ɒn ði əlektrl̩ reʤɪstə (əfɪʃəl lɪst əv piːpəl əntaɪtl̩ tə vəʊt) ɪn nə lɑːs fɪftiːn jɪːz.  

səʊ wɒt ə ði ɪʃuːz kənektəd wɪ ðɪs dəsɪʒn̩? fɜːsli, ði iːjuː ɒpəreɪʦ əz ə sɪŋɡl̩ mɑːkɪt. sentrl̩ tə ðɪs aɪdɪːr ɪz ðə friː muːvmənt əv ɡʊʣ m̩ wɜːkəz bətwiːn iːjuː kʌntriz. ðɪs miːnz ðəʔ wɜːkəz frm̩ kʌntriz wɪθ haɪ reɪʦ əv ʌnɪmplɔɪmənt kən muːv tə kʌntriz wɪð mɔː ʤɒbz. kɒnʦəkwəntli, ðə kwesʧən əv ɪməɡreɪʃn̩ ɪz wʌn ðət ɪz ɒftən dɪskʌst. ɪn ðə juːkeɪ, ðə haz bɪn pətɪkjələ dibeɪt əʊvə welfɛː peɪmənʦ (mʌni frm̩ ðə ɡʌvəmənt) tu ɪməɡrənʦ.  

ənʌðə bɪɡ ɪʃuː ɪs sɒvrənti (ðə raɪt əv ə kʌntri tə disaɪd ɪʦ əʊn lɔːz). meni piːpl̩ hu feɪvə breksɪt (ə kɒmən, ɪmfɔːml̩ wɜːd fə brɪʔn̩z eɡzɪt frm̩ ði iːjuː), seɪ ðeɪ dəʊn wɒnt ɑː kʌntri kəntrɒʊl frm̩ brʌsl̩z. breksɪtəz ɔːsəʊ friːkwənʔli menʧən ðə bjɜːrɒkrəsi (əfɪʃl̩ ruːlz), mɔːr ɪmfɔːmli kɔːld red teɪp, ðəʔ ðeɪ bəliːv ði iːjuː brɪŋz. ðeɪ ɔːlsəʊ seɪ wi ʃəd hav fʊl kəntrɒʊl əv ɑː bɔːdəz (dəsaɪd huː kŋ̩ kʌm ɪntə ðə kʌntri).

ðəʊz ɪm feɪvrəv steɪŋ ɪn kleɪm ðəʔ ði iːjuː əz brɔːt əs meni ɡʊd lɔːz, ɪspeʃli kənsɜːnɪŋ ɪmplɔɪmənʔ standəʣ n̩ ði ɪmvɑːrəmmənt. ðeɪ seɪ ðəʔ jɔːrəps ɑː meɪn treɪdɪŋ pɑːʔnə, ən ðət ɪf wi left jɜːrəp, wi wəd luːz ə lɒt əv ɑːr ɪnfluənʦ. wi wəd haftə nɪɡəʊʃieɪt ə njuː treɪdɪŋ rəleɪʃn̩ʃɪp, əm maɪt iːvən end ʌp ɪn ə treɪd wɔː wɪð jɜːrəp. ðɪs kəd əfek bəʊθ ɪmpɔːʦ ən ekspɔːʦ əm wi maɪt haftə peɪ ə tarɪf (taks) ɒm bəʊθ. ðeɪ ɔːsəʊ kleɪm ðəʔ ði iːjuː həz help tə meɪnteɪn piːs ɪn jɔːrəp. bəʊθ saɪʣ ɑːɡjuː əʊvə ði ɪmpakt ɒn (kɒnʦɪkwənʦɪz fɔː) ʤɒbz.   

ðərə meni ʌðə kɒmpleks ɪʃuːz kənektɪd wɪð ðə juːkeɪz membəʃɪp əv ði iːjuː. ɪn θiːəri, ðə juːkeɪ pɑːləmənt dʌzn̩ haftu əksep ði aʊʔkʌm (rəzʌlt) əv ðə refərendəm, bəʔ ðɛːr ʌnlaɪkli tə ɡəʊ əɡens ðə wɪl ə ðə piːpl̩. pɒʊlz ə kʌrənli ʃɜːɪŋ ə fɛːli iːvn̩ splɪt (ðə seɪm nʌmbər əv piːpəl ɒn iːʧ saɪd), səʊ wəl haftə weɪt əntɪl ʤuːn ðə twentifɔːθ tə nəʊ ɑː fjuːʧə.

Thursday, 28 April 2016


On page 13 of his latest book Sounds Interesting (2014, CUP), John Wells writes:

"When my cardiologist started me on a drug called amiodarone, he pronounced it ˌæmiˈɒdərəʊn, and that's what my GP said, too. But shortly afterwards I went for a blood test. The phlebotomist called it ˌæmiˈəʊdərəʊn.
So should it be ɒ or əʊ? A short o or a long one? Who cares? The spelling's the same, which is what matters for the pharmacist who has to dispense it."

Look at this panel: 

How do you say, for example, diltiazem? I'm pretty sure both native speakers and non-native speakers of English will find it difficult to answer this question. As you can see from this link, Wikipedia has dɪlˈtaɪəzɛm (= dɪlˈtaɪəzem), as do Forvo and Merriam-Webster Online. But my Dictionary of Nursing (Adams et al (2007), A & C Black) and my Dictionary of Medical Terms (Bateman et al (2004), A & C Black) say we should pronounce it as dɪlˈtaɪəzəm. In the Oxford Dictionary of Nursing (Martin (2014), OUP), on the other hand, the only pronunciation provided is dil-ti-ă-zem (= ˈdɪltiəzem).

What about betaxolol? Is it GB bɪˈtæksəlɒl, bəˈtæksəlɒl, beˈtæksəlɒl or indeed bɪˈtæksəʊlɒl, bəˈtæksəʊlɒl, beˈtæksəʊlɒl? Who knows exactly?! And are the variants ˌbiːtəksˈəʊlɒl/ˌbeɪtəksˈəʊlɒl even possible in GB?  (Cf. metaprolol/metoprolol which can be both GB ˌmetəˈprəʊlɒl and məˈtæprə(ʊ)lɒl/məˈtəʊprə(ʊ)lɒl/mɪˈtæprə(ʊ)lɒl/mɪˈtəʊprə(ʊ)lɒl.)

John Wells points out in his book that,

"[a]s with so many learned, scientific or technical words, the spelling is fixed while the pronunciation fluctuates. (...) That's because instead of hearing other speakers and imitating what they say, we often create a pronunciation for ourselves on the basis of the spelling, using the reading rules of English, which are notorious for their uncertainty."  

Italian-speaking members of the clinical professions intending to work in the health care sector with English-speaking patients can find information on the pronunciation of medical terms (including medications) in my two books L'inglese medico-scientifico: pronuncia e comprensione all'ascolto (2014, EdiSES) and Health Care Professionals Speaking (2015, EdiSES).

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Registered nurses

The English used in online ads by nursing recruitment agencies and their Italian members sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. Have a look at these two screenshots:

As you can see, the spelling *(pre) registred nurse is incorrect. It ought to be (pre-)registered nurse of course. The agency nurse who published these ads constantly misspells this common expression in her Facebook postings about the level of English needed to be able to work as a health care professional in the UK. This implies that she not only writes registered nurse incorrectly but that she also probably pronounces it in the wrong way. This is sad, as one would expect an Italian nurse recruiter to speak very good English and especially to know how to spell (and pronounce) the noun which refers to their occupation 

Pronouncing registered ˈreʤɪstrɪd/ˈreʤɪstred or even reˈʤɪstrɪd/reˈʤɪstred is not unusual among native speakers of Italian. This is because Italian has a noun, registro, ɾeˈʤistɾɔ/ɾeˈʤistɾo, which translates the English register and is always stressed on the second syllable, and a verb, registrare, ɾeʤiˈstɾaɾe, which, like the former, contains the cluster /-str-/. Add to this influence the fact that the pronunciation of the -ed ending of the simple past and past participle of English regular verbs often trips up students and you can see why we get the four non-native variants I listed at the beginning of the paragraph.

Register is ˈreʤɪstə/ˈreʤəstə in General British (GB) and ˈreʤɪst(ə)r/ˈreʤəst(ə)r in General American (GA). As you know, in GB a written r is pronounced only when a vowel sound follows, whereas in GA all written r's are normally pronounced. (For further info, have a look at this excellent post by the phonetician Geoff Lindsey.) As far as the -ed ending goes, it is pronounced d both after a vowel sound (GB ˈreʤɪstəd/ˈreʤəstəd) and after all voiced consonant sounds, except d itself (GA ˈreʤɪst(ə)rd/ˈreʤəst(ə)rd). See here.

Registered nurse is a compound characterised by main stress on the second element: thus ˌregistered ˈnurse. Its common abbreviation is RN.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Understanding and speaking un-English in 21 days

The book you see here to the left is called Inglese per viaggiare in 21 giorni (Improve your English on the move in 21 days.). It has just been published by Sperling & Kupfer (ISBN 978-88-200-5978-1, 228 pp.) and costs 12,90 euros. The authors, Massimo De Donno, Giacomo Navone and Luca Lorenzoni, are not linguists or phoneticians but public speaking experts. 

The book, aimed at Italians intending to understand and communicate clearly and successfully with native English speakers, is divided into 21 chapters which deal mainly with how English is spoken in the UK and around the world. The authors describe the pronunciation of RP – as they still call it –, Scottish and Irish English, American English, South African, Australian and New Zealand English. They do so by providing transcriptions in IPA (as well as in a kind of simplified 'phonetic' spelling system) of all the words and expressions that they present. Symbols and their use are discussed at pp. 38-48. The book also has a companion website which, at the time of writing, contains no resources related to it. 

The three authors must have written the book in a hurry because the whole work is riddled with inaccuracies and false statements. It is not just a question of possible typing errors or misprints such as jeləu (yellow) instead of (ˈ)jeləʊ (p. 59) or teik advais (take advice) instead of teɪk əd(ˈ)vaɪs (p. 66). What we have here is serious mistakes about the 'phonemic spelling' of English words as well as phonetics in general. There isn't a single page which doesn't contain at least one error.  

On page 40, for example, we find this: 

The pronunciations they give are for RP (= General British (GB)), which they claim is only spoken by 2-3% of the British population (p. 3). This is totally untrue. Please read here. As you can see, the transcriptions for learn, see and blue are wrong: in GB learn is always lɜːn not lɜːrn; see is siː or sɪi, not sɪː; and blue is never blʊː but bluː or blʊu. (On page 98, though, crew is given as kruː, not krʊː, and tree is both trɪː and tʃriː on page 44, which seems to suggest that the authors are unaware of the difference between the sounds and ʊ(ː), and between and ɪ(ː).)

On page 41, nose is transcribed nɒʊz, and on page 42 gnome is both nəʊm and nɒʊm. As you know, nose is nəʊz and gnome is nəʊm: the ɒʊ diphthong is used in GB only before dark l, as in cold: kɒʊɫd. See here

And what do we make of the pronunciations of dad, feet, bag, horse, universe, piano, serpent, tree, cheese, teeth, and rose on pp. 42-43? 

 They're all completely wrong and never to be heard in GB. 

Other examples of incorrect transcriptions in the book include the following: pence (p. 60) is penz instead of pen(t)s (penz = pens); to get the gist on p. 86 is transcribed as tʊ ɡet ðə ɡɪst rather than tə ɡet ðə ʤɪst; Blood Alcohol Content (p. 109) is blʌd ælkəhɒl kəntent instead of blʌd ælkəhɒl kɒntent (kənˈtent = happy); comprehensive (p. 123) is given as kəmprəhensɪv rather than (GB) ˌkɒmprəˈhen(t)sɪv ~ ˌkɒmprɪˈhen(t)sɪv; natural gas (p. 158) is transcribed nætʊrəl ɡæs instead of næʧərəl ɡæs; preservative on page 188 is given as prɪsə(r)vətɪv rather than (GB) priˈzɜːvətɪv ~ prəˈzɜːvətɪv; dauntless (p. 202) is transcribed dɒn(t)les, but you know that in GB this is ˈdɔːntləs; to follow suit is given as tʊ fɒlɒʊ sʊt rather than tə fɒləʊ suːt (sʊt = soot)… I could go on.

On page 43, the phrase that thing is transcribed as ðæ(t) θɪŋ and hot day is hɒ(t) deɪ. The t is in brackets because – the authors stress – in these cases it may not be sounded. Of course that's false. In that thing and hot day, t can never be omitted, but it can be replaced by a glottal stop, ʔ.

On page 45, ŋ is described as a sound produced with your tongue low in the mouth. Please see this picture from Cruttenden's Gimson's Pronunciation of English (Routledge, 2014, p. 216) which clearly shows that the back of the tongue is raised towards the velum when you articulate ŋ.

According to the authors, GB /r/ is typically realized as ʋ or ɰ (pp. 44-45) not ɹ, and /æ/ = or ɛə (p. 40) rather than a; American English has got vowels which are more open than BrE (p. 103); and Australian and New Zealand English father contains a vowel more open than GB ɑː, so in these accents it can be pronounced both fʌðə(r) and fɑðə(r) (p. 224). 

Connected speech and stress are also extremely problematic: p. 128 has aɪ kʊd hæv kʌm bʌt aɪ dɪdnt fɪːl laɪk draɪvɪŋ (I could have come but I didn't feel like driving), instead of, for example, aɪ kəd əv kʌm bət aɪ dɪdn fiːl laɪk draɪvɪŋ; Does she attend your school? (p. 52) is transcribed as dʌs ʃɪː ətend jɔː(r) skʊːl rather than, for instance, ˈdʌz ʃi ətend jɔː ˈskuːl; the modal going to is given as ɡɔɪŋ tʊ on page 95; and on p. 79 police is pɒlɪs in IPA and pòlis in the authors' 'phonetic' spelling system. This seems to indicate that de Donno, Navone and Lorenzoni pronounce police wrongly in GB as ˈpɒlɪs (or possibly ˈpɒliːs) rather than p(ə)ˈliːs. The 'phonetic' spelling system they use is also hopelessly inaccurate. In their previous book, for instance, the authors give lady as 'ledi' (p. 42) and bus as 'bas' (p. 47): a monophthongal in lady is not GB but a feature of many regional accents spoken in the UK; bus is bʌs or bɐs in GB, not bas, as this latter pronunciation corresponds to bass, a sea or freshwater fish that is used for food.  

And what do we make of p. 82?

The pronunciations given are in Irish (English), the authors say once again, most of the transcriptions are entirely wrong.  

What about this from p. 92?

I don't know where De Donno et al. took this from – the book contains no references. 

The information provided about English grammar is also at some points fairly inaccurate, as when, on p. 192, we read this:

As you know, in Standard English hope is always followed by to + infinitive, never by to + verb + ing.    

The book also describes some technical phonetic terms such as, for instance, intrusive r (pp. 55-56), non-rhotic (p. 193), up-talk [sic] (p. 117) and yod-dropping (p. 207). For the latter, the authors provide a chart showing the 'loss' of j in Australian English:

All of the pronunciations indicated are wrong. 

I very much hope that all these oversights and errors will be sorted out by the authors before the second edition of their Inglese per viaggiare in 21 giorni comes out.