Did you ever feel like breaking down because of English orthography? Don't worry, English spelling system is very confusing, and often puzzles even the native speaker. Dr. Edward Rondthaler the noted typographist, the chairman of the American Literary Council and master of the English language says that "nothing seems to be spelled, or said, quite the way you expect it to be!" In fact, there are two English languages — the Written English and the Spoken or Phonetic English. But if we really want to communicate, which means speak, understand, read and write English, we have to deal with both of them.
There are 26 letters in the English alphabet but they stand for at least 44 sounds of real English. The table below contains phonetic symbols used in various English dictionaries and their audio pronunciation (MP3 format). However it doesn't list all possible sounds of American or British English considering that some researchers count up to 49 (or even more) distinct sounds in English language. The number of sounds and sounds themselves depend of course on dialect i.e. country, area and … evaluation procedure.
There are quite a few phonetic transcription systems in the world. Some of them are too sophisticated to learn, the others are too simple to feature all sounds of English. The most popular and commonly used among them is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). IPA is used by Oxford dictionaries and virtually all printed and digital dictionaries worldwide, except American ones. American dictionaries each make up their own peculiar pattern. The most known of them are the Merriam Webster and American Heritage Dictionary. The Longman Dictionary of American English uses IPA, which could have been an exception to the rule if it hadn't been issued by British publisher named Pearson. There are some similarities but also many differences between these systems especially in the way they express vowels. The main table here represents the IPA alphabet while at the bottom of the page you will find a guide to Merriam Webster Pronunciation. Compare and choose...
Phonetic transcription is usually written in [square brackets] or between two \backslash symbols\.
Stress: main stress is a short vertical or slant line placed at the top before the stressed syllable in the phonetic transcription of the word; secondary stress is a short vertical or slant line placed at the bottom before the stressed syllable. E.g.:
And now all you have to do is read, listen and repeat as much as possible!