Using the phonemic chart

Teachers often disagree on whether or not to use the phonemic chart in their lessons. Watch Peter and Clare argue for and against, then why not tell us what you think.

Do you use the phonemic chart with your students? Why? Why not?

Have a look at the TeachingEnglish phonemic chart.

If this video is not available for viewing in your location, please click here


Submitted by Dick Bird on Thu, 08/25/2011 - 03:50


Teaching the Phonemic Chart probably is a waste of time if that's all you do. It's like metalanguage - a means to an end not an end in itself. The Phonemic Chart can be extremely useful for teaching pronunciation, and we should teach pronunciation a lot more thoroughly than we do. Because of the way it is organised, the Phonemkic Chart can show how the sounds of a language are produced, and as your video shows it is especially useful for vowels. If you want people to do something, you show them how. As it happens, most of my students seem to already know the Phonemic Chart and those that don't pick it up quite quickly. The other issue is the use of dictionaries. Even the cheapest electronic dictionary or app will show pronunciation using the IPA symbols so this is a good way for students to internalise the sound of new words

I agree to what you say about learning pronunciation. not necessary the students learn it only through the phonemic chart. Simultaneously students should be asked to consult the talking dictionary for listening the words they phonetically transcribe. it can facilitate their pronunciations.

Submitted by tubsy11 on Fri, 08/26/2011 - 03:07


I think the phonemic chart can be useful, but teaching phonics (where sounds are associated with letters) is more useful.  The phonemic chart is sometimes used by my students who refer to dictionaries that include the symbols for each word.  This can quite useful for them.  Typically my students in Shanghai have already been taught the chart at high school, but still have difficulty with pronunciation and recognising the differences between sounds.

In my experience phonics tend to be more useful because it allows students to have at guess at the spelling of a word, making reading and writing a simpler task.  It also allows teachers to practise pronunciation in minimal pairs activities, in much the same way as you can teach the phonemic chart.  A good higher-level example would be practising changes in sounds due to adding a final 'e' (pope/pop; pipe/pip; pine/pin; tap/tape).

I think a teacher can have difficulty teaching phonics or the phonemic chart if they try to teach it all at once.  Students forget many of the sounds before you can review in the next lesson if they are taught too quickly, which can make the chart (or phonics) appear to be a waste of time.  Rather than try to teach every sound in a few lessons, I prefer to teach one or two sounds each lesson, over a number of lessons, mixed in with other activities (for example, practising speaking words in a reading passage that contains a particular target sound).  With time allocated every few lessons for review, students begin to get a good handle on difficult sound/letter combinations.

Submitted by lushi on Fri, 08/26/2011 - 08:57


I think using the phonemic chart in the lesson is very important especially for the beginners.It helps  to pronounce correctly  the English words and the pupils are able to deal with the pronounciation of the new words by themselves,by looking them up in the dictionary.the first thing that I do in the class with the beginners is using the phonemic chart.


Submitted by magdalenna on Fri, 08/26/2011 - 20:11


It's not easy to teach our students how to pronounce "alien" sounds which occur in English. But, in my opinion it's highly important to show students how it all works. It leads to better pronunciation and consequently - our dear pupils make progress in speaking. I like using rhymes or short songs with my students - they are more interested in remembering the difference between single sounds. What's more (what works during my classes),I use colourful pieces of paper or pencils - firstly,I try to give SS the basic information about sounds; then - they are to decide which sound it was (I say a word, they are to raise their hands with pieces of paper).

All in all, it should be a significant part of our lessons.

Practice is the most vital here.

Submitted by jorgebc on Sun, 08/28/2011 - 16:49


I think that using the phonemic chart it´s absolutely neccesary, but you need to adapt the way you teach it to the different students, and the most important thing is to repeat it, again and again. What I dol is to make them talk and when they have difficulties pronouncing certain word, I correct them and then, show them the phonemic symbol and its related sounds. I think when people learn from their own, it´s a good way to break the shyness, because many students may feel embarrassed if you put them to repeat and repeat.    

I agree with you when you say it's quite necessary to repeat it and also to have in account our students' feelings which are very important the moment they need confidence to speak spontaneously.
On the other hand, let's don't forget the importance of variation when reapeating phonemic chart's exercises in further classes, as being stuck on the same activities may cause lack of interest and loss of our students' attention.

Submitted by jzradolfo on Sat, 09/03/2011 - 23:04

In reply to by mohanna


The phonetic chart is a useful tool to students,because sometimes,when students do not know how

to pronounce some word,look  it up in  the dictionary and find symbols with a lot of examples that are no

as clear as they would like the examples were;therefore,they do not what to do.But if we practice some

symbol everyday,they are going to br familiarized with phonetic symbols,and they will learn easier

Submitted by Olga Wall on Fri, 09/30/2011 - 09:31


In my opinion, it is necessary to teach the phonemic chart. Only by doing so, the students get the difference from spelling and pronunciation. In German the pronounciation does not alternate the spelling as much as it does in English. Therefore, I think it is a whole lot easier to figure the right pronounciation from reading the written words. Hence, students have to learn rules for pronounciation to make sure, they don't misinterpret the letters in false sounds.

Submitted by claupuo on Thu, 10/27/2011 - 12:46


I think that the phonemic chart is a tool necessary in the classroom, the students can know the pronunciation of he words, that is difficult for them.

Submitted by tobezuka on Sat, 06/09/2012 - 00:23


Phonemic chart is important for the teachers in English as a secong language setting. Teachers need to master the sounds before they can introduce it to the pupils. 

Submitted by Jimmy McGee on Thu, 01/01/2015 - 00:54


Round about 2.30 the older lady, the "expert" makes a mistake with her "Front to back of the mouth"!!!! I'm basing this off of the excellent Adrian Underhill videos on the IPA chart: Watch video No3 from the 1 minute mark: Adrian's explanation makes much more sense! Do I win a prize?

Submitted by Cath McLellan on Fri, 01/02/2015 - 10:08

In reply to by Jimmy McGee


Hi Jimmy, Thanks for your comment. The video featured in this video is (as you can probably tell) is taken from a rather old pronunciation video (to highlight how pronunciation used to be taught). You are correct though that the position of the sound within the mouth from the front to the back varies from left to right on the chart (not up and down, as she seems to suggest). Thanks for sharing the excellent Adrian Underhill links. (Sorry, no prize!). Cath

Submitted by cgarciava on Mon, 11/07/2016 - 16:03


Using the phonemic chart in the classroom is crucial for sound awareness, especially in homogeneous groups where the same L1 is spoken. Why? For the simple fact that not all English sounds are available in the learners' L1. These unfamiliar sounds need to be explicitly shown in order for the learners to recognise them and be aware of the similarities and differences between their L1 and L2 sound repertoire. The brain has to identify the unknown sounds for later processing and production.

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