Consonant Sound Introduction

Why Study Consonant Sounds?

English is Difficult to Pronounce:

It is difficult to know how to pronounce English from how the word is spelled. For example, how is the letter ‘C’ pronounced in the following words?

Ocean,  Cat,  Fence,  Chat

You probably noted that the pronunciation of the ‘c’ in each of the words is not the same although represented by the same letter. Not understanding the sounds of English can cause problems with pronunciation and spelling, as well as listening and reading comprehension.

Universal Application:

Consonant sounds in English vary very little throughout the world as opposed to vowel sounds; consonant sounds are the same in most dialects of English. So, consonant sounds are more consistent and applicable to more learning environments than vowel sounds i.e. some students might want to focus on a British accent while others on a United States one. 

Note: However, the consonants of /t/ and especially /r/ do vary depending on dialect. 

Pronunciation Matters:

The mispronunciation of one sound can be the difference between the meaning of one word and another. For example, the words ‘big’ and ‘pig’ are only distinguished by one sound difference – the difference of /b/ and /p/.

Note: Sounds as opposed to letters are put in / /.

The pronunciation and listening comprehension of /p/ and /b/ can actually be a difficult task for ESL learners from a language background that does not have both of them, a famous example being Arabic, which only has the sound of /b/ but not /p/.

Story:

A group of Arab ESL students was in the USA. When they went to a parking area near a mall, they asked someone if barking was allowed in the area. The gentleman replied to them, “Well, sure. Go ahead. Bark all you want, but please, just don’t bite.”

BarkingLot

Sign for a true ‘barking lot’ where customers are to park their dogs outside of a grocery store.

Moral:

The pronunciation of sounds matter when it comes to communication.

Accents:

Accents are cool, they are funny, and in addition to being a badass English teacher, you could even get a career as a famous actor or international spy if you get good at them 🙂 . Here is an example – by an actress – demonstrating what you can do once you understand phonology:

Comprehension Check: Quiz Time!

Phonology Quiz 1: General Knowledge

The IPA Alphabet

Video Explanation:

The international phonemic alphabet (IPA) is a standardized alphabet that has a direct sound to symbol relationship. English has 24 consonant sounds – remember, sounds NOT letters. The following table includes ALL 24 consonant sounds in English:

Figure 1: The IPA alphabet

p b t d ʧ ʤ k g
f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ
m n ŋ h l r w j/y

Activity 1:

Think of a word that matches each of the consonant sounds. Most of the sounds relating to the symbols are easy to guess because they correspond with the English alphabet. However, some of them do NOT correspond with the English alphabet.

Do your best to think of an example of a word that goes with the sound. The first two have already been done for you. Below is a suggested answer key, though DON’T SCROLL DOWN until you’ve TRIED TO GUESS (it will help you learn better: promise!)

p: pig b: big t: d: ʧ: ʤ: k: g:
f: v: θ: ð: s: z: ʃ: ʒ:
m: n: ŋ: h: l: r: w: j/y:

.

.

.

p: pig b: big t: tough d: dead ʧ: chat ʤ: judge k: kite g: game
f: fame v: villain θ: three ð: though s: sick z: zebra ʃ: show ʒ: genre
m: mom n: no ŋ: thing h: house l: love r: rough w: wet j/y: young

Chart Awareness:

From the 24 symbols, you probably noticed that seven do not come from the English alphabet:

Note:  /ð/ = The,  /θ/ = Three, /ʃ/ = Shin, /tʃ/ = Cheese, /dʒ/ = Judge, /ʒ/ = Genre /ŋ/ = Thing

Note: The last /j/ symbol, although found in the English alphabet, is misleading because it does not represent the sound in words such as jeep; rather, it represents the sound in words such as yes. I prefer using the /y/ symbol although many IPAs – such as the Adrian Underhill chart – use the /j/ instead (because although the ‘j’ symbol represents the ‘yes’ sound in English, this isn’t the case with many other foreign languages).

The reasoning behind the use of different symbols other than ones found in the English alphabet. is because there are only 21 consonant letters (though there are 24 consonant sounds), and some letters do not make good symbols because they represent different sounds that are represented by other letters, which could make things confusing.

For instance, I gave the earlier examples of how the letter ‘c’ represents different sounds in the following words:

Ocean,  Cat,  Fence,  Chat

In the above ^^^^ words the following sounds are represented by the letter ‘c’:

/ʃ/, /tʃ/, /s/, and /k/  

Can you guess in which word is each sound represented? It might take a bit of thinking, but I bet you can…

Comprehension Check 2: Quiz Time!

Phonology Quiz 2: IPA Consonants

TIP: You can copy and paste the symbols that are not present in the English alphabet from the IPA alphabet chart OR use the IPA Typewriter here). You can also download IPA typewriter keyboards on Word and phone devices.

Next:

Now that you’ve been introduced to the consonant sounds in English, it’s time to learn more about them! Follow the links below to learn more:

Consonant Sounds 2: Voicing

Consonant Sounds 3: Mode of Articulation

Consonant Sounds 4: Place of Articulation

11 Comments

  1. edunn479 (Post author)

    Hello there…

    Reply
  2. Samantha

    Comprehension check…

    1)The spelling system in English is not satisfactory because the same letter can represent several different sounds, which causes confusion to foreign students.
    2)Learning phonology can help is in speaking and also in listening and reading comprehension.
    3)Not greatly.
    4)A phoneme symbol represents the sound used in the pronunciation of a word.
    5)Seven symbols
    6) a) Ocean /ʃ/
    b) Cat /k/
    c) Fence /s/
    d) Chat /tʃ/
    7) /b/
    8) /ð/ the, then
    9) /ʃ, ʒ, ʧ, ʤ/
    Shy, pleasure, chair, gender (respectively)
    10)An affricative sound is a mix between a plosive and a fricative sound.
    11) /ʧ/
    12) /m/

    Reply
  3. Thomas

    1. Letters have different pronounciations, people learning english have no clue on how do pronounce certain words.
    2. It can help us improve our reading capabilities and vocabulary
    3. No
    4. The phoneme symbol represents the sound of the pronounced word
    5. 7
    6. a) ʃ
    b) k
    c) s
    d) tʃ
    7. b
    8. ð
    9. ʃ (sheep), ʒ (vision), ʧ (leach) and ʤ (judge)
    10. Positive and fricative
    11. ʧ
    12. m

    Reply
  4. Julie

    1- Because a letter can have different sounds.
    2- Can help me to communicate better with other people (fluent or not) because my accent will be reduced.
    3- No.
    4- Represents the sound of that letter in the word.
    5- 7
    6-a)/ʃ/
    b)/k/
    c)/s/
    d)/tʃ/
    7-/b/
    8-/ð/ though
    9-/ʃ/ shower
    /ʒ/ genre
    /ʧ/ chef
    /ʤ/ Julie
    10- Plosive and fricative sound.
    11-/tʃ/
    12- /m/

    Reply
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  6. Eduardo

    1 – Because the same letter can have different many different ways to be pronounced.
    2 – It can help us improve with pronunciation and spelling, as well as our reading and listening skills.
    3 – No, they don’t.The exception is the consonants of /t/ and /r/.
    4 -A phoneme symbol represents the different sounds in the pronunciation of a word.
    5 – 7
    6 – a)/ʃ/
    b) /tʃ/
    c) /s/
    d) /k/
    7 -/b/
    8 -/ð/ Ex.: Thing
    9 – ʃ (shape), ʒ (measure) , ʧ (machine) , ʤ (judge)
    10 – plosive and a fricative sound.
    11 – /ʧ/
    12 – /m/

    Reply
  7. Julie Petri

    1- Because is hard to know how to pronounce a word by it’s spelling.
    2- It helps in my comprehension and communication with people from all over the world.
    3- No.
    4- The sound of that letter in the word.
    5- 7
    6-a)/ʃ/
    b)/k/
    c)/s/
    d)/tʃ/
    7-/b/
    8-/ð/ then
    9-/ʃ/ show
    /ʒ/ genre
    /ʧ/ chocolate
    /ʤ/ judgment
    10- Plosive and fricative sound.
    11-/tʃ/
    12- /m/

    Reply
  8. Zenaida

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