Do I need to know the IPA to improve my American English pronunciation?

Do I need to know the IPA to improve my American English pronunciation?IPA

Every week I receive lots of questions from my accent reduction coaching clients regarding the IPA symbols used to represent the American English vowel and consonant sounds.

Here is some basic information.


The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a system that was developed to represent the sounds of spoken languages.

The system uses characters or symbols from the Latin and Greek alphabets.

Consonant & vowel sound symbols

IPA symbols include 107 characters for consonants & vowels as well as 52 diacritical marks.

The diacritical marks are used to indicate sound qualities such as length, stress and intonation.

And if you’re learning to speak clear American English, the marks for stress, (usually a ‘) are very important!!

Dictionaries use different symbols

Dictionaries and American English pronunciation books use slightly different symbols. This inconsistency often leads to confusion.

Common symbols I use with my clients

While I don’t require my accent reduction coaching clients to have background knowledge of the IPA, I do use some IPA symbols in my program.

These include the consonant sounds~

  • the voiced th /ð/
  • the voiceless th /θ/
  • the /z/
  • the /v/ & /w/
  • the  /ʤ/

For the vowel sounds I use these symbols along with the Color Vowel Chart~

  • the schwa /ə/
  • the /æ/ vowel sound as in Black
  • the /ʌ/ vowel sound as in Mustard
  • the /ɝ/ vowel sound as in Purple

The needs of the client

Of course, I may use other symbols as well. It all depends on the needs of the client.

These symbols are not difficult

Since I use these symbols in context, in the words by clients use every day, I’ve found that people pick up the sound/symbol relationships right away.

In fact, knowing the symbols actually helps them to differentiate between sounds more effectively.

An introduction to phonetic symbols

I introduce you to the phonetic symbols for the 15 American English vowel sounds, the 2 TH sounds and the voiced /z/ sound in my ☛ American Accent Fundamentals iBook.

Advanced training

If you’ve studied on your own and are ready for advanced training, see how my personal coaching program will bring you up to the next level.