The Production of English Sounds

How are speech sounds produced?

Physically, the production of speech sounds starts from the lungs. Why I say ‘physically’? It is because as a matter of fact, speech production starts in the brain. The brain creates the message and the lexico-grammatical structures which then are executed by speech organs.

First, lungs produce an air stream and expel it through the trachea. In English, speech sounds are the result of “a pulmonic egressive air stream” (Giegerich, 1992).

Second, this air steam goes through larynx. The larynx has two horizontal folds of tissue; they are the vocal folds or vocal cords. The gap between these folds is called the glottis. Glottis can be closed, have a narrow opening, or be wide open. When it is closed, no air can pass, when it has a narrow opening, the vocal folds vibrate to make a ‘voiced sounds’. When it is wide open as when we have a normal breathing, the vibration of vocal folds is reduced and ‘voiceless sounds’ are produced.

Third, the air can go into the nasal or oral cavity. The velum is the part responsible for that selection. If the oral cavity is closed and the air goes into the nose, nasal consonants ([m, n, ŋ] are produced.

Finally, it is the articulation process. It takes place in the mouth and it is the process through which we can differentiate most speech sounds. In the mouth we can distinguish between the oral cavity, which acts as a resonator, and the articulators, which can be active or passive: upper and lower lips, upper and lower teeth, tongue (tip, blade, front, back) and roof of the mouth (alveolar ridge, palate and velum). So, speech sounds are distinguished from one another in terms of the place where and the manner how they are articulated.

English Diphthongs and Triphthongs

• Diphthong: Sounds which consist of a movement or glide from one vowel to another.
• Pure Vowel: A vowel which remains constant, it does not glide.
• Diphthongs have the same length as the long vowels.
• The first part (sound) is much longer and stronger than the second part.
• Example: aɪ in the words ‘eye’ and ‘ɪ ’ consists of the ‘a’ vowel, and only in about the last quarter of the diphthong, does the glide to ‘ɪ’ becomes noticeable.

English has 8 diphthongs.
Centering diphthong:
1. three (3) ending in ‘ə’ : ɪə, eə, ʊə
Closing diphthong
2. three (3) ending in ‘ɪ’: eɪ, aɪ, ɔɪ
3. two (2) ending in ‘ʊ’: əʊ, aʊ

• ɪə : beard, weird, fierce, ear, beer, tear
• eə: aired, cairn, scarce, bear, hair,
• ʊə: moored, tour, lure, sure, pure
• eɪ : paid, pain, face, shade, age, wait, taste, paper
• aɪ: tide, time, nice, buy, bike, pie, eye, kite, fine
• ɔɪ: void, loin, voice, oil, boil, coin, toy, Roy
• əʊ: load, home, most, bone, phone, boat, bowl
• aʊ: loud, gown, house, cow, bow, brow, grouse



• A triphthong is a glide from one vowel to another and the to a third, all produced rapidly and without interruption. For example, a careful pronunciation of the word ‘hour’ begins with a vowel quality similar to ‘ɑ:’, goes on to ‘ʊ’ then ends in ‘ə’.
• It says /aʊə/
• Triphthong : 5 closing diphthongs with ‘ə’ added on the end.
– eɪ + ə = eɪə . as in layer, player
– aɪ + ə = aɪə. as in lire, fire
– ɔɪ + ə = ɔɪə, as in loyal, royal
– əʊ + ə = əuə, as in lower, mower
– aʊ + ə = auə, as in power, hour.


English homophones

One of the most frustrating aspects to learning English – or any language, for that matter – is how you can tell the difference between two words that are spelled alike. In Spanish, for example, the omittance of a mere accent mark or tilde over the letter “n” (like you see in the word Español) can drastically change the meaning of a word.

In English, however, one must also consider words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings, called homophones. Homophones don’t commonly exist in Spanish or other languages, where the presence of an accent mark will change the pronunciation of the word. So, it is important to consider the context of the word and understand when the correct spelling and pronunciation are appropriate. Note: homophones are most important to consider when writing and reading English, rather than speaking.

A common homophone you will often encounter is the word set “they’re, there, and their.” They all are pronounced the same, but they obviously are spelled differently and boast separate meanings. “They’re” is the contraction for “they are,” as seen in the sentence “They’re (they are) coming to dinner tonight.” “There” is an adverb that describes a location and is usually referred to as the opposite of the word “here”: “I put the boxes over there, by the cabinet, rather than here at my desk.” For Spanish speakers, “there” is also used like the word “Hay,” as in “There is a lot to do “(in Spanish: hay mucho que hacer). Finally, “their” is used as a third person possessive adjective, as seen in “Rover is their dog” (“their” describes to whom the dog belongs…it belongs to them, so it’s their dog).

Another common mistake occurs when people write the word “you’re.” This word, like “they’re,” is a contraction for “you are,” as seen in the sentence “You’re (you are) so handsome.” “Your,” like “their,” is a second person possessive adjective, as seen in “Rover is your dog” (the dog belongs to you, so it’s your dog). However, many people tend to write “your” when they really should have written “you’re,” and this is either due to laziness or ignorance of the difference between the words.

Below is a list of common homophones and their article of speech, along with examples of sentences for each pair:

Write I prefer to write with a pencil rather than with a pen. (verb)
Right Turn right at the next street. (Or, when you want to use it to mean “correct”: That’s the right answer, good job!) (adverb, adjective)


Red I am wearing a red shirt. (adjective)
Read I read a great book yesterday. (Note: “Read” in this case is the past tense form of the verb “to read.” The present tense pronunciation of the verb sounds like “reed.”) (verb)


Way Please show me the correct way to go to the theater. (noun)
Weigh The scale shows that I weigh 120 pounds. (verb)


Meat Is there any meat in the lasagna? (noun)
Meet Let’s meet at the restaurant at noon. (verb)


See Can you see what the sign says over there? (verb)
Sea Barcelona is on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. (noun)


To To whom should I direct your call? (preposition)
Two There will be two of us at dinner tonight. (adjective)

Same sound, different meanings

It’s been said that English is one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn because it has so many exceptions to its own rules.  One problem students of English as a second language face are homophones – words that sound alike but have entirely different meanings. Another common problem is single words that can be pronounced differently depending on the context of the sentence.  Some of these words sound more or less alike depending on the accent of the native speaker.

The following are some examples of common troublemakers.  For best results, read these through several times, and then try to identify examples of their usage in the real world.  For example, pick up an English language book you’re working through and see if you can identify some of these homophones in action.

Red: the color vs. Read: to have read a book – Read: to be reading a book vs. Reed: a plant

For example: John said he read the red book, but he still needed to read the book on reeds.

Blue: the color or emotion – Blew: the past tense of the verb to blow

For example: John was feeling blue when he blew out the blue candles on his birthday cake (blue as an emotion refers to a feeling of sadness or mild depression.)

Meet: to encounter a person – Meat: flesh of animals consumed for food

For example: John wanted to meet me at the meat counter of the grocery store.

Poor: lacking money or an adjective – Pour: as to pour a liquid from a container – Pore: a small opening in the skin

For example: Poor John. He wanted to pour lemon juice on his skin to tighten his pores, but he was too poor to afford it.

Right: to be correct, or the direction opposite left – Write: to compose or transcribe words using pen and paper

For example: John was right – the best table to write at was on the right side of the library.

Kitty: a small cat or kitten – Kitty: a group of funds pooled together

For example: John’s kitty wanted to play poker, but it had no money to ante up for the kitty.

Weeding: to remove weeds – Wedding: a marriage ceremony

For example: John finished weeding the garden with plenty of time before the wedding was to begin.

Desert: an arid environment – Dessert: a sweet dish or pastry often served at the end of a meal

For example: Lost in the desert, John could only dream of the ice cream he had had for dessert.

They’re: a contraction of the words they are – There: a location – Their: a possessive pronoun

For example: They’re sure they left their car over there by the big oak tree.

To: the preposition – Two: the number 2 – Too: meaning also or an adverb meaning excessively

For example: John wanted to go to the movies with his two brothers too but he was too tired.

As you can see, although many of these word combinations can be tricky, they’re often spelled differently.  Use these clues to help determine which word to use in any given situation

Improve English Speaking Skill

Once you’ve learned the basics of English, it’s very important to keep practicing and looking for ways to improve your verbal skills. This includes your ability to comprehend verbal English – as well as speak it. Unfortunately, if you feel self-conscious, you’ll miss out on many opportunities to practice and gain the type of experience that will help you speak fluently. Aside from using a tape recorder, or conversing over a computer, there are several other ways that you can practice speaking and comprehending verbal English.

Improving verbal comprehension with music

No matter where you live – or what language you speak – there’s bound to be some type of music you enjoy. Search online to find English speaking singers in the genre you enjoy. Listening to music in English will give you a feel for the underlying rhythm of the language, as well as for the colloquial expressions used commonly in conversational English.

If you can’t understand the words in the song at first, you can look up the lyrics on the internet and read along as you listen to the song. As you become more comfortable with the speech patterns, try singing along with the recording. You may also want to look and see if there are any songs that you know in your language that are also recorded in English. Since you’ll already know the words to these songs, you’ll be better able to understand the translations to English.

Using karaoke to improve verbal expression

Karaoke is a fun, easy way to sing along to your favorite musical arrangements. Once you know the words to a song, you can sing them along with the music. This will help you to add some inflection to your speech patterns, as well as adjust the rate you normally speak at. Practicing karaoke songs will also give you a broad introduction to the type of music that is popular in English-speaking cultures.

While this may sound silly, children who are first learning English sing the alphabet for practice. Not only does this help them recognize letters later on, it’s also useful for associating sounds with those letters. Therefore, when you are trying to improve your verbal speech patterns, singing the English alphabet out loud can also be of help to you.

Write poetry and speak it out loud

Writing poetry is an excellent way to improve your written and verbal English language skills. When you speak your poems out loud, you’ll have the additional opportunity to try new sentence pacing, as well as hear the way different sounds fit together. In some cases, you may find that you enjoy writing in poetry enough to enter contests or create a special blog space for them.

Even though you may have many practical purposes for learning English, taking advantage of the fun parts of the language can help you develop your verbal conversation skills as well. For example, listening to English language music is a wonderful, fun way to learn new words and pick up on the creative ways that English words can be assembled. You can also use poetry and other types of rhyming methods in a similar way. The important thing is to verbally sound out the sentences, songs, and poems that you create to improve your proficiency at verbal English.

English speaking activities

There are many ways for students studying the English language to improve their language skills. One of the best ways is simply by speaking as much English as possible. The activity of actually speaking English is much more similar to how a child learns to speak the English language natively. The ability to read and write English are both obviously important skills, although a child usually speaks English before learning how to read English. Since speaking a language is actually a more natural way for a human to learn, here are some recommended English speaking activities a student may appreciate and enjoy.

Speak Everything That Is Done

One fun way for an English language student to really benefit from and also enjoy is the practice of speaking everything that is done throughout the day. When waking up in the morning, a student can say aloud: “I am waking up!” When getting out of bed, a student can say: “I am getting out of bed.” When brushing their teeth, a student can say: “I am brushing my teeth.” Okay, maybe it’s better for one to be quiet while brushing one’s teeth. Hopefully the general idea of the fun practice is clear. Speak everything that is being done throughout the day, whenever possible. When walking on the sidewalk, a student can say aloud: “I am walking on the sidewalk.” When passing a tree, a student can say: “I am passing a tree.” If it is necessary for a student to look up a word in a dictionary to describe activity, then the student should do so. Looking up the right word to use for a situation is important for this practice. Using the right words again and again throughout the day is a good way to learn English vocabulary.

Story of the Day

A daily practice that can be highly useful for helping an English language student enhance their English ability is to maintain a daily journal. A written journal is a wonderful way to practice writing English and an audio journal is a great way to practice speaking English. One really good benefit of recording a daily audio journal is that it allows an English language student to actually listen to the English they are speaking. This enables a student to improve their English pronunciation skills. Another benefit is the motivation gained from a student hearing how their pronunciation improves from week to week, month to month, and year to year.  Using a computer for recording a daily journal is fine and recording audio files on a computer makes it easy to keep an audio journal properly organized. The daily audio journal can be a basic story of the day in a similar way to the previous practice listed in this article. The audio journal is done near the end of the day though, so a student would say something like: “I woke up. I got out of bed. I brushed my teeth.” The student would continue by saying what happened next and basically tell a story of the day’s activities. This can be truly enjoyable in addition to being good English practice.
Hopefully these helpful ideas will make studying the English language more fun and enjoyable.