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.


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


English is not Phonetic

Pronunciation” refers to the way a word or a language is usually spoken, or the manner in which someone utters a word. If someone said to have “correct pronunciation,” then it refers to both within a particular dialect.

A word can be spoken in different ways by various individuals or groups, depending on many factors, such as:

1.  the area in which they grew up

2. the area in which they now live

3. if they have a speech or voice disorder

4.  their ethnic group

5.  their social class

6. their education

watch the following videos to better understand what we mean exactly by pronunciation.

Introducation to pronunciation


And now watch this video about sounds of English.


Always remember that English is not “phonetic”. That means that we do not always say a word the same way that we spell it.

Some words can have the same spelling but different pronunciation, for example:

 I like to read [ri:d]      [audio:|titles=like-read]

I have read [red] that book.     [audio:|titles=have-read]

 Some words have different spelling but the same pronunciation, for example:

  • I have read [red] that book.        [audio:|titles=have-read]
  • · My favourite colour is red [red].    [audio:|titles=colour-red]

Now we move to  discovers English sounds:

1- [intlink id=”492″ type=”post”]Consonants[/intlink]

2- [intlink id=”390″ type=”post”]Practice consonants[/intlink]

3- [intlink id=”381″ type=”post”]Vowels[/intlink]

4- [intlink id=”545″ type=”post”]Practice Vowels[/intlink]

We recommend to visit the follwoing sites to better improve your pronunciation:

  1. fonetiks

  2. Okanagan College

Practise Vowels

/a: /  Famous stars smoke cigars in cars and bars! [audio:|titles=01]

/æ/   That fat cat sat on a rat. Now it’s flat as a mat! [audio:|titles=02]

/aI/   Mike likes bikes with spikes to ride on ice. [audio:|titles=03]

/aʊ/  I doubt he’ll clout the lout who stole his trout. He’ll shout out loud! [audio:|titles=04]

/e/   The clever never ever say “Never ever!”. [audio:|titles=05]

/eI/  If there’s a delay, they pay to stay another day. [audio:|titles=06]

/eə/ They dare to stare at fair hair because it’s rare there.   [audio:|titles=07]

/I / If the stick isn’t thick, you’ll split it when you hit it.  [audio:|titles=08]

/i:/ Don’t freeze the cheese, please, Louise! [audio:|titles=09]

/Iə/  It’s clear the beer is dear here! [audio:|titles=10]

/ɒ/ Doctor Oscar often operates on opposition politicians. [audio:|titles=11]

/əʊ/ Joan won’t go home to Rome by boat alone.  [audio:|titles=12]

/ɔ:/ She caught her daughter in the water with a naughty boy. [audio:|titles=13]

/ɔI/ The noise from Roy‘s toys annoys other boys.  [audio:|titles=14]

/ʊ/ The cook shook when he took a look at the cook book. [audio:|titles=15]

/u:/ Whose two new blue shoes did Sue lose?  [audio:|titles=16]

/ʊə/ If the water on the tour isn’t pure, you can’t be sure there’ll be a cure!  [audio:|titles=17]

/3:/ Bert wasn’t hurt but got dirt on his shirt. [audio:|titles=18]

/ʌ/ If mother had another brother, I’d have another uncle.  [audio:|titles=19]

/ə/ A moment ago he announced a new address. [audio:|titles=20]

see also:

 [intlink id=”390″ type=”post”]Practice consonants[/intlink]

[intlink id=”492″ type=”post”]consonants[/intlink]

[intlink id=”381″ type=”post”]Vowels[/intlink]

Vowels and diphthongs


First, let us take up the 12 pure vowels. When pronounced, they do not change quality and that is why they are termed as ‘monophthongs’. For ease of study, they are given in the form of a table, below:

Note: Please refer this table for the symbolic representation of the vowels according to their respective serial number.

1 is the vowel found in neat, seat, sheet, each
2 occurs in words like: in, if, bid, city
3 as in set, head, net
4 occurs in bat, cat, ant
5 in ask, car, aunt
6 in words like: on, not, cot, odd
7 in caught, horse, law
8 in put, book, hook
9 in boon, two, move, group
10 in cup, come, does
11 in bird, earn, learn
12 in ago (first syllable)

The next 8 vowels are diphthongs. They glide from one quality to another within the same syllable.

13 in here, near, rear
14 in tour, poor, doer
15 in care, dare, share
16 in play,aim, name
17 in boy, boil, soil
18 in eyes, buy, ice
19 in cow, noun, crown
20 in go, boat, own

Thus, ends our description of the 12 pure vowels and 8 diphthongs which are collectively known as the 20 vowels of English. 

Now listen to some of the vowels

[audio:|titles=sounds of english vowels]

See also:

[intlink id=”545″ type=”post”]Practise Vowels[/intlink]

[intlink id=”492″ type=”post”]Consonants[/intlink]

[intlink id=”390″ type=”post”]Practise Consonants[/intlink]