This is a place where you will be able to learn everything you need to know about English pronunciation (not now, because I haven’t finished it yet, but very soon). If you’re a native Spanish speaker, you’ll find a great deal of comparison between English and your own language, since I’m a native Spanish speaker myself and I think it’s good to know how we do things and what we might have to change. But any student, irrespective of their native tongue, will find it useful.
How should I use this site? You can either start at the beginning and follow the order in which it’s written, which will give you a very good grounding in English pronunciation, or go straight to the points you’re interested in. I tried to give clear explanations and solutions to the problems non-native speakers might have, so if you have trouble with any specific word or sound, look at the corresponding page and see if it helps you. If you don’t know how to find that page, go to the introduction of vowels or introduction of consonants, where all the English phonemes are recorded.
What level of English is required to profit from it? I think English pronunciation should be taught seriously from the very first day, in the same way grammar and vocabulary are (but it looks like pronunciation has always been considered the poor relation). So any student, whatever their level, can improve their pronunciation here. The only trouble might be that the explanations are written in English (but we’ll probably have a Spanish version in the short term too). They’re not difficult to understand, though, and by reading them the student will improve other areas of English as well.
Why do you use phonemic symbols? They’re so difficult! No, they are not! Actually, they’re very easy to learn, much easier than people normally believe. Just think that two thirds of them are the same letters you use when you write, which leaves you with just a handful of new symbols to learn (something you will do naturally in no time at all). And they are absolutely irreplaceable if you want to improve your pronunciation. Contrary to any preconceived ideas people might hold, this is the easiest, fastest and most efficient way of solving pronunciation problems.
What kind of pronunciation is taught here? I speak and teach the UK standard, also known as RP, BBC English, etc.
Don’t you think there are other varieties of English which are worth learning too? Of course I do, and I love them all, but this is the variety I just happen to speak. In my opinion, the best plan is to stick to just one variety when you’re speaking because as a non-native speaker you need more consistency, and at the same time to know and understand as many varieties as possible.
What kind of approach do you follow in teaching? I call it the scientific approach, the no-frills approach or even the no-nonsense approach. As you might guess, it’s very direct and goes for efficiency. I think it’s much more interesting to go straight to the point and give the students all the information they need, even if this involves explaining a couple of complicated facts, than losing their precious time reassuring them and promising that it’s not going to be painful. I see lots of schools and methods that claim that they’ll teach you English with no effort, while you sleep, as if you were a little child, in three months, etc., but I don’t think that’s true. I prefer to call on the intelligence of people, which is a great resource.
Is this site finished or is it going to develop in any way? It’s an ongoing project. In the next months (I hope it won’t take me long) I’ll upload sections about connected speech, rhythm, intonation and many other subjects. I’ll cover more or less the standard syllabus of a university course. Or, to put it in a less daunting fashion, I’ll give students everything they need to know.
Why is there such a long section about sentence stress? That section is the final dissertation I wrote for my university degree in English Studies (which is called Trabajo de Fin de Grado, TFG). It took me a long time and some effort and I think it’s an interesting piece of work. It’s very thorough and original in its use of recordings and footage (radio programmes, tv series, films). Also it deals with a subject which is very important for gaining fluency in English, but which is normally neglected. So I think it’s worth having a look at.
Is there going to be a Spanish version of this site? Yes, in due time. I hope sooner rather than later.
What about the recordings? Who are those native speakers? The collection of native speakers’ voices are one of the greatest assets of this site and probably its most distinctive feature. I took them directly from the radio, mostly the BBC, and I use them to illustrate every point I want to convey. I strongly believe that the fact that they’ve been recorded in natural circumstances and not in a language laboratory gives them extra value. Students can see that this is how people actually speak. I chose them very carefully, so they make very good models to imitate. Besides, listening to them -some of them are very famous voices- is a real pleasure.
I guess these recordings would be wonderful as listening practice, even for exams. Yes, indeed! If someone wants to start just by listening to the recordings and reading the transcriptions when he or she needs to (because all the recordings are transcribed), I think it’s a sensible way of going about it too.
But you do have lab recordings too. The man with the husky voice… That’s me, obviously, and sorry for the voice, it’s the only one I have. To teach a subject like this you need to use examples, very clear recordings where the processes you’re explaining are shown. I did it myself because I wanted to provide a contrast with the other speakers and show the students what they can achieve through the study of pronunciation.
But you’re not a native speaker. Are you qualified to teach English pronunciation? Native speakers may speak very well but, unless they have a good grounding in phonetics, they don’t know how they do things (this isn’t just the case in English, it happens to everybody in any language). I have been studying phonetics for a very long time and I spent many hours looking at how English people speak (what they do with their tongues and lips and teeth, etc.). I have also compared all this with the way we speak in Spanish in order to, first, overcome my own pronunciation problems as a non-native speaker and, then, help my students overcome theirs.
Isn’t pronunciation something you just pick up? This is a very widespread notion, but I don’t quite agree. The idea that pronunciation is something you learn by imitation or intuition works only up to a point. If a student does well by imitating the teacher, I have no objection. But when people have trouble with sounds or words, or don’t know how to connect them while they speak, you have to give them very clear instructions. Normally, they are quite simple: small indications like “you don’t have to pronounce the t here, even if it’s written (for such and such reason)” or “try raising your tongue a little bit”. My experience is that students are only too happy with these explanations. It gives them control over their speech because then they know what they’re doing and why, and they know that they will be able to apply the same strategy in the future. This knowledge makes all the difference in terms of self-confidence. It’s a very technical or scientific approach, or whatever you might want to call it, and it certainly works much better than endless hours of helpless aping.
Why did you create this site? First and foremost, as a tool for my students. Instead of writing a book, which is what I would have done ten or fifteen years ago, I built a website, which offers many more possibilities. Apart from that, I wanted to have a place where I could publish my final dissertation about sentence stress with all its recordings (350 in total). I will also continue uploading all the recorded examples I find which merit comment on, so I intend this to be a sort of sound bank where you can look up and compare examples of different pronunciation processes. Finally, I’ll start a blog where I’ll write about pronunciation and other areas of English as well, always from the point of view of a Spanish native speaker who knows English well, and with the aim of helping students to improve their skills.