must-know vocabulary list for english pronunciation

Check You Know This English Pronunciation Vocabulary!

If you are learning English and want to improve your spoken English, especially your pronunciation, then check out the vocabulary on this list.

Before you start your pronunciation training it will be very very helpful for you to know what they mean. In my experience it can be very difficult for students when they start pronunciation training with no idea of the difference between a sound and letter for example. I very regularly come across advanced level students who are trying to pronouce some words like they are written! Big mistake in English!

This is an English pronunciation glossary. A list of all the words you need to understand about English pronunciation. All in the one place with a clear explanation with no jargon and examples and helpful links.


Vocab You Must Know For improving Your English Pronunciation.

Acronym – What is an acronym? We use SO many acronyms in English.  An acronym is an abbreviation that is made by the initial letters of a group of words and pronounced as a word. For example, ESL (English as a Second Language), BHP, ADHD, ETA, DVD and so on. To improve your English pronunciation of acronyms, we usually put slightly more stress on the last letter in the acronym. For example – dvD, etA.

Consonants – What is a consonant letter? What is a consonant sound? A consonant letter is any of the letters of the English alphabet that aren’t the vowel letters: a, e, i, o, u. A consonant sound is a sound that uses the organs of speech to make it unique. In other words – when we pronounce vowels, we don’t use our tongue or teeth or lips to make them. When we make consonants, we use our lips, tongue and teeth to create the sound. There two types of consonant sounds – unvoiced or voiceless consonants and voiced consonants. Revise and practice English consonant sounds.

ESL – What does ESL stand for? ESL is an acronym that stands for English as a Second Language. So people might say ‘Is he ESL?’ and this would mean ‘Is English his second language?’. More people are option to use ELL instead of ESL now. ELL stands for English Language Learners.

International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) – What is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)? The IPA is set of symbols where each symbol represents a speech sound or tells us where the word stress is. This is very helpful in English because the spelling doesn’t reliably tell us where the stress is.

Letters – What is a letter? We use letters for writing. The definition of letter is a character representing one or more of the sounds used in speech; any of the symbols of an alphabet. In English there are a total of 26 letters in the alphabet. English has consonant letters and vowel letters. There are 21 consonant letters in English and 5 vowel letters.  Make sure you remember that because English is not a phonetic language, letters don’t always make the same sounds in English. For example, the letter /c/ in ‘pacific’ makes the sounds /s/ and /k/. 

Monotonous speech – What is monotonous speech and how do I fix it? Monotonous speech is lacking in variation in tone or pitch. In other words it is quite flat and even. Many non native English speakers find that their English is more monotonous that native English speakers. Particularly speakers from India and speakers of Mandarin, Japanese, Russian and other Eastern European languages. This is because English has a different pitch and rhythm to many people’s first languages. One of the main problems ESL speakers have with word stress in English is that they make it too flat. This results in monotonous sounding English. If you’re thinking ‘Help, my English sounds monotonous!’ start improving your word stress today with our English word stress exercises.

Multi-syllable – What is a multi-syllable word? Words with more than one syllable are often called multi-syllable words. ‘cat’ is not a multi-syllable word as it only has one syllable. ‘fol-der’ and ‘car-pen-ter’ are multi-syllable words as they have more than one syllable.

Organs of speech – What are the organs of speech or articulators? The organs of speech is a term used to describe the group of organs involved in making speech sounds. Speech is produced by air from the lungs being changed and shaped by all speech organs above the lungs, which are: the glottis (vocal chords), pharynx (throat), soft palate, nose, tongue and the lips.

Each sound is made by the way these organs interact with each other. For example, to make the sound /s/- the air from the lungs travels up through the vocal chords and the pharynx, it is blocked form coming out the nose by the velum or soft palate. The air travels over the tongue and passes through the small gap between the tongue and the teeth. This combination of movements makes the sound ‘sssss’ /s/. 

When completing English pronunciation training, it’s important to become aware of your articulators and how they move to make specific sounds. To change pronunciation we need to change the movements of our organs of speech.

Phoneme – What is a phoneme? A phoneme is a sound. It’s the smallest unit of sound that makes up a word. Phonemes are not letters. Phonemes are the sounds that are made by the letter. For example, in the words ‘cool’ and ‘keep’ both the letters ‘c’ and ‘k’ make the phoneme /k/. 

Phonetic language – What is a phonetic language? If a language is phonetic it means that you can use the spelling of a word to know exactly how to pronounce that word. Each letter makes 1 sound and that is consistent. This makes learning the pronunciation of that language relatively straight forward. As long as you know the letters you can pronounce any word, even if you haven’t heard it before or don’t know it’s meaning. For example, Spanish is a phonetic language. Is English a phonetic language? No it most definitely is not because one letters can make several different sounds. For example, the letter /c/ in ‘pacific’ makes the sounds /s/ and /k/. In a phonetic language, the letter ‘c’ would only ever make one sound. 

Pitch – Why is pitch important in English pronunciation? Pitch or tone is how high or low the tone of your voice is. This is not volume. Volume is loudness. Pitch is high tone or low tone like singers use. Understanding and being able to hear and make pitch is very important in English. In English every multi-syllable word has one stressed syllable. 

Schwa – What is schwa? Schwa is pronounced ‘shwaa’ /ʃwɑː/. Schwa is the name given to the most commonly used vowel in English. In the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) schwa is written with /ə/. Schwa is a weak vowel. It is pronounced like a very weak ‘uh’ sound. The tongue and lips and jaw position are in your resting, relaxed position. Just exhale some air with voice to make a weak ‘uh’. Improve your use of schwa with these Schwa Exercises

Sentence Stress – What is sentence stress? Sentence stress is used across a sentence in English. We emphasise the key words in English. Let’s look at the phrase ‘I purchased the pens and folders for the meeting’.  The key words are: purchased, pens, folders, meeting. These words will have stress or if they are multi-syllable words they will have stress on the stressed syllables. So the sentence stress will be: ‘I PURchased the PENS and FOLders for the MEEting’.
The stressed syllables are slightly higher in pitch and each is given a beat. This gives the rhythm of the sentence. The other words become weaker as they are less important. The way we emphasise certain syllables across a sentence like this is called sentence stress. 

Sounds – What is a speech sound? We use sounds when we speak. More technically a speech sound is any one of the sounds of a spoken language produced by movement of the organs of speech. In English there are a total of 44 consonant sounds and vowel sounds. There are 24 consonant sounds and 20 vowel sounds in English. Revise and practice English consonant sounds. Revise and practice English Vowel Sounds. Make sure you understand that because English is not a phonetic language, letters don’t always make the same sounds in English. 

Syllable – What is a syllable? Words can be broken up into syllables. Each syllable has one vowel sound. Here are some examples. Some one syllable words are: I, in, cup, cought. Some 2 syllable words are: car-pet, pa-per, di-shes, mi-ssing. Some 3 syllable words are: com-pu-ter, ma-gi-cal, fi-na-lly, pur-cha-sing.  You can tap or clap out syllables. Words with more than one syllable are often called multi-syllable words.

Syllable stress – What is syllable stress? Syllable stress is word stress and sentence stress. It’s the way we use pitch to highlight or emphasise certain syllables in words and this makes the rhythm of English.

Vowels – What is a vowel letter? What is a vowel sound? The 5 vowel letters are a, e, i, o, u. There are 20 vowel sounds. Vowel sounds are produced with an open uninterrupted flow of air, in other words, the air is not blocked by the tonge or teeth or lips. Vowels are voiced, so the vocal chords vibrate. Each vowel forms a syllable. Revise and practice English Vowel Sounds

Voiceless and Unvoiced Sounds – What is a voiceless consonant? A voiceless or unvoiced sound has no vibration from the voicebox. Examples of voiceless sounds are: /s/, /f/, /p/, and /k/. Many consonants have a voiced and voiceless / unvoiced pair. For example the sound /t/ and /d/ are made with exactly the same mouth position, /t/ is unvoiced or voiceless and /d/ is voiced. To feel voice place your hand on your voicebox, make /sssss/.  You will not feel any vibration or voice. Now make /zzzz/ and feel the vibration of your voice.

Voiced Sounds – What is a voiced sound? A voiced sound has vibration from your vocal chords. Examples of voiced sounds are /m/, /d/, /r/, /b/ and /v/. Many consonants have a voiced and voiceless / unvoiced pair. For example the sound /f/ and /v/ are made with exactly the same mouth position, /f/ is unvoiced or voiceless and /v/ is voiced. To feel voice place your hand on your voicebox, make /sssss/.  You will not feel any vibration or voice. Now make /zzzz/ and feel the vibration of your voice.

Weak vowel – What are weak vowels? In English there are stressed syllables and unstressed syllables. In stressed syllables we use full vowels. In unstressed syllable we often weak the vowel – this means it becomes slightly more relaxed and a little shorter. Schwa is the most common weak vowel in English. Improve your use of schwa with these Schwa Exercises.

Word stress – What is word stress? Word stress and sentence stress make up syllable stress in English. This is what gives English it’s rhythm. Every multi-syllable word in English has one stressed syllable. The way we emphasis this syllable is called word stress. The word stress you use is very important for how clear your English is to listeners. The stressed syllable is slightly higher in pitch than the other unstressed syllables. A full vowel is used in the stressed syllable. Improve your word stress with these English word stress exercises

/ˈ/ – What is /ˈ/ the dash in the IPA? The ‘ dash in the IPA shows English word stress and it comes before the stressed syllable.  You will see this dash /ˈ/ in English multi-syllable words and it means that the next syllable is stressed.  See more here: What is the /ˈ/ in the IPA? 


Any Words I Should Avoid? 

Yes. Avoid using the term elocution and accent reduction. See more on why to stop using the term accent reduction.

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What Next? 

Join our free 5 Day English Pronunciation Course.


Vocab List For English Pronunciation Training


Georgie Harding has assisted thousands of people from all over the world with improving their clarity and spoken English skills. A Speech Pathology degree (BAppSc(SpPathand CELTA qualifications and over 15 years of experience providing 1:1, group and online training make Georgie a leader in her field.  

Georgie is the creator the world’s leading English Pronunciation online courses that are tailored to the language background of the student and presents regularly at Universities.

If you’ve ever met Georgie or completed her award winning courses you’ll know how passionate she is about helping people move forward with better spoken English and more confidence. 

Linkedin: Georgie Harding 
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