Phonetics, how much to study?

especially for non native teachers of the language,Is it necessary to go deeper into the subject as most colleges do? I think knowing just the basics is enough


I’ll try and give you an answer, seeing as no one else seems to have responded to this post.

When you mention the study of “phonetics,” especially as it is taught in an academic environment, I presume you are referring to the study of one of the phonetic transcription systems, such as the well known IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet.) Google it if you don’t know what it is. In that case, I think you are probably right.

I’ve personally spoken to a professional linguist in Australia (she works with indigenous languages) who said that even most linguists won’t know how to interpret IPA symbols on the fly and will use reference books, guides etc. when they are working with it.

There is also the fact that “declarative” IPA knowledge ( for example on what particular tongue placement to use when pronouncing a certain symbol) would be difficult to put into practice when you are speaking in real life. For example a lot of people, especially on this website, dislike certain types of grammar study when learning foreign languages, partially because such grammatical knowledge is in practice very hard to apply in real conversation. I think trying to do the same thing with IPA rules would be a nightmare.

Also, if you are interested, you might like to look up perceptual training or minimal pairs testing. There’s a lot of research behind it saying that it works. There is probably heaps of materials out there for Spanish>English learners.

A few corrections were made to this post.


The sounds in English change a lot, so I would just read a lot with the LingQ audio because over time you will realize how letters sound in certain words.


Knowledge of the IPA seems to be important for professional language teachers.

Here’s Mike Campbell of Glossika and Stuart Jay Raj talking about how important knowledge of the IPA is for learning Thai or Chinese:

(Later) What both these guys seem to be saying is that if you know the IPA well you will be able to pronounce any foreign language very accurately virtually from Day One.

Study of phonetics is just the same as the study of grammar rules: it’s not indispensable and you shouldn’t do it if you find it boring or uninspiring because motivation and exposure trump all other considerations. On the other hand, if you enjoy reading about it, it can be helpful.
I do like reading about both grammar and phonetics. I mostly do it out of curiosity and interest in the topic, not so much as an aid in learning but it does have some (secondary) impact.
In the case of phonetics, I find it useful as a way to understand difficult phonemes so it would make it easier to learn to pronunce them. I find that it is easier to understand them after I learn to pronounce (“hearing with your tongue” is an accurate expression that I once read somewhere).
Notice that, in this sense, transcription is the least useful part of phonetics, information about the position of phonation organs, (mouth diagrams, for example) tends to be more interesting.

I often start a new language with a brief phonetical study of a week or so. And normally I am able to persist for such a brief period. Included is the study of common sounds, IPA review and some speaking and listening practice with a tutor. After this short period of time many native speakers comment that I must have been studying the language at least to an intermediate level. To me this has been a proof of the power of phonetics, and I am not an expert neither do I have a perfect pronounciation of any foreign language I speak.

Where do you find such phonetic sources? Do they have excercises?

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You can begin with Wikipedia: Standard German phonology - Wikipedia
Then look up the sounds you’re interested in. Sometimes you can find youtube videos. For example, Rachel’s English is a wonderful channel with a lot of in-depth analysis of American English phonology.
I subsequently search for technical papers (at Google scholar, for example) that address specific points that I find unclear