More IPA Resources
Apps, apps, and more apps!
These days, the average college student uses the smartphone as his or her main computer. That makes it more challenging to study a language, but in some ways presents new opportunities. In any case it’s harder now to talk about resources with so many language apps available. Each student will need to assess her needs and get the apps for them. In a way, apps are a blessing because they force a student to customize and improvise. Comparing apps, students can also learn from each other.
Anything- well, almost anything- that we can see on a computer we can also see using a smartphone browser, so please do try out the links I have provided below. And remember, apps and web pages are sometimes very similar indeed. Popular webpages often end up as apps, and then become more popular than the original webpage!
Use English to Learn English
To become a truly good English speaker, you need to study English/English for listening and speaking. That can take time (maybe years!) to accomplish, but whatever your level you can get started now. Here are some links to assist you both in speaking in pronouncing English.
Basic English Phrases
Use the links below to listen to and practice speaking basic English phrases. The phrases are not difficult in grammar or meaning; the challenge is to get the intonation right. I recommend practicing phrases in sets of three. When you have confidence you can practice them without listening first. You should also record them and listen to your own voice and test your accuracy by using dictation software. Go for it! :
Basic English phrases
Learn how to say some basic English phrases, including greetings and various expressions to help make yourself understood. All the phrases have sound, which has been professionally recorded by native speakers. Translations available in 35 languages.
The online Cambridge Dictionary has pronunciation for British and American English, with both sound and IPA. It has other functions as well, such as grammar reference and translation.
Knowing the origin or ‘roots’ of a word (etymology) is very useful to help you remember the word and understand language better. My favorite site is the Online Etymology Dictionary:
Dictionary.com also provides etymology, and grammar and usage tips as well:
The Urban Dictionary is the best resource for modern, up to date slang and new words. Can’t understand the lyrics of your favorite hip hop song? Don’t understand the subtitles in a new movie? It will probably be in the urban dictionary- it’s updated daily:
For a good but a bit more conventional source of slang, try the Online Slang Dictionary:
USE SLANG WITH CAUTION! English, as it is spoken in public, is changing rapidly. Slang that was not acceptable at home or on TV 20 years ago may be sometimes acceptable today, and urban music contains lots of slang that is still unacceptable in most places. You could easily shock someone, hurt their feelings, or lose business contacts by using the wrong slang in the wrong place, so the rule is ‘don’t use it unless you’re SURE it’s OK!’ In our course, of course, we will not be learning words considered bad or unacceptable, so you are on your own on this point. We will learn slang that is always acceptable, though, so your English need not suffer.
Translation Software and Voice Recognition Software
Many people don’t like translation software (TS) very much. They complain that it is inaccurate, gives bizarre results and overall is not very useful. However, TS is very smart and it is definitely the wave of the future. If you are considering a career in which you will be using English, you must definitely start using TS now to learn its tricks and gain the ability to get the most out of it. The problems of TS today are actually not complicated but quantitative (not enough input). All languages are highly idiomatic at every level. Languages are very strict about what words we can use and in what order. However, we have proven that TS can handle idiomatic phrases and concepts; they just need to be input and matched in the TS database. Users are constantly contributing to the database, so one day we will have a fully functioning TS database. In the meantime, TS can handle simple, everyday expressions and words with ease. It can do a good of translating sentences if they are short. If you are conservative, TS can cover a wide range of communication without sounding strange.
For the English student, however, TS provides a great way of thinking about your native language (Chinese) in correlation to your target language (English). If you can recognize the systemic differences between Chinese and English at an idiomatic level, your English will soar. Oddly enough, TS can help you learn not by being right, but by being wrong. When you write something in Chinese and know that the resulting English is wrong, you will need to compare the two to find the mistakes, why they are wrong, and how to correct them. This helps your understanding of English a lot!
In addition, TS can serve as a good and quick grammar checker. You can input English and see if the Chinese result is correct. If it is not there are two possibilities: either your English is off (usually true) or the TS was unable to recognize the English (sometimes true). If it is a basic conversation that you are translating, almost always you are wrong, not the TS. Digging through textbooks and reference books looking for the correct grammar can be very time consuming, and textbooks are often outdated as well. TS is a good and quick solution to this problem.
There are many TS services available online, but I find Baidu to be the best for Chinese-English:
Voice recognition software (VRS), like TS, is the wave of the future. Why write it when you can say it? There are many uses for VRS already, and the ways in which we use this technology are going to increase more and more in the future. You can now use your phone and have a conversation with someone in two different languages using VRS and TS together. You can even speak into a device and have it ‘speak out’ your translation. That is pretty exciting stuff! Some people feel awkward with this, but increasingly younger people are becoming less shy. Other ways in which you can use VRS are giving your computer or phone commands, ‘chatting’ with an online ‘chatbot,’ writing a report…some people even have their house designed to follow voice commands. By the way, I’m writing this with a keyboard, not VRS. Finally, although not VRS, you can give your messages in WeChat or QQ using voice recordings rather than typing. In the digital age, anyone can use media freely and easily.
One of the best VRC engines is SIRI. On the Android platform, it is usually Google technology that drives the engine. As VRS gets ‘used to’ your voice it becomes better the more you use it. VRS is a good way, though not perfect, of checking your pronunciation (VRC is no guarantee that your pronunciation is good or bad, but if it writes what you said, chances are your pronunciation is understandable anywhere). With VRS, there are no excuses to say that you don’t have a chance to speak!
By any definition, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) makes perfect sense. It can be used to pronounce any language in the world, it is the standard for linguists to transcribe languages (including Chinese), and everyone knows it from their dictionaries in high school. However, using IPA for spoken English is surprisingly tricky and difficult to read. We will use IPA all the time though, as it is necessary to accurately show how things like reductions and linked sounds sound like. IPA is also not as nearly as ‘friendly’ as the regular alphabet we are familiar with. However, on pronunciation and stress, IPA is not only the best but the only true tool to go by. See the IPA page for further info.
is a great page that shows the international IPA with its sounds. Note that this is an international version of IPA, not just English.