do kids in English-speaking countries learn phonetic alphabet system in school?

Albert Song

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I have been wondering if kids in US/UK/Australia etc have to learn some sort of phonetic alphabet system in school?

I know in UK you have a system called DJ(Daniel Jones) phonetic alphabet, which is now included in the <Cambridge pronuncing dictionary>. And DJ by the way is the most popular phonetic alphabet used in Chinese schools, every school kid has to learn it as they start to learn english. And in US you have the Webster's phonetic alphabet and all sorts of phonetic respelling systems.

But according to many here in China who are now living in UK/US or once did, school kids in US/UK don't learn any phonetic alphabet at all, they just copy a teacher's pronunciation of each word. is that true? BTW, another rumor in China is that native English speakers don't have to learn any grammar either, which however has been confirmed to be false by many already.

I think it's just not that practical that kids learn to pronounce all those words only with the help of teachers. So I think it's most probable that you use some sort of respelling system, but respelling seems to be a quite loose system and there doesn't seem to be one that's universally used, so if you do use respelling how do you manage to avoid the confusion caused by this lack of definite rules?

many thanks!
 

abaka

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I think the way the schools teach how written English relates to the spoken has changed multiple times over the decades. Phonetic and non-phonetic approaches have been tried.

I remember being taught something called "phonics" in the first two or three grades in the early 1970s, in the province of Alberta, Canada, but I really can't remember anything specific about the method. I think, though, we expressed sounds using the most common English way of writing them, in a kind of phonemic transcription. I never saw IPA in school, though I learned it for myself, and therefore had no trouble with it in university.
 

Albert Song

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Thank you very much, Piscean. Speaing of IPA, DJ etc, it's actually quite a story as to the usage of these terms in China. In the beginning, about 30 years ago when I first learned English here in China, there was only one univeral phonetic alphabet which was for British accent and was called none other than IPA. At that time, learning IPA was simple, I was this six grader in primary school enjoying the summer holiday and ready to attend junior high, then I decided to teach myself IPA with cassetts, it took me only about one or two weeks memorizing it and it sure paved the way for my future English learning.


But over the years, along with a few newer versons of IPA, the things became complicated, which was made worse by the increasing influence of American English. So nowadays in China when you want to learn phonetic Alphabet, you find yourself facing numerous differnt systems, the new 15ed, the old 13ed, the original version of them and the simplified version of them, then the American KK system etc.
Not just part of the alphabet letters are written differently, but the number of these letters vary from system to system. So, many learners of English are at a loss which system to use. the once simple IPA is becoming a headache, many are avoiding it or turning to phonics which is promoted by many outside-of-school teaching facilities and has gained much popularity, particularly among young kids because it's said to be widely adopted in English speaking countries. You know in China you meet all sorts of sales pitches everyday and everywhere, you can't believe any of them unless you've got information first-hand.


In the meatime, arguments were being raised to point out that IPA wasn't a suitable term to call phonetic alphabets used for English, because technically English IPA is only one of those derived from IPA which is for all human spoken languages, there are also derived IPAs for like Chinese or Japanese etc. So among English learners here in China, the term of IPA is being replaced gradually by terms like DJ or KK, with the former representative of British accent and the latter American accent, but not many learners know the history behind these terms, and recognize that these two terms are actually not so representative.


Thanks again for the explanations of history of phonetic alphabet teaching in your country, so I think the rumor proves to be true after all. But there are also a good many words in English that are hard to pronounce based on the letters only. for example how do kids know loot is /lu:t/ instead of /lut/, or know how to pronounce words like plateau? I guess the answer is teaching orally by teachers or parents, am I right?


Then another question, do the dictionaries used in your country contain any phonetic notations? because such notations won't be necessary if no such a system is taught in school? thanks!
 

Albert Song

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I remember being taught something called "phonics" in the first two or three grades in the early 1970s, in the province of Alberta, Canada

Thanks Abaka, and yes, phonics, or called here in China "natural phonetic transcription". it's basically teaching kids to know how letters of written words or fixed combinations of letters are pronounced. It has been very popular in English training for young children in recent less than 10 years. but it's somewhat common opinion among more advanced English learners that it's only for young kids under school age, for those already in school it's not that useful anymore as school kids won't have problem learning phonetic alphabet which is much more accurate.
 

Albert Song

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One problem with any form of phonetic transcription for English is that there is no officially recognised pronunciation of the language, especially of the vowels. Even within England, to say nothing of the the rest of the UK (or of Ireland), such very common words as bath, but, book, and one, and hundreds like them,are pronounced differently in different parts of the country. When the Initial Teaching Alphabet was introduced in the 1960s, many teachers in northern England were very unhappy about the 'southern' accent presented in reading materials.
it's not the case here in China, mandarin or Putonghua, is very powerful throughout China, it's the sole accent avilable on TV except manybe only in Guang Dong province where the local dialect, Cantonese, is also powerful. But almost all the local people in Guang Dong can speak near perfect mandarin except for those older than 50 years old.

Yes, I believe lacking an officially recognised pronunciation of the language is the main cause, not because phonetic alphabets are too hard to teach and learn as many promoters of "natural phonetic transcription" said here in China.
 
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Tdol

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There were attempts once to teach reading with the help of a simplified, near-phonetic alphabet, The Initial Teaching Alphabet, but that did not achieve widespread acceptance.
I went to a trad school, but I remember books in the seventies in the library that were written in the ITA. They looked weird to me at the time.
 
J

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There is a big difference between learning a second language and learning how to spell words one already knows. Native Chinese should not try to model teaching or learning of English (or any other language) on how native speakers study their own language. I don't recall specific lessons in elementary school on phonics, but I do think learning phonics is very important for ESL students- especially native Chinese speakers.

My wife and I (she is native Chinese) give private lessons in our home. We live in a third-tier city that would be a large city by western standards, but is rather a back-water here (it's a very nice place to live!). Parents who can afford it send their kids to other, larger cities to get a 'better education'. I had a hard time believing there could be a significant difference until I started getting some summertime/holiday students home on break.

I believe the problem stems from the fact that the first teachers a child encounters- the ones that teach the basics upon which all subsequent learning builds- are the lowest-paid, least and poorest-educated of all the teachers, and that teachers get better as the student progresses to higher levels/grades. I can always tell which words a student learned first- they are almost invariably miss-pronounced, and we spend a lot of time 'unlearning' bad habits.

Pronunciation 'rules' can never be perfect in English- they're guidelines at best- and we point that out. No rules are going to help with groups like comb/bomb/tomb or, (even worse) tongue/vague/argue/segue. But it is very important for students to learn that all those bewildering thousands of English words are made from only 26 letters and there is strong logic in the construction of the vast majority of them. This is especially important for native Chinese speakers, as the relationship between a 'thing', the word we say, and the word we write is totally different between Chinese and English.

We try not to get bogged down in the differences between AmE and BrE. We tell students up-front that they will be hearing AmE from me, but we accept as correct the BrE they learn in school. We do encourage them to be consistent, but that is problematic in that they hear (something like) BrE in school and mostly AmE in popular culture. You must be aware that there are differences in the pronunciation of Mandarin across China. It's a topic of interest, but should not be a hinderance in learning to communicate, and isn't communication what it's all about?
 

Albert Song

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but I do think learning phonics is very important for ESL students- especially native Chinese speakers.
Many thanks for your comments, J&K Tutoring:). I agree with you, English is not our native tongue, so we must use some system to help us pronounce the words correctly. Those failing to learn it well when they first started to learn English tend to fall behind further and further later on until they feel frustrated enough to give up. A good command of phonetic spelling helps not only with pronunciation of words, but with memorizing them too. Remembering a word will be much easier if one knows not only how it's spelled but also how it's pronounced.

I believe the problem stems from the fact that the first teachers a child encounters- the ones that teach the basics upon which all subsequent learning builds- are the lowest-paid, least and poorest-educated of all the teachers, and that teachers get better as the student progresses to higher levels/grades.
Yeah, that's true, most kids learning English in China don't have access to English-speaking natives or even good Chinese teachers teaching them when they first started to learn, that's possibly part of the reason many young students hate English right from the beginning, to them English is only about memorizing words letter by letter, listening to teachers explaining grammar they can never understand (mostly because the language of Chinese doesn't have many grammar rules) and analyzing long sentences they can never make head or tail of. English is such an agony for them that from time to time you see complaints poping up on internet places here and there like "I don't plan to have a job requiring english, why do I have to learn it in school" or "AI will soon replace human translators, why do I still have to learn English".

No rules are going to help with groups like comb/bomb/tomb or, (even worse) tongue/vague/argue/segue. But it is very important for students to learn that all those bewildering thousands of English words are made from only 26 letters and there is strong logic in the construction of the vast majority of them.
Yes, I think it's very important, so that the kids won't see words as random combinations of meaningless letters. Instead of learning the right way from the start many young students were taught, particularly in rural areas where good English teachers are in short supply, to memorize English words with the help of Chinese characters with similar pronunciation, for example, pest equals to 拍死它。
 

NinjaTurtle

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Hi everyone,

I would like to say that, here in America, school children learn a phonetic system, but it is a system used only in America, and it is quite different than IPA.
 

Tdol

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That's not surprising. Here's an example from this site:
ita.jpg

They look very weird now.
 

Albert Song

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Hi everyone,

I would like to say that, here in America, school children learn a phonetic system, but it is a system used only in America, and it is quite different than IPA.

Thank you very much for the information, do you know if it is used throughout the country, or only in some places of America? And is it a new development or it has existed for a long time?

And forgive me for so many questions:), what's it like? maybe one of the respelling systems? here below is a snap shot of a webpage on phonetic respelling from Wikipedia.

1.png
 
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GoesStation

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Thank you very much for the information, do you know if it is used throughout the country, or only in some places of America?
Education in the United States is managed mostly at the state and municipal level. There are few national standards. Reading may be taught quite differently in two adjacent school districts.
 
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