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Learn IPA for Chinese and English pronunciation

Those of you who have studied (or helped me studying) any kind of language know that I think pronunciation is not only important, but also interesting in itself. Admittedly, I’m usually the kind of person who focus more on practical applications of theoretical knowledge than the theory itself, so I don’t focus too much on this when learning languages. However, since I took a course in English phonetics a couple of years ago, I’ve realised that studying theory is sometimes the only way to improve. It’s simply not possible to advance beyond a certain level if you don’t know how things are supposed to sound in theory. Also, knowing the theory makes it easier to read what other people have to say about pronunciation, or to analyse related problems. This, this goal ended up on my 101-in-1001 list.

During the previous semester, I took a course called Varieties and Contexts of English, containing, among other things, studies of different English dialects. This course almost required me to revive my dormant knowledge of phonetics, but this time I made sure I learnt it properly. Properly means that even though I don’t get it right all the time, I have made several fairly successful attempts at narrow transcriptions of spoken English. I have also studied individual phonemes and allophones, to improve my understanding of both standardised versions of English (Received Pronunciation and General American) and certain varieties and accents. If you have no clue about what I’m talking about, check Wikipedia’s page about English phonology.

Using IPA to study Chinese pronunciation becomes a bit more tricky, partly because Chinese seems to be a language which contains broad variations in itself, and these differences are seldom well-documented, at least not in English and using IPA. Still, I have mapped the basics of Mandarin phonology using IPA, based on books I have, but also on Wikipedia. If you are interested in obtaining the list of related vocabulary that I constructed, I suggest checking the Anki deck available for download from within the program, or ask me directly.

I can’t say that this endeavour  has lead directly to any enlightening revelations, but I do feel more comfortable with the sound system and would probably teach it better than I did last time I tried (September). There is a lot more to learn about Chinese pronunciation in theory, but I think this is a necessary first step that I have now completed. There are still a wide variety of theory regarding Mandarin pronunciation that I haven’t read, but I think that what I’ve done already should be fairly comprehensive and should also have eliminated most blind spots.

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