From time to time we hear from customers with questions such as the following:
Hello, I found your information very very useful. But, I would like to know how your material correlates with the International Phonetic Alphabet. I am more familiar with IPA and your material uses a different one that I don't know. I am an ELL student.
At Logic of English, our focus is on teaching English reading and spelling by teaching the relationships between the sounds of spoken English and the way these sounds are represented in written English. For this reason, we do not normally use IPA in our materials.
The spelling markings we use are designed to teach students which of a phonogram's sounds the phonogram is saying in a given word and help them analyze why. So they are different in function and purpose than IPA, and there is not always a one-to-one correspondence.
What markings does Logic of English use?
We use three common dictionary markings: the breve (over short vowels: ŏ as in hot), the macron (long vowels: ō as in hope), and the umlaut (used in our system to mark what we call broad sounds, such as the sound of O in do, ö, or the sound of A in father: ä). These are added over single-letter vowels to mark which of the vowel's sounds is heard in the word we are analyzing.
For consonants and multi-letter phonograms that don't have a standard marking, we simply use numbers to indicate which of the sounds a letter is saying. For example, when C is saying its less common sound, /s/ (which we teach as its second sound), we mark it with a two. We use a few other marks to analyze spelling as well: we underline multi-letter phonograms to show they are working together to say one sound, we double-underline letters that are silent, and we put an X over a phonogram that is making an irregular sound (such as the f saying /v/ in of).
Why use spelling markings rather than IPA?
The goal of Logic of English instruction is to help both native speakers and English language learners understand the relationship between spoken and written English. One component of this instruction involves adding markings to the phonograms in words.
These markings have a different purpose from IPA:
- Our markings (and our whole curriculum) are designed to help students learn the relationship between the spoken English word and the way it is written.
- Our markings are always added to the word as it is spelled, to analyze its spelling and pronunciation, in order to call students' attention to how the word works and strengthen their reading and spelling skills. The markings do not replace the letter; they indicate what the letter is doing.
- IPA, on the other hand, does not analyze the relationship between the word's spelling and its pronunciation. It replaces the letters entirely, representing the word with a different system of symbols, and is designed to convey an exact pronunciation to someone who has never heard the word rather than to make sense of how the word is spelled. So it is very useful for its intended purpose, but not for developing reading and spelling fluency with written English.
There is also a key difference in how spelling markings work. Since they show the relationship of spelling to sound rather than representing one universal sound, spelling markings translate across all dialects of English.
For example, the word paper will be marked with a macron over the a (because it says its long sound) and a line under the er (because it is a multi-letter phonogram):
Even though the exact pronunciation of long A varies between different English-speaking areas, and the pronunciation of /er/ varies widely between rhotic and non-rhotic accents, this marking is accurate everywhere. The markings represent whatever long A sound is used in that word, whether the long A vowel sound in the speaker's dialect is /ej/, /æj/, /ʌj/, /e/, or /əj/, and whatever way ER is pronounced in that dialect.
English spelling is designed as a written representation of our spoken words, not an absolute guide to pronunciation like IPA. In fact, many spellings - like wind, read, tear, rebel - represent more than one word with more than one pronunciation. Learning all the sounds of the phonograms and then having a system for observing and marking which one is heard in a word helps students become comfortable with the different options.
Why don't you use IPA in your phonogram chart or pronunciation symbols?
Since some English sounds are pronounced differently in different areas, we use sample words, not IPA symbols, to indicate what sound the pronunciation symbol means.
Students need to learn to connect a phonogram with the sound it represents in their own speech, rather than with the sound it represents somewhere else. Even though most English phonemes are pronounced the same by English speakers around the world, some of them vary a bit, especially the vowels. So there will not always be one single IPA symbol for a given sound of a phonogram. It will depend on the dialect of English the speaker uses.
Another reason that we do not use IPA in our pronunciation keys is that it is not familiar to most native English speakers (except those studying linguistics or learning IPA for foreign language study). While Logic of English is used for ELL and is very helpful for teaching English language students about why English words are spelled the way they are, the primary use of the curriculum is in reading and spelling instruction for native speakers and for English language learners who have already developed some spoken English skills. So we focus on the English alphabet and use a combination of standard dictionary markings, common English representations of sounds, and simple symbols that can be added to the letters in a word. We have aimed to use the most commonly recognized way of spelling a sound in English. Our goal is that the sound will be self-evident to a native English speaker who has had no special language or linguistics training.
For second language speakers, a dictionary that uses IPA will still be the best reference when checking the exact pronunciation of a word. The markings in Logic of English curriculum are designed primarily for analyzing the spelling of words you already know how to pronounce. The goal is to help you understand the reasons they are written and pronounced that way so that you can more easily read and spell other words.