When writing English we use the 26 letters of the alphabet.
Spoken English has more than 26 sounds though. There are roughly 44 different sounds. therefore it's not very easy only to use the letters of the alphabet to show the pronunciation of English.
There is a system which uses a group of symbols. Some of these symbols look the same as letters and some are very different.
You can use these symbols to write out the pronunciation of words and in many dictionaries for English learners you will see the pronunciation written out.
To show that what is written are sounds and not letters the transcriptions are written between slashes, / /.
For example, the pronunciation of the word 'pet' is written: /pet/.
In this example the sound symbols look exactly the same as the letters. You can only tell we are talking about pronunciation rather than spelling because of the / /.
However, some words look very different when you see their pronunciation.
is the word 'church'.
This is why it is very useful to learn the symbols. You can't usually match the letters in a word to the sounds of the word. Also, because most dictionaries for English learners use these symbols you can work out the pronunciation of any word in the dictionary without a teacher!
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Download Sounds of English video (24.8 MB mp4)