There are 26 letters in English alphabet but we get 44 sounds from those 26 letters. These 44 sounds are known as phonemes in English.
Those 44 sounds are called phonemes in IPA International Phonetic Alphabet. Phonemes play very important role in English pronunciation.
What is Phoneme?
Phoneme is the smallest unit of English speech sounds. It cannot be broken further.
They are written between the slashes //. They distinguish one word from another.
The sounds like /p/, /b/, /t/, /s/ distinguish pin, bin, tin and sin from one another.
All 44 phonemes have their unique symbols.
•Number of letters or syllables is not related to the number of Phonemes
•Pin /pɪn/ This word has 3 letters, 3 phonemes but only 1 syllable.
•Sight /sʌɪt/ This word has 5 letters, 4 phonemes but only 1 syllable.
Seat /siːt/ This word has 4 letters, 3 phonemes but only 1 syllable. Click here to know more about syllables.
Importance of Phonemes in English
It is very important to know about phonemes to improve your English pronunciation.
All 26 letters are important to know the way a word is written. On the other hand, it is important to know about 44 speech sounds to know the way a word is pronounced.
You can easily write and read the spelling of a word with the help of letters. Phonemes help us know the correct pronunciation of any word in English.
Wednesday It is pronounced as Wen-z-day /ˈwenz.deɪ/ Letter d is silent here. Letter y has a glide from e to i
Almond It is pronounced as /ˈɑːmənd/ Letter l is silent here. Letter a has sound like we have in all or oil. We came to know about the correct pronunciation of these words by seeing the phonemes in phonetic transcription.
Sometimes the same letter has different sounds.
Like letter is pronounced as /s/ in cent but as /k/ in cat.
Sometimes different letters have the same sound.
•Cool /kuːl/ •Rule /ruːl/
Here we have long /uː/ sound by oo and u.
•Beach /biːtʃ/ Sheet /ʃiːt/ Here we have long ee /iː/ sound by the letter ea and ee.
Due to this mismatch between the letters and their sounds, it is important to know about the phonemes to pronounce any word in English correctly.