Native english speaker here.

I recently learned from an intro linguistics class that I have abysmal transcription skills. Can you recommend practice software? I think I'm looking for IPA drills on consonant & vowels, and eventually transcription practice, but I would love guidance on "what you really should start with is $FOO".

IPA drills: maybe flashcard-like quizzes, e.g. Given ð choose place+manner+voicing & vice versa. Maybe choose symbol(s) given sounds, kind of like this site, IPA Online , which has solid content. But it uses Flash and runs poorly on my Windows 10 laptop (need to use IE, video clip looping stutters so have to restart to watch full clip).

The Interactive IPA chart is kind of helpful but many vowel differences seem imperceptable (to me). And while it is a great reference chart it doesn't do much to help with practicing recall & memorization (probably because it is a reference chart).

Speaking of practice... I would like to see adaptive skill calibration (drop to simpler drills w/errors, advance when mastered), spaced repetition.

edit: next class info as per sami's thoughtful comment, here is some more context about my goal.

I want to get a head start on phonetics because I really struggled with simple IPA transcriptions and phoneme/allophone things during my recent intro-to-ling class. [edit r.e. user6726's comment: phonemes/allophones not a priority, just smth that felt rough, maybe I should revisit that after I've taken some to absorb more phoentics]

I expect this next class to be more challenging, so I'm pretty sure I would benefit from early prep work:

LING 550 C: Introduction To Linguistic Phonetics "Introduction to the articulatory and acoustic correlates of phonological features. Covers mapping of dynamic events to static presentations, phonetic evidence for phonological description, universal constraints on phonological structure, and implications of psychological speech-sound categorization for phonological theory. Prerequisite: either LING 200 or LING 400."

  • 2
    Do you specifically want resources to memorize ipa symbols, or do you want to get better at distinguishing (language) sounds, and at transcribing those sounds? I would say the second one is more reasonable, as memorizing symbols is hardly the way to go at anything; you need to get better at making, hearing and distinguishing foreign sounds, and then transcribing those with a table in hand. With enough practice you'll be able to remember the symbols without even trying to. Commented May 26, 2017 at 18:54
  • 2
    You need to get better acquainted with your speech apparatus, and the book you want is J. C. Catford's A Practical Introduction to Phonetics, which is intended for autodidacts and is full of little experiments and exercises you can do. Another useful book is Pullum and Ladusaw's Phonetic Symbol Guide, which devotes at least a page to each IPA symbol, giving variants and examples.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 13:15
  • @sami.spricht.sprache : probably both, this fall I'm taking a phonetics class (will add some class detail to question body).
    – jgreve
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 19:50
  • @jlawler : thank you, my next stop is Amazon. :-)
    – jgreve
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 19:52

5 Answers 5


As far as I know, there isn't an optimal useful electronic thing like you seem to be looking for. For starters, I recommend Ladefoged A course in phonetics. This page is another IPA reference chart (by Peter Ladefoged), and contains this link which assembles the online material for the book. This set of vowels is useful from the perspective of auditory training, because it gives 3 real masters of proper IPA standards, so that you can hear what "ɑ" is supposed to sound like (the performers do differ, so it's useful to understand concretely that the symbols have approximate values, not exact values).

Another resource is this page from SIL, where you can navigate to this link. This is probably the best bet from a pedagogical perspective. One problem with learning IPA is that it's impossible to both use actual language data and to control variations in speaker anatomy. If you combine the SIL samples and the Ladefoged samples, you can hear actual speakers of languages of the relevant languages so you hear how it actually is; but then you get all sorts of confusing differences in how things sound simply because one sample comes from an 80 year old 5 ft. tall woman, and another comes from a 7 foot tall 25 year old man. There are some IPA flash cards here, which are useful only for their comic value.

As for the phoneme/allophone business, it's hard to suggest anything since it's not clear what problem you're facing (how do you know you have a problem?). 450 in summer would not be a bad way to overcome IPA struggles.

  • Well, a used non-current edition e.g. the 5th still covers the basics and is in the $5-$10 range. Used 7th ed. are in the $30+ neighborhood.
    – user6726
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 23:05
  • Amazon; amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/B0044O4EZA/… or similar
    – user6726
    Commented May 28, 2017 at 0:17
  • phoneme/allophone: I probably need practice, I'll de-emphasize this in the question. r.e. "electronic thing": I am probably spoiled after working through the super-deconstructed math exercises over at khan academy.
    – jgreve
    Commented May 28, 2017 at 3:18
  • Someone in my phonetics class shared this, thought I'd pass it along: memrise.com/course/239573/learn-the-ipa-phonetic-alphabet
    – jgreve
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 15:12

I learned from William Smalley's Manual of Articulatory Phonetics. This predates the change from the "American" style of transcription to IPA. The audio tapes that Smalley prepared to accompany his text are great. The tapes themselves are no longer available, but they're online here: Smalley files.


This is what I personally recommend, based on my own experience:

  1. Memorize the IPA chart - this includes, first, the ability to read the IPA (it requires lots of practice). You can test yourself by reading the broad transcription of the North Wind and the Sun passage (for American English first); it can be found e.g. in the IPA Handbook on p. 44. Then you can read the same passage transcribed for other English dialects. You're a native speaker of American English, so you shouldn't really struggle with the IPA consonants (for English). Mastering the IPA vowels could be more challenging.

  2. Start transcribing single (isolated) English words - broad transcription only - and then start transcribing sentences. Some exercises in Ladefoged A course in Phonetics (a standard intro text), pp. 48-52 should help.

There are lots of websites that may help you. e.g. http://linguistics.berkeley.edu/~kjohnson/English_Phonetics/

(caveat: linguistics has been traditionally underfunded so those websites might be obsolete technology-wise or less user-friendly than what we are accustomed to)

  1. Now you should be ready to learn narrow transcription. First learn to read it - e.g. the same passage from the IPA Handbook. Narrow transcription is the hardest.

  2. Eventually you may want to learn how to transcribe a language you don't know.


Short Answer: Wikipedia!!

Long Answer: Since the others have pointed you to some good resources, I will just add general advice on how to go about learning to produce, distinguish and describe phonetic units (or at least the way I went about learning these things).

To start, being bilingual (tri-, quadri-, ...) helps. So, if you know another language, you already have some idea how the phonetics of that language differs from yours, and you can distinguish among a bigger set of speech sounds. Even if you don't, here are some ways you can improve on the things I mentioned above.

First, an understanding, in phonetics, of why certain speech sounds are called what they are is paramount. As you probably are aware, something like a voiceless labeo-dental fricative [f] is called that for a reason. The trick is to break down each word in that name and pay careful attention to what your vocal cavity is doing while making an [fːːː] sound. Then compare with what changes when you change each word in that name: change voiceless to voiced [v], labeo-dental to dental [θ] etc. Begin by analyzing sounds that you know occur in English, i.e., sounds you are familiar with. Once you are comfortable with what such terms really stand for (in other words, what your vocal cavity does), you will be able to put together such strings of words and guess the sounds on your own, even if you have never heard these before. For example, none of the languages I grew up speaking (I had the luck of growing up trilingual) had a voiceless palatal plosive [c], but I knew what a voiceless velar plosive [k] was, and I knew how to produce a (voiced) palatal approximant [j], then all I had to do is to position my tongue as in [j] and "do what I do" with [k], and voila!

How to check if you've got the correct sound? Well, there are tons of resources online for that. My favorite is Wikipedia, where clear audio for most vowels and consonants (including these ones: affricates, co-articulated consonants, non-pulmonic consonants) that you would want is available. Moreover, the individual pages on the phones (such as this one for [c]) contain a list of languages (dialects) that make use of the phone at least allophonically. You can use these references to search for recordings (videos, audios, music if you prefer) in these languages to hear these sounds in actual speech. At least for the more populous languages, you can definitely find something on youtube. A lot of people on youtube teach ways to produce specific sounds or to distinguish between "similar" sounds that are hard for non-natives, and some of them are really good. For instance, some good ones include this video teaching how to distinguish [i] and [ɨ], this one providing a fun tutorial on producing an alveolar trill [r] and this one explaining rather clearly one of the hardest three-way distinction among fricatives in any language I know of. For sounds that occur in more obscure languages than Russian or Swedish (addressed in the videos I linked), you can search the UCLA Phonetics Archive. Some of the audios are old (and not the clearest), but still is an indispensable resource for auditory training.

I don't think any Memrise/Duolingo style resource exists for phonetics, which seems to be what you are looking for:

I would like to see adaptive skill calibration (drop to simpler drills w/errors, advance when mastered), spaced repetition.

However, if you take the time to go through some of the stuff I mentioned, you should be able to get much better.

It goes without saying that just listening won't help you accomplish what you are after. You will have to be able to produce the distinctions you hear (it's kind of cyclical: if you can produce a distinction, you will automatically realize what the distinction is). I would suggest starting off with the sounds of English (as that is your native tongue), and then trying to listen to some language with relatively simple phonetics, such as Finnish or Hungarian (Note: I am not suggesting these are any easier to learn than other languages, but simply that they have fewer allophonic variations to deal with as a beginner), but which are quite different than English in that they will be able to help you try out and understand new sounds and features, such as (lack of) aspiration, palatal stops, vowel and consonant length etc.

Lastly, regarding the allophone/phoneme business, do not worry if you can't hear the difference between all the variations of a certain phoneme. In general, native speakers are supposed to be deaf to these variations. Once you get used to sound patterns in other languages, the allophones will automatically make themselves apparent to you. Often reading about these allophonic variations first, and then trying to listen specifically for the things you read about helps. This works really well in phonetics, to try to search for something once you know that it exists; sort of like how you can understand (not the meaning, but to be able to hear words clearly) songs in foreign languages once you have the lyrics. For the specific case of allophonic deaspiration of English stops, check out these two videos (n.b.: imho, turning off aspiration is probably the phonetic feature English speakers, even pros, struggle with the most).

As a final word of caution, remember that (as @user6726 mentions in his answer), IPA symbols are meant to be approximate. The same symbol may be used in two languages or dialects to stand for two or more different sounds. For example, the symbol ʃ is used to refer to a post-alveolar sibilant in each of English, Bengali, Kabardian (one of their many many sibilants) and sometimes Russian, even though none of them is exactly like any of the others. And, the symbol ð used for each of English, Icelandic and Danish when again all three are very clearly distinct.


This website converts IPA symbols to English word(s): https://www.rhymedesk.com/phonemes

It's not a study aid, but you could use it as such - imagine a word and try to type in IPA symbols that return the word you've imagined.

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