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English is one of the most difficult languages to sing in, especially for a native speaker.  There are hundreds of dialects, not to mention all those words we've said wrong for our entire life and never realized until some annoying diction teacher made us think about it.  I highly recommend Singing and Communicating in English: A Singer's Guide to English Diction by Kathryn LaBouff.  Her approach to English, and dialect work is unmatched.  Secondly, remember, as you practice speaking English words, always speak in real time, paying attention to word stress within a sentence, and within multi-syllable words.  Words will start to sound weird the more we say them slowly.

Click here for a basic discussion of IPA symbols and sounds.

English Sounds and Symbols



[ɛ] [e]

[ɪ] [I]

[ɔ] [o]

[ʊ] [u]

[ ə] [ʌ]

[ɚ] [ɝ]


[b] [p]

[d] [t]

[g] [k]

[dʒ] [tʃ]

[v] [f]

[z] [s]

[ʒ] [ʃ]

[ð] [θ]

[h] [ ʍ]








Diphthongs in English

The sounds we haven't discussed are diphthongs.  A diphthong is two vowel sounds that occur consecutively (example: "how" or "day").  There are five standard diphthongs in English.  It should be noted that the sounds [e] and [o] rarely occur in their pure form, and almost always have a diphthong attached in English.  Also, note the second vowel sound is always open.  While it might seem counterintuitive, it allows for the most legato as the sounds are closer together.  The more one has to travel between sounds, the more non-legato and chewy the diction becomes.  The symbols for diphthongs in English are...

[aɪ] “hi”, "dye"

[eɪ] “day”, "weigh"

[aʊ] “how”, "down"

[oʊ] “go”, "though"

[ɔɪ] “joy”, "voice"

There are also "r-colored" diphthongs and two triphthongs (three vowel sounds).

They are...

[ɛɚ] "air", "where"

[ɪɚ] "hear", "fear"

[ɔɚ] "door", "four"

[ʊɚ] "sure", "poor"

[ɑɚ] "are", "car"


[aɪɚ] "wire", "choir"

[ɑʊɚ] "hour", "sour"

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