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Phonics: the Sounds of American English

(reviewed Winter 2011)

Reviewer: Andrea Washburn

Recommendation: Recommended for those with the appropriate background


Phonics: The Sounds of American English is the English language portion of a narrow but rich Web site for adult students and instructors of phonetics.  It provides animated diagrams, step-by-step descriptions, and video-audio of the sounds spoken in context.  The site was created by the University of Iowa through a collaboration of several academic departments.


This Web site is clear, simple, and easy to use.  While its aim is narrow (to demonstrate how each sound of American English is produced), it does this through a variety of complementary tools, including animated articulatory diagrams showing how the sound is made as the user hears it, step-by-step descriptions of how the sound is produced, and video-audio of the sounds spoken in context. The site also includes an interactive diagram of the articulatory anatomy.

To begin, the user first selects a classification of consonant (manner, place, or voice) or vowel (monophthongs or diphthongs) sounds and then a corresponding category.  All of the sounds in that category (e.g. place, lingua-alveolar) are then listed by their phonetic symbols. Clicking on a symbol displays the animation diagram, and the user can then choose to hear the sound while watching the animation of how it is produced or to follow a step-by-step animated and written description of how the sound is made. There is also a video/audio (with the speaker facing the user) for each sound, using three simple English words, each demonstrating the sound in a different position (first, middle, or final).

The Sounds of American English is one of three animated libraries of phonetic sounds (the other two are Spanish and German) in the University of Iowa’s Flash Animation Project. While I think it very useful for the language instructor or advanced students who want to practice on their own, the site’s language could be daunting for new students. To be comfortable, the user needs to be familiar with the phonetic alphabet as well as the specialized terms used in describing how individual sounds are produced.

Subject Headings: Phonics, ESL teachers, pronunciation