IPA and language learning

There was a thread at our Forum at LingQ on the usefulness of the International Phonetic Alphabet. I am not a user of the IPA for a variety of reasons.

I prefer to listen. Today there is so much audio language content available on the internet, and online dictionaries with sound, and then there is text to speech, so that I cannot see the purpose in learning the IPA, which was developed over 100 years ago in a different environment.

I am not so hung up about the pronunciation of individual words. I focus on listening to the language in the from of interesting chunks of content, and expect that I will eventually learn to distinguish the sounds, and learn to pronounce adequately.

Where I do try to imitate the sound, it is more the intonation and the whole rhythm of the language that I want to capture. If, as an English speaker, I want to imitate an accent from Northern Ireland or Scotland or Australia I would not use the IPA and suspect most native English speakers would not use it to imitate a regional accent. They would listen and imitate. Well why not do the same in learning to pronounce a foreign language.

Where people have pronunciation difficulties, it is not because they cannot relate a symbol to a sound, but because they cannot consistently make the sound.

But more than anything else, I react negatively to the IPA because I see it as another one of these abstractions, which include complicated linguistics terminology, grammar rules and exercizes, and even SRS systems which seem to say “language learning is complicated, difficult, and unpleasant”. The IPA is not for the average language learner who just wants to learn a language to communicate, have a good time, read the literature, watch films, visit the country, do business etc. ,in other words wants to enjoy the learning process and not turn it into some kind of cult activity.

These are the people, in their millions, who need to be told that they can learn a language without spending a fortune in class, and without learning the IPA and without reading grammar books.

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