What Is The Importance Of Learning Phonetics And Phonology For ESL (English As Second Language) Students? And What Is The Basic Difference Between The Two? '

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Yo Kass Profile
Yo Kass answered
Phonetics and phonology are both linguistic fields that are interested in the role of sound in language.

The main differences are that:
  • Phonetics focuses on the way these sounds are made, classified, and how they are represented. In essence, phonetics looks at the relationship between sound and speech.
  • Phonology concentrates on the relationship between sound and language. The meaning of sounds is more relevant to this field, and phonology also looks at how changes or patterns in sounds work in a language.
What's the difference between phonetics and phonology? Traditionally, phonology breaks down language into basic segments of sound called phonemes. These are fragments that, according to the International Phonetics Association, are "the smallest segmental unit of sound employed to form meaningful contrast between utterances".

The confusion between phonetics is commonly made because the two fields are very closely related. The main difference is that phonetics has no interest whatsoever in whether a sound has any effect on the meaning of a word, but rather concentrates on how that word is vocalized and how we can represent that vocalisation.

Example of the difference between Phonetics and Phonology One example that highlights the difference between the two fields is the English phoneme c or k in words like 'school' and 'cat'. Whilst the 'k' sound in school and the 'k' sound in 'cat' may sound identical, they are actually slightly different.
  • A phoneticist would mark this by aspirating the 'k' in 'cat' as [khæt].
  • A phonologist would not be interested in noting the aspiration as it does not alter the meaning of the word. 'k' and 'kh' are interchangeable in English. This means they are part of the same 'phoneme'- a group of allophones (similar sounds) that have the same impact on the meaning of a word. A phonologist would write 'cat as /kæt/
What's the advantage of learning phonetics and phonology for ESL students? The importance of learning phonetics and phonology for someone whose first language is not English is paramount.

Learning phonetics will help a foreign speaker sound more like a native speaker by making them aware of the different sounds that English makes use of. For example, the 'r' sound in English is phonetically different from the 'r' sound in Spanish, even though they are often represented by the same symbol in written language. A good phonetic understanding is very useful when learning another language.

Phonology, on the other hand, will help an ESL student understand when using a slightly different sound will impact on the meaning of a word.

One example would be Arabic-speakers who often don't differentiate between the bi-labial plosives 'b' and 'p' in their own language. Not understanding the phonological implications of distinguishing between 'b' and 'p' in English might result in an Arabic-speaker asking their baker for 'a dozen hamburger puns' for a barbecue they're hosting.
Amanda Wells Profile
Amanda Wells answered
Phonetics is about sounds - any sounds that can be made in a language. Phonology is the study of phonemes, and a phoneme is the smallest significant unit of sound in a language.

'Significant' means it changes the meaning, eg the 'l' in 'milk' and the 'l' in 'large' are phonetically different as they are pronounced at slightly different points on the tongue (they are known as dark and light 'l') but they aren't phonemically different, as if you mix them up you won't alter the meaning of the word.

ESL students should learn phonemes (there are 44 in English.) You can find a basic overview here but for ESL I would check out authors like Adrian Underwood and Joanne Kenworthy.
Anonymous Profile
Anonymous answered

Ok if I say phonetic deals with the speech of sound, how it produced and transmittion through the air (it means between the mouth and ear) and hearing or perceiving, while phonology is the specific study which deals with the speech of sound in specific given language. 

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