For many seniors, it's been a long time since English class in school and most of the terms for the way we write have long since left our heads. You may think it doesn't matter that you don't know the names for the parts of your speech when you're only writing in your journal about your latest trip, but understanding your speech can help you become a better reader and writer too. This article is all about phonetics.

Phonetics is the study of the sounds of human speech. You might wonder - how can it help me to study the sounds of speech when I only ever WRITE? The answer, of course, is that when you write, especially when you write dialogue, you are attempting to mimic human speech patterns. If you understand what they are, you will have an easier time of it than simply muddling your way through or wondering why it's not sounding right when you read it aloud.

Learning about phonetics is especially important for oral storytellers, because the way you use your voice when you tell your stories has an impact on how the audience receives your content. Phonetics is also very important to people who are just learning to read or hoping to improve their reading, because by following the rules of phonetics students can learn to sound out unfamiliar words, like Pilates, without having to ask an instructor how to say it.

Phonetics is also used as a shortcut to transcribe speech. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) contains one character for every sound used in human speech, including double letters, hyphenated sounds, clicks, and accents that change the way a letter is pronounced. If you know this alphabet, which consists of 163 characters, you can transcribe the speech of the driver of your taxi regardless of what language he is speaking and whether you understand it. Then you can read it back or show it to a translator at a later time.

You can also use your knowledge of phonetics to transcribe text in English, such as an announcement about job positions or a dictated letter, in shorthand simply by applying the IPA rules that each sound is only one character as opposed to the several it may be in written English. So you see: phonetics can not only expand your skill set but can also turn you into a teacher and a student of the English language.

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