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Transcription: initial and in-service training sessions


Initial and in-service training courses are combined here because the demands of accrediting authorities (principally Cambridge and Trinity College) differ in what is required.

The Cambridge CELTA and Delta have (bizarrely in some people's opinion) no obviously explicit requirements in the syllabus or the assessment procedures that candidates should be able to transcribe and read transcriptions of the sounds of English.
The syllabus at Diploma level mentions merely:

Phonemic script and transcription conventions

without setting out what is required.  That is the only mention of the area.

At CELTA level, the syllabus has:

Phonology: the formation and description of English phonemes; features of connected speech
and elsewhere (under speaking skills), simply:
Phonemic systems: identify and describe some differences in phonemic systems of languages spoken by learners

Trinity, on the other hand, has the following in its syllabus for the initial Certificate:

Use of phonemic symbols and phonemic chart for description and discrimination
Transcribing words and short utterances

At Diploma level, Trinity requires candidates to exhibit their ability to

transcribe connected speech as heard
mark tonic syllables to show prominence in sentence stress
mark the intonation patterns as heard.

The example given in Trinity's documentation is to transcribe
    Would you like to come round tomorrow? Yes? Good! Charlie wants to meet you too
as spoken by an examiner.
(That would be something like

if the focus of your course is on US pronunciation
by the way.)

Clearly, on an initial course, where the participants may not be aware that there is something called phonemic transcription, the challenge is much greater for those preparing for the Trinity qualification than those taking CELTA where only a basic understanding of the principles and the principal ways of transcribing individual sounds is needed.  Even here, however, the ability to transcribe sounds, at least to read a phonemic transcription aloud and to focus learners on troublesome sounds via the phonemic script is very beneficial.
At Diploma level, even if you are training for a Cambridge qualification it is difficult to imagine that candidates could teach pronunciation well or understand even the basics of the topic without the ability to transcribe accurately.

This site contains a course in phonemic transcription and there are guides to areas of phonology, linked below.
The worksheets are based on the course on this site and can be used at any level, depending on how thorough, or superficial, you need to be.

Click here to go to the transcription course on this site.
Click here for the ELT Concourse phoneme chart.

Both those links open in a new tab.


The key ideas

The worksheets do not replace the course on this site and cannot be a stand-alone set of activities.  You need to teach the area.

  • Minimal pairs
  • Consonants
    • voiced
    • unvoiced
  • Vowels
    • pure
    • diphthongs
  • Connected speech phenomena
    • intrusion
    • assimilation
    • syllable reduction
    • catenation
    • juncture
    • elision


Workshop tasks

Worksheet #1 focuses on some basic ideas and may be enough for your first session or two at initial level.
At diploma level, most of this may (should?) be revision.

Task 1 of the Worksheet asks for a little discrimination.  It could be dictated before it is seen.
In this task, examples 3, 4 and 8 are not true minimal pairs because there are two sound changes in each case.
The question of whether bought and brought constitute a minimal pair can be handled here (they do insofar as one has an inserted consonant).
The transcriptions of the key words (with AmE where it differs) are:

  1. /ʃɪp/ vs. /ʃɒp/ (/ʃɑːp/)
  2. /bɔːt/ vs. /brɔːt/
  3. /pleɪs/ vs. /beɪs/
  4. /dʒɒn/ vs. /dʒɪm/ (/dʒɑːn/)
  5. /tɪp/ vs. /ʃɪp/
  6. /kæʃ/ vs. /kɒʃ/
  7. /fiːz/ vs. /ðiːz/
  8. /frɔːt/ (/ˈfrɒt) vs. /ˈkɔːt/

Task 2 focuses on the consonants where the phonemic symbol does not differ from the ordinary Latin letter.
It is worth focusing on:

  1. The /ɡ/ is not written as /g/
  2. The /s/ is variously spelled, usually 'c' or 's'
  3. The /k/ is also variously spelled 'k' or 'c'
  4. The /j/ sound is not pronounced /dʒ/ as in 'just' but as the 'y' in 'yes'
  5. The /w/ is pronounced as in 'when' not 'how' (where it is a vowel, /aʊ/)

Task 3 focuses on the consonant sounds which require a special symbol.  There are only seven but people will need some practice to distinguish them all.
Task 4 focuses on the 8 pairs of voiced / unvoiced consonants in English.  People will probably need a little time to recognise the difference between ZZZZZZ and SSSSSS at first.
Task 5 takes the pure or monophthong vowels first.
Task 6 focuses on diphthongs.
Tasks 5 and 6 are certainly the most challenging and you may like to break them down.
Triphthongs are not considered here because of their rarity (if they can be said to exist at all).  However, if you have time, you may like to focus on, e.g.:

  1. /eɪə/ as in player or mayor.
  2. /aɪə/ as in liar or shire.
  3. /ɔɪə/ as in soil or loyal.
  4. /əʊə/ as in lower or knower.
  5. /aʊə/ as in tower or our.

Worksheet #2 focuses on connected speech phenomena.

Task 1 focuses on the weak forms of common function words.  The list is not complete and the answers are available by clicking here.
It is worth noting that not all the forms include the use of the schwa and that some are formed by omitting sounds altogether.
Task 2 focuses on intrusive sounds: /w/, /r/ and /j/.
The answers are:
It is worth noting that these intrusions do not occur in all varieties and some speakers do not produce them in all cases.
Task 3 focuses on connections.  The phenomena in question are:

  1. assimilation of /s/ to /ʃ/ because of the influence of /tʃ/
  2. syllabic reduction /ˈprɒbli/
  3. assimilation: coalescence of /t/ and /ɡ/ to /k/
  4. elision of /t/
  5. catenation: /lef. tɑːm/
  6. assimilation: coalescence of /t/ and /j/ to /tʃ/
  7. juncture and the stress is on the first and second syllables respectively /ˈaɪs.kriːm/ vs. /aɪ.ˈskriːm/



On a short, initial training course, you are unlikely to be able to devote many sessions to each area and on an in-service course you may also be pressed for time.
A way out is to get the participants to do the course on this site at home (or in private study time) and then give some in-class practice.
That course also has some exercises at the end to transcribe short utterances.  This will be helpful for those preparing for the Trinity Diploma in particular.


Related areas

Related guides
the transcription course this link takes you to the index page for the course in transcription.  How long it takes depends on how much people already know.
phonemes for a PDF formatted phoneme chart with a few notes
pronunciation for the simpler initial-plus guide to phonology's basic terminology only
pronunciation for the in-service index of the guides in this area
A-Z index where you can find guides to or containing specific concepts and terms