This is a brief tutorial on how to write phonetic symbols for the English Corner. Throughout the class I will write down the phonetic transcription of the words unknown to my students on a little corner of the blackboard. Previously, I have asked a student, the so-called scribe, to copy them and send the transcription to me by e-mail. When I receive the transcriptions, I publish them on the course web so that students can learn the words properly.

However, some of my students are having trouble when writing the phonetic symbols in a file. Here there are some clues for those in the tight spot.



There are several dictionaries with correct and complete phonetics transcriptions. Use always a dictionary providing an IPA transcription (IPA stands for International Phonetics Alphabet). Some American English dictionaries use non-standard transcription systems; do not use them for this purpose. My advice to students is to turn to Oxford Advance Learner's Dictionary.


How to Write Phonetic Symbols

There are several ways to do it, depending on your specific needs or your computer experience. Here you have some of them.

1 Copy and Paste Symbols

  1. Look the word up in the Oxford Advance Learner's Dictionary. Select and copy the phonetic transcription; you have both British English and American English. For the English Corner I require to take the American one since it is the English I speak in class.
  2. Open a blank document in Word and paste it.
  3. Repeat this process for all the words you need to transcribe.
  4. When you are done, open a web page editor. Personally, I use Dreamweaver, but many others are available. Copy your transcriptions from the Word file to the web page.
  5. Make sure you enable the Unicode UTF-8 encoding. This is required to correctly visualize phonetic symbols.
  6. Apply clean up Word HTML. This step is necessary because Word introduces a great deal of rather cumbersome HTML code.
  7. Send that web page to me or just copy and paste it in an e-mail. Just sending the Word file also works for me.

2 Install an IPA Palette

An IPA Palette is a little program that shows a window with all the IPA characters. As you make your transcriptions, you click on the symbols on the palette and they appear in your document. To download an IPA palette, check out the web page.

3 Getting the Symbols on the Web

Another way to write symbols is to use an online editor. You type in your transcriptions by clicking on symbols in a window. After that, you copy the symbols from the web page into your document. Check, for example, the web page Type IPA Phonetic Symbols.

4 Download IPA Fonts

Some fonts support IPA symbols. Those fonts can be used to write phonetic symbols. For Windows, Arial Unicode MS is one of those, and for Mac OS X Lucida Grande. They can be download from a number of sites on the internet such as Accents, Symbols and Foreign Scripts or IPA for Linguistics.

5 Using Unicode Codes

It is possible to display phonetic symbols in a web page by using Unicode codes. For example, the Unicode code for the sound schwa is ə or U+0259. This codes will work correctly if your web browser is Unicode compliant. Check the web page IPA Extensions on Wikipedia. This is not a very quick, user-friendly approach; use it only as last resource.




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