At Pronunciation Studio, we use a chart based on 18 vowel sounds and 26 consonant sounds to represent a standard General British pronunciation of English.

Although this totals 44 sounds, we refer to a 45th sound – the schwa /ə/, which behaves differently. Learn about the range of vowel and consonant sounds on this page. You can also download the free Pronunciation Studio starter pack which has the IPA chart, audio and pronunciation notes for every sound.

18 Vowel Sounds

A vowel sound is made by shaping the air as it leaves the mouth, we use the lips, tongue and jaw to make the shape. There are 11 shapes of the mouth in GB English, and 18 sounds in total (some sounds use two shapes). We use a variety of long, short and diphthong (double) sounds when speaking, though the actual length of a sound varies depending on how much stress we use.

For learners, it is important to distinguish the different positions and sounds. Many learners import the vowels directly from their own language, which can cause 2 or 3 words to sound the same in English. Mastering vowels involves correct positioning of the mouth, correct sound selection and correct use of stress.

26 Consonant Sounds

A consonant sound is made by blocking the flow of air as it leaves the body. There are three key factors that define a consonant: Where you block the air (is it on the lips, the teeth etc.), How you block the air (is it a full or partial blockage) and if you use the Voice (compare /s/ without voice and /z/ with voice).

English has 26 consonant sounds (if we include 2 versions of /t/ and /l/), with a strong focus on positions at the front of the mouth. Depending on your first language, some consonants will be harder than others, so the key is to define which sounds cause you problems, then learn the position, place and voicing for each sound. Plenty of repetition practice helps the new sounds become natural.

Spelling to Sound

Written English uses a Latin alphabet of 26 letters. How do you represent 45 sounds with 26 letters? Well, here is the problem that has faced the English language through the ages and it also explains why we have so many unusual spellings. For example, the ‘o’ in GOT, WOMEN, NO, WORD, SON, PORT and POLITE is pronounced differently in each word.

There are 2 ways to overcome this: firstly to learn the rules for which sounds can appear with which spellings, and secondly to learn the IPA (phonetic alphabet) so that your pronunciation follows the sounds rather than the written form. IPA may look confusing to begin with, but it can be learnt very quickly and makes pronunciation progress fast.

The 45th Sound

We call sound number 5 /ə/ the 45th Sound at Pronunciation Studio. Why? Because it behaves differently to all other sounds – it can be spelt with any of the vowel letters (a,e,i,o,u), it can often be omitted, and it is always weak. For this reason we teach this sound in a class all of its own separately from the other sounds, as understanding the schwa can unlock the way English pronunciation works for many learners. 

See ‘Schwa – a Pronunciation Guide’ for more.

Download the free Pronunciation Studio starter pack with a 20 page ebook, IPA chart and audio pack here. It covers the mouth positions and IPA symbols for every sound of GB English.