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What is Phonetic Language? Is English Phonetic? (Definition and Examples)

What is phonetic language? Native English speakers (and non-native ones) discover that English is far from being a “phonetic language”. In many languages, other than English, it is often noticed that a written word and its pronunciation simply match. This means that, upon hearing a word, it is not difficult to spell.

What is phonetic language?

In a phonetic language, there is a direct link between the sound of a word (its phonetic representation) and its spelling.

Several people find that English is easy enough to speak but difficult to write because it is not a phonetic language.

What this essentially means is that, in English, a word is not spoken the same way that it’s spelled.

Phonetic (adjective)of or relating to spoken language or speech sounds

Why English is not phonetic

Now that it is established what a phonetic language is, the reason for English not being a phonetic language must be explained.

In the English language, there are several reasons why words are not phonetically categorized. The first thing that comes to mind is the several words spelled with silent letters.

For instance, in the words like psychology, fasten, castle, listen, honest, rhythm, etc. there are letters in the words (like “t” in fasten and “p” in psychology) that are not pronounced while speaking.

Nonetheless, they have to be written while you spell the words. This is a single reason English is not a phonetic language.

There is another very obvious reason why English is not termed a phonetic language. This is due to the fact that some words spelled in the same way, are pronounced differently in different contexts.

View the example below:

  • I love to read that book.
  • I have read that book last month.

Here, both sentences have different meanings, but the word “read” is spelled the same way. Nonetheless, when the word “read” is spoken, different pronunciations are applied according to the context of speech and writing.

Additionally, “read” is the past and present tense for the action of “reading”, but in English, another word sounds the same. This is the color, “red”. This is yet another more reason English is not a phonetic language.

Sound and spelling

Teachers of English come across students who enquire why English is a difficult language to speak. Students find that words in English are challenging. The main reason for this is that English is not a “phonetic language”, and its basis is not linked to the sounds of words.

Consequently, when students ask why English is challenging to speak and pronounce, they should be asking about the challenge of spelling in English.

In all languages, words are spoken first, then written. For English speakers, the concern of phonetic language does not arise till the time comes when words are spelled. Difficulties arise when English is written and then attempted to speak accordingly.

The idea of speaking the right way and writing the correct way is to attempt to forget the sounds of words when you write. The two categories of writing and spelling, consequently, should be kept separate.


1. What is phonetic language in brief?

Phonetic language or phonetics, simply put, is the scientific field that deals with the study of language and its sounds. In other words, phonetic language deals with the sounds that are made by speech in any language.

2. What is an example of a phonetic language?

Certain languages have a strong relationship between sounds that are spoken and written letters and words. Consequently, the spelling of any word is phonetic. Such languages are German, Spanish, and Russian.


  1. phonetics.ppt (harvard.edu)
  2. Phonetic Language – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  3. Phonetics – Wikipedia
  4. phonetics | Definition, Types, Examples, & Facts | Britannica

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About the author

Dalia Y.: Dalia is an English Major and linguistics expert with an additional degree in Psychology. Dalia has featured articles on Forbes, Inc, Fast Company, Grammarly, and many more. She covers English, ESL, and all things grammar on GrammarBrain.

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