Sounds Comparisons

Beyond IPA

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) provides a powerful tool for becoming familiar with the sounds of a foreign language and can even help one to better understand the sounds of his own native language.  IPA is very specific but there are some subtle differences between similar sounds in different languages that cannot be captured in IPA.  Furthermore, an IPA transcription  is a starting point which gives a good outline of what sounds are to be made, but if we try to follow an IPA transcription too closely it can end of sounding plain and inauthentic.  In this way, it is similar to musical notation. A good musician will play or sing French Baroque music differently than German Baroque even though both utilize the same notation to communicate intentions to the performer.   

In order to successful singing and communicate in foreign languages there needs to be an awareness and appreciation of the qualities that make each language unique.  The tool below was designed to help build this awareness by placing similar sounds of American English, French, and German next to each other. Be sure to notice the similarities as well as the differences.   
Suggestions for use: For vowel sounds, pay close attention to the quality of similar vowels.  It one brighter or darker than the others?  More open or closed? Longer or shorter in duration?
For the consonants listen to the manner in which they are produced.  Are some more aspirated than others?  Do some use more or less air? Where in the mouth is the consonant produced?   
Click on any IPA symbol to hear the sound.     


Female |  Male


English French  German 
Vowels Vowels Vowels
[i] [i] [i]
  [e] [e]
[ɪ]   [ɪ]
[ɛ] [ɛ] [ɛ]
  [a] [a]
[ɑ] [ɑ]  
[ɔ] [ɔ] [ɔ]
[ʊ]   [ʊ]
  [o] [o]
[u] [u] [u]
  [y] [y]
  [ø] [ø]
  [œ] [œ]
[ə] [ə] [ə]
[ɚ]   [ɐ]
[aɪ]   [ae]
[ɑʊ]   [ɑo]
[ɔɪ]   [ɔø]
Consonants Consonants Consonants
[b] [b] [b]
[p] [p] [p]
[m] [m] [m]
[f] [f] [f]
[v] [v] [v]
[z] [z] [z]
[s] [s] [s]
[l] [l] [l]
[d] [d] [d]
[t] [t] [t]
[n] [n] [n]
[ɹ] [ɾ] [r]
[ʃ] [ʃ] [ ʃ ]
[ʒ] [ʒ]  
[tʃ]   [tʃ]
[g] [ɡ] [ɡ]
[k] [k] [k]
[ŋ]   [ŋ]
[h]   [h]
[j] [j] [ j ]
[w] [w]