How to Translate Words Into Phonetic Symbols

Updated June 19, 2017

The letters of the alphabet and the sounds of speech are not the same. There are 20 consonants in the English alphabet; however, there are 24 consonant sounds in the English language. Additionally, the English alphabet has six vowels when counting "y," but there are 20 vowel sounds for the average English speaker. Phonetic symbols are used to write words as they sound. These symbols are called phonemes. Translating words into phonemes is the best way to insure that words are pronounced properly.

Select a word or words that you want to translate. For example, translate the word "cat."

Refer to the Sounds of English and the International Phonetic Alphabet Chart. This chart has example words listed for each phoneme to help you identify the correct phoneme to use for each sound.

Write the phonemes that form the words in between back slashes. Back slashes are used in linguistics to indicate that a word is written in phonemes and not alphabet letters. The word "cat" is written in phonemes as /kæt/.


When writing individual phonemes, they should appear between back slashes just as words do. When translating full sentences into phonemes, back slashes are only required at the beginning and end of the sentence, instead of around each individual word.


Remember that alphabet letters and phonemes are not the same. For example, the word "cat" is spelt with a "c" but "c" is not a phonetic symbol. Not every person will translate every word the same way. People have different dialects and don't always pronounce words identically; therefore, translations will vary in some words.

Things You'll Need

  • The Sounds of English and the International Phonetic Alphabet Chart
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About the Author

Laura Payne has been freelance writing for several online publications in her free time since 2006. She holds a Master of Arts in linguistics from Wayne State University and a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Oakland University. Payne teaches linguistics classes at both universities on an adjunct basis.