Trying to understand a language can present many challenges. Learning how to read and write can be done quite systematically, once the rules of grammar are known. But speaking and understanding the phonetics of a language - particularly a complicated one such as English - can seem a major barrier.
Accurate pronunciation is vital if you want to truly integrate into a culture. And it is critical that the speaker not only knows what he or she wants to say, but also says it in a way that can be clearly understood. We all laugh at the fictitious English spy masquerading as a French policeman (pictured) in 'Allo 'Allo! His comical mispronunciations perfectly illustrate why we should fear getting it wrong.
This issue was so important to Jaber George Jabbour, a Damascus-born banker who now lives in the UK, that he devised the SaypU alphabet system to help with pronunciation, backed by a website (www.saypu.com) to guide students through the process.
Although he was taught English by French nuns while growing up in Syria, when he arrived in London he was stymied by the pronunciation of some common English words - for example, he struggled with the nuances of the phonic rules in words such as license, city, large and centre.
Included within Jabbour's alphabet system is the "" character. This represents the sound we hear at the start of the words "again" and "about" and at the end of "the". You can see a video demonstrating this aspect of the alphabet on the TESConnect website (bit.ly13Dpoiw).
The SaypU alphabet does not have the letter "c", because the sound is either similar to that of the letter "k" (in which case it would be represented by a "k") or that of the letter "s" (in which case it would be represented by an "s"). The sound of "ch" is represented by "tsh".
Jabbour says he devised the alphabet system in a bid to improve international communication, as he watches from afar while his home country tears itself apart in a bitter conflict. "If people are able to speak to each other in the same way, they will feel better connected," he says. "Hopefully, an alphabet of basic phonetic rules that people understand may help. We might even be able to make the world a more peaceful place."
Explore the SaypU phonetic alphabet and convert words into different languages at www.saypu.com.
Get to grips with phonics using TESConnect's selection of phonics games and activities. bit.lyPhonicsActivities
A Teachers TV video explores successful language activities for primary school students. bit.lyLanguageVideo.