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The phonetics of a modern language



This module allows students to combine their knowledge of the phonetics of a modern language obtained through their studies so far with what they have learnt as part of their degree programme in linguistics.

The main aims of the module are:

  • To develop phonetic awareness of a modern language
  • To enable students to combine their study of a modern language with the study of one aspect of linguistics
  • To relate theoretical perspectives from phonetics to practical aspects of language production

Students should know how to describe accurately and in the technical terms of the International Phonetic Alphabet and phonetic literature aspects of the phonetics of their target language. They should be able to reflect on the way that sounds in the target language are produced, and be able to describe and transcribe these sounds. They should be familiar with basic texts on phonetics in the target language in order to understand how the phonetic system of the language works.

Students should also be able to produce natural-sounding speech in the target language, which has the features of native speech. For example, in French, the plosives will be appropriately voiceless and unaspirated or fully voiced; for German, glottal stops will be produced in the onset of vowel-initial words; for Spanish, stops will be lenited in the appropriate contexts. Vowel qualities will be near-native. Other features of the speech, such as intonation, rhythm, and tempo, will also be close to native. In order to achieve this, students will need to develop skills in phonetic production, and receive feedback on their pronunciation from a native speaker of the target language.

Students will develop their skills of independent working, to compile a portfolio of work.

This module will be capped at 35.



Students must have successfully completed:

  • L09I Intermediate phonetics and phonology
  • Second year French, German or Spanish language modules

We recommend students take L16H Articulatory and impressionistic phonetics, since the skills acquired on that module are directly relevant to this module.



Contact hours

Four one-hour workshops in the spring term working on the portfolio. Independent study between workshops will be required. Two one-to-one tutorials with staff members in the summer term. 

Teaching programme

There are six compulsory contact hours for this module. Four of these, in the spring term, will be in workshops with language staff and a phonetician. In the summer term, there will be one contact hour with a member of the language staff team, and one contact hour with a phonetician.

In addition, if you are not already taking the module, you will be required to attend some of the ear-training classes of Articulatory and Impressionistic Phonetics. You may also audit some or all parts of other phonetics modules.

Teaching materials


Assessment and feedback

Assessment and feedback

Feedback on formative work

  • Students will use the consultancy sessions for the module to receive oral feedback on their work towards the portfolio so far. Students will need to prepare for these meetings well in advance, and agree a deadline for submission of work with the course tutors.
  • Written feedback will be given on any exercises completed as part of Articulatory and impressionistic phonetics, if taken.  

Assessment and feedback

The summative assessment for this module is a portfolio of work containing the following:

  • Two recordings of yourself reading a passage in the target language. The first recording will be made at the start of the spring term (week 1), and the second one at the end of the spring term (week 10). Phonetic aspects of the recordings will be assessed against a set of criteria which you will be informed of.
  • A self-reflective piece of writing (up to 1500 words) evaluating, in technical phonetic terms, the differences between your two recordings. In this report, you will be asked:
    • To consider how/whether your pronunciation has changed
    • To provide a phonetic assessment of your recordings, considering also those aspects where you feel your production could be improved?

You will be provided with further instructions on the content of the self-reflective piece at the start of the spring term.

  • One or two short recordings in the target language collected by you. The total duration should be around two minutes. If you make two recordings, these should differ in either variety, register or sociolinguistic setting (e.g. a scripted news broadcast + a sample of conversation; two pieces from different parts of the world, such as North German and Switzerland, Paris and Quebec, Mexico and Madrid). For each recording you must provide:
    • An orthographic transcription
    • A broad phonetic transcription
    • A commentary on six places in the data which contain interesting or problematic phonetic details (1200 words total)
    • Either a comparison of the two recordings or a comparison between the recording and standard varieties described in the literature (1000 words maximum)

The portfolio will be assessed by a native speaker of the language and by a phonetician, and they will agree a mark. Each part (1), (2) and (3) counts equally to the overall mark for the portfolio.

  • Feedback: Written feedback and a mark for all components of the dossier, given within one week of submission (summer term, Friday week 7). 


Transferable skills developed in this module

All modules provide an opportunity to work on general oral/written communication skills (in class and in assessments) and general self management (organising your studies), alongside the specific skills in language or linguistics that the module  teaches.

In addition, this module will allow you to particularly develop skills in self-management. This module allows you to work largely independently, with detailed input from staff with expertise in two areas (phonetics/language skills), requiring you to incorporate feedback from two sources into your final work.

Follow this link to hear how past students use transferable skills from their degree in their current jobs.

About this module

  • Term(s) taught
  • Credits