Review of English Pronunciation in Use

Appeared in: 
TESOL-Spain Newsletter Volume 27 Winter 2003
Review by: 
Michael Vaughn Rees

In recent years Cambridge University Press has, more than any other publisher, taken pronunciation seriously. English Pronunciation in Use represents an exciting addition to their list, forming a worthy successor to the author’s Pronunciation Games (1995).

The main part of the book is divided into three sections:
A, ‘Letters and Sounds’; B, ‘Syllables, words and sentences’; and C, ‘Conversation’.  Each section consists of 20 double-page units: explanations and examples on the left, exercises on the right. Students are recommended to avoid working their way through one section at a time, by going from unit 1 to 21 then 41, back to 2 and so on.

There are other ways in which users are guided around the different parts of the book. Thus the final exercise throughout section A consists of a test where listeners have to identify the target sounds in context and are directed to Section D, ‘Sound Pairs’, where they will get extra discrimination practice if they find any difficulty, e.g.

Price or prize?
I got a good price / prize for that painting.  (sound pair 31)

In addition, students may find out what they need not work on. The ‘Guide for speakers of specific languages’, in Section D, (based on Learner English, Swan and Smith, 2001) specifies not only which sound pairs would be useful, but also which units could be left out. Students are also recommended to try the ‘Pronunciation Test’ in Section D and to disregard those units in which they ‘did specially well’.

The author points out that pronunciation means ‘both speaking and understanding’. And this twin aim is followed, very clearly, throughout. A useful innovation is the presence, in all three teaching sections, of statements prominently marked as being ‘important for listening’.  In the unit on /d/ and /t/, for example, he demonstrates that the letter <t> between vowels may become a /d/ in North America, and a glottal stop in London. And, furthermore, that ‘in fast speech, many speakers drop the /d/ or /t/ when they come between two other consonant sounds.  So facts sounds like fax.’ (It’s a pity, though, that only 3 of the 16 ‘important for listening’ points in Section A are illustrated by recordings: a problem of recording space, presumably.)

There is at least one thing which may come as a surprise to some readers: that the automatic supremacy of RP is not assumed (in fact the term ‘RP’ is not used). The author does state that ‘for a model for [students] to copy when speaking, we have used only one accent, a Southern British accent’ (p.6). And most of the accompanying recordings are read by professional actors using a contemporary version of RP.  But, especially in Section C, you will hear an increasing variety of accents: non-RP British, North American, Caribbean, Australian, Irish etc., together with a number of fluent non-native speakers.

In fact, RP is not always considered to be the default accent.  On page 12, for example, we read that ‘in most accents, the following words have the short A vowel: ask  dance  castle  bath  fast  But in South East England, speakers change the A sound in words such as these to the long A.’  And on page 22 that ‘in words like paper, sugar, colour the final R is not pronounced in many accents, so vista rhymes with sister for example.

The status of a Southern British model in this book needs to be seen in the context of the acknowledged influence of Jennifer Jenkins who has questioned the need for learners of English to adopt any native speaker pronunciation model. Having said

that some of the points in the book are potentially irrelevant to some learners, Hancock goes on to state (p.8) that

‘for learners whose aim is mainly to communicate with other non-native speakers of English, accurate production of the sounds TH (unvoiced) and TH (voiced) is probably not necessary. Research suggests that where speakers substitute these sounds with other approximations such as /t/ and /d/, communication is not impeded […] yMy feeling is that a distinction can be drawn between what we aim for and what we settle for. Thus a learner might aim for unvoiced TH and settle for /t/ or /s/.’

And when we look at unit 17, where these sounds are dealt with, we are reminded that ‘many native speakers of English pronounce TH as /t/, /f/ or /s/ instead of TH (unvoiced), and /d/, /v/ or /z/ instead of TH (voiced).   For example, some Irish speakers pronounce thick as tick.’

Since this approach to the building bricks of pronunciation – vowels and consonants - is what strikes me as most new in this book, I have left little space to talk about the rest of the book, where we proceed seamlessly from syllable to discourse.  The fact that to this latter, technical, term the author prefers the more user-friendly ‘conversation’ is typical of the book as a whole.  There is no blinding of the user with science. In fact, units have names such as ‘Chips or salad?’ and ‘I think you’re in my seat’, with the pronunciation point in smaller type below.

Those who, for many years, have been trying to make it clear that what learners need to know about intonation is relatively straightforward, will be pleased with the final teaching section of the book.  In fact I can’t imagine too many complaints from any students or teachers who will be using it.  Mark Hancock’s wit and imagination shine through, and he is well served by the (sadly unacknowledged) illustrators.

May I end on a personal note by saying how pleased I was to see that on the final page the author acknowledges that he owes ‘special thanks to the excellent IATEFL publication “Speak Out!”, many of whose contributors may recognise their influence in one part or another of this book’. It is nice to think that those of us who have been slogging away within the field for years have played some part in the genesis of this splendid book.


Hancock, M (1995) Pronunciation Games Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Jenkins, J (2000) The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford Oxford University Press.

Swan, M. and B. Smith (2001) Learner English (Second Edition) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Michael Vaughan-Rees founded the IATEFL pronunciation special interest group (PronSig) and still edits its journal/newsletter ‘Speak Out!’. He is the author of many articles and a variety of books, notably ‘Rhymes and Rhythm’(1994, Macmillan) and ‘Test your Pronunciation’ (2002, Penguin).  His little grandson is trilingual in English, Castellano and Valenciano.



Mark Hancock's picture

I'm glad Michael noticed that RP supremacy is not assumed. The value of a variety resides in its currency, and is not intrinsic the the variety. No accent is, in itself, better than any other.

i'm from indonesia. for Sir Hancock. i'm sorry sir, now i really want to know clear about one game of your pronunciation game, asspecially for join the dots game. sir can i look at other site the explanation of them?
Mark Hancock's picture

Hi Siti. Students read 1 and match it to 'bone' in the picture. Then they read 2 and match it to 'bore' and draw a line from 'bone' to 'bore'. Then they find 3 and match it to 'young' and draw a line from 'bore' to 'young'. Then they find 4 and match it to 'bear' and draw a line from 'young' to 'bear'. And so on, ok?

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