Phun with Phonetics

Most linguistics students will at some point be faced with the daunting task of learning the phonetic alphabet. That long list of little symbols which is supposed to adequately represent any sound in any language and make possible the transcription of the spoken word. In reality it falls short on many levels but we need not go into that now.

The whole set looks something like this:


As you can see, some signs, especially many consonants, appear familiar, whilst others take some getting used to. The bane of most students is being briefly introduced to these in a lecture and then trying to learn them from a book without the advantage of sound.

That’s where some brilliant folk over in Ohio came in and built this little online game which gives you four possible symbols to choose from for every sound you hear. A little bit of phun with phonetics and you too will soon be aceing your transcription exams…


The Great Language Game

There are perhaps six or seven thousand languages in the world. Even so-called hyperpolyglots, people who learn to speak six or more fluently, barely scratch the surface. So you may never be able to speak them all, but maybe you can get better at identifying your Polish from your Malaysian or your Punjab from your Maori.

Happily, someone somewhere took the time to help you do that and came up with an online tool called ‘The Great Language Game’ which challenges you to distinguish the world’s languages based on their sound alone. Since there’s nothing as motivating as a bit of competition, you can compare your results to the overall global achievements or just with your equally nerdy friends. And check out the cool rotating globe which shows you, in 3D, where in the world the game is being played. Mainly in San Francisco apparently.

So off you go, there are 78 language samples waiting for you, and if your own tongue isn’t in there you can politely suggest they add it. Someone out there bothered to make this thing, so the least you can do is play.