Dictionary uses IPA to depict the sound. However, most of them do not include diacritics, and thus it is very hard for learner to distinguish the sound.

See this quote from Wiki

IPA symbols are composed of one or more elements of two basic types, letters and diacritics. For example, the sound of the English letter ⟨t⟩ may be transcribed in IPA with a single letter, [t], or with a letter plus diacritics, [t̺ʰ], depending on how precise one wishes to be.[note 2] Often, slashes are used to signal broad or phonemic transcription; thus, /t/ is less specific than, and could refer to, either [t̺ʰ] or [t], depending on the context and language.

For example, see this word "Thai" /taɪ/ in http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/thai

I think it should be depicted as t̺ʰai since t generates quite a lot of air.

So, Do we have any English dictionary that shows precisely both letters and diacritics?

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    Maybe 1/3 of the /t/s in English must be aspirated. Maybe 1/3 of the /t/s in English cannot be aspirated. And maybe 1/3 of them are optional. So to represent the pronunciation of the /t/, you need three more symbols, one of which doesn't exist in IPA. – Peter Shor Feb 2 '16 at 12:55
  • Dictionaries don't provide exact representations (phonology or semantics).They only have enough space. If one can still maintain a phonetic/phonemic distinction, the phonetics is too subtle for a native speaker, and the phonetics is too complicated for all the worlds other speakers. So no I don't think there's any dictionary to get you what you want. But try forvo.com which sounds them out. – Mitch Feb 2 '16 at 13:41

Diacritics—as opposed to normal, phonemic IPA transcriptions—are not good for dictionary entries for several reasons. The most important of these is that an individual speaker will vary their pronunciation of a word in different environments. Each different type of pronunciation would require different diacritics. Many other things can affect a person's pronunciation of a word:

  • who they are speaking to
  • the register they are using
  • how formal the context is
  • whether they are reading, performing, mimicking, or speaking to a friend
  • how much emphasis they wish to put on a word or part of a word
  • what word came before this word
  • what word came after this word
  • whether the word is stressed
  • whether the word is accented (carries musical stress)
  • whether the word carries the tonic syllable in the utterance
  • whether they are tired, sleepy, drunk, excited, cold, scared and so forth

Even if we could fix all of those parameters, speakers may produce the same word differently within the same sentence.

A non-native speaker trying to learn how to pronounce English, would be much better off learning about the general rules and descriptions of English phonetics and phonology so that they can apply these to new items rather than trying to read the fine diacritics from somebody's narrow transcription. So for example, knowing that the initial /t/ of a word is likely to be aspirated in most circumstances is better than reading a transcription of a word and checking if the initial /t/ is aspirated in that transcription. A general understanding of English phonetics tell you that the initial /t/ in Thai will probably be aspirated without needing to squint at diacritics.

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    This is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. – Greg Lee Feb 4 '16 at 0:35
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    @GregLee I don't understand? The IPA transcription on its own can be thought of as 'perfect', but how can giving diactritics for things like devoicing, labialisation glotalling, glottal reinforcement aspiration and so forth which are all extremely context dependent give us an idea of the perfect? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Feb 4 '16 at 9:02
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    Using diacritics can give a good idea of pronunciation. You argue that diacritics could not give a perfect description of every speaker's pronunciation on every occasion, and therefore diacritics should not be used. The overall structure of your argument is: diacritics may be good, but they're not perfect, therefore we shouldn't use them. – Greg Lee Feb 4 '16 at 14:01

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