IPA is not known by everyone, especially when the site is aimed for learners. It is expected that people here are likely to be ignorant about it (e.g. myself). Therefore, I suggest contributors here use less IPA in their questions/answers so that everybody can understand the posts. For example, I found this answer amazing and a pleasure to read. The answerer added IPA, but as a side note. I enjoyed reading the answer as I could understand it well. So I request people here to use the English alphabet more to clarify the pronunciations. However, IPA can be added as a side note.
I agree with @tchrist: IPA is a response to phonetic ambiguity. A scientific response.
But I agree with you, too: a language learner is less likely aware about IPA (than a linguist).
Please take a look at this discussion. Your question seems to be a subset of that one.
The answers from there suggest a dual approach:
- Do not throw away terminology just for sake of simplicity.
- Always expand the meaning so that an average ELL grasped it quickly and started using in their future study.
Personally, I would place IPA first, but that's negotiable.
You cannot explain how something is pronounced using the normal letters used in English, because the mapping between spelling and pronunciation in English is extremely complex and even idiosyncratic.
That’s why the standard International Phonetic Alphabet was invented: so there can be a standard way of indicating pronunciation. You cannot do that using simple A–Z.
I don't entirely disagree with other answers. However, I can't read IPA without a dictionary/google in front of me (I certainly wouldn't try writing it - dictionary or otherwise), and I am a native speaker who has a fairly good understanding of the language. (Mental note: pleeease try not to forget to check spelling. :-)
In addition, regardless of the how the IPA says to pronounce a word, there are so many different accents in so many different English speaking countries that natives using one will disagree with different natives using another. English is not a scientific language. OTOH, grass rhymes with glass whether it's pronounced with a long or short 'a' sound, so using one to assist with pronouncing the other works whichever way you come at it.
Don't get me wrong, I think answers with added IPA information - as per the OP example - are excellent and deserve upvoting. I've also come to the realisation that I'd better start learning IPA if I'm going to remain hanging around. :-) My concern is that answers won't be deemed as showing much effort if the IPA info isn't there - much as somebody referencing Wikipedia would (correctly) be called out for not including a link to the page. I don't think people unaware of IPA should be downvoted for not including it in an answer.
Even among people who know IPA there is great variation in how they use it, and worse, many of them are ignorant of the variation and believe there is only one correct way to us it.
Of course this problem also exists for ad-hoc transliterations "spelling in phonetic English".
For instance how to indicate the first vowel in "ago", the vowel in "slur" or the vowel in "roof" and is it the same as the vowel in "book" or the sound in "boot"? In the end you either leave some people confused or have to come up with an actual system that everybody has to learn to use correctly.
Pragmatically I would say:
- Sometimes we can render the sound of a word clear for all who know English without needing a system.
- Sometimes if we are not careful in rendering the sound of a word "in normal English letters" it will represent different sounds to different people. To avoid this we would need to choose one system and stick to it.
- It should never be "wrong" to include IPA alongside a "normal English letters" rendering of the sound of an English term. IPA has fewer ambgiuities so those who know it will be able to edit the "plain English letters" in keeping with it when the plain letters turn out to have an interpretation other than what the writer intended.
Unfortunately, there is no standard representation of English phonemes.
IPA is widely used among linguists; but it is not really satisfactory, since it represents pronunciations rather than phonemes. It implies that some phonetic realizations are preferred to others, and it draws distinctions which are not necessarily perceived by hearers. It is, moreover, ethnocentric; it employs the Roman alphabet in a manner which is (relatively) easy for speakers of most European languages to grasp, but is bewildering to those whose principal knowledge of that alphabet derives from the study of English.
Over on ELU, John Lawler has endorsed this scheme; but that is still dependent on non-Roman-alphabet characters.
I think the best course is that which OP and mcalex recommend: to describe pronunciation using ordinary English spellings, and annotate with broad-transcription IPA. That has its own pitfalls—how, for instance, does one regularly distinguish /æ/ in ‘ordinary English spelling’?—but I really don't see a better way.