The International Phonetic Alphabet is a standardized alphabetic system based on the Latin alphabet used by many to notate phonetics. It was developed by Alexander John Ellis, Henry Sweet, Daniel Jones, and Paul Passy around 1888. During its long history, it has been revised many times to become the standard that it is today consisting of 107 letters, 52 diacritics, and four prosodic marks.
By learning even a basic understanding of IPA you can easily find and replicate the majority of languages with relative ease and accuracy whether you are learning a folk song, German Lieder, or Italian Opera. Example: “little” or [ˈlɪtəl]/[ˈlɪʔo]/[ˈɫɪːɫ]
With over 150 characters and tons of details, it can be overwhelming trying to get started learning the IPA. A great place to start is with the vowels and proper construction of those vowels will go a long way in your singing. Start with learning these vowels [a] [e] [i] [o] [u]. Notice how these vowels feel making sure to make as pure of a sound as possible (no movement). There are lots of consonants and almost as many ways they are produced: nasal, stop, sibilant fricative, non-sibilant fricative, approximate, flap, trill, lateral fricative, lateral approximate, lateral flap and all of them can be made in different places in the mouth or throat: bilabial, labio-dental, linguolabial, dental, alveolar, post-alveolar, retro-flex, palatal, velar, uvular, pharyngeal/epiglottal, and glottal. Before this scares you, you already are doing all of these every day. All of those odd words are simply categorizations of sounds you learned as a child.
Learning the International Phonetic Alphabet can revolutionize the way you sing. There are a large number of sources to practice what you are learning but one of the best is your voice instructor who can help you perfect each sound by explaining the construction of the sounds. Wikipedia contributors, “International Phonetic Alphabet,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=International_Phonetic_Alphabet&oldid=829090278 (accessed March 12, 2018).