how to pronounce difficult English words

Improve your vocabulary by learning to pronounce these tricky words

June 30, 2023
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Imagine you're at a fancy dinner party, and you decide to share an interesting fact about your latest culinary discovery—the sous vide. You excitedly share, "I recently acquired an exceptional SOOS-veyed machine for our gourmet dinner party." Others look puzzled until someone kindly clarifies, "Ah, you mean a soo-VEED." Your cheeks turn red as you realize the embarrassing mistake.

Good pronunciation is important not only for clear communication but also for making a good impression. Mispronouncing words can lead to misunderstandings and awkward situations like the one above.

So, if you want to feel more confident in any conversation, keep reading to learn more about pronunciation, discover some commonly mispronounced words, and gather some tips to help you pronounce words correctly.

Why pronunciation is important

Pronouncing words correctly is an important part of both professional and personal conversations.

In professional settings, accurate pronunciation can greatly impact how your message is received and how you're perceived. For instance, when giving a presentation to a group of colleagues, mispronouncing a common industry term might lead them to question your credibility and expertise.

Similarly, in casual conversations, incorrect pronunciation can cause confusion and misunderstandings. Imagine discussing a recent news story and consistently mispronouncing some of the words involved. Your conversation partner may struggle to grasp the context of what you're trying to say.

Therefore, it's essential to take the time to learn how to pronounce words correctly.

History of English pronunciation

But sometimes, pronouncing English words correctly is easier said than done.

English naturally became more efficient through speech. This included naturally dropping syllables, which at some point lead to the development of homophones.

For example, centuries ago, the English language had many more vowel sounds than it does today. Over time, these sounds merged and were simplified into fewer pronunciations. As a result, many words that were originally pronounced differently are now pronounced the same, creating sets of homophones, or words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins, or spellings. For example:

  1. Knight and night: In Middle English, the word "knight" was pronounced with a distinct "k" sound at the beginning (like "kuh"), whereas "night" has always begun with a silent "n." Over time, the pronunciation changed, and both words are now pronounced as “neyet.”
  2. Walk and wok: Over time, the “l” sound in words like walk stopped being pronounced, but remained in the word. Today, “walk” is a homophone for wok,” with both being pronounced like “wawk.” 
  3. Mane and main: While the word “main” used to have a distinctly different vowel sound, over time it changed into the long “ay” sound that we hear in “mane.” Both are now pronounced “mayn.” 

Understanding how these homophones emerged can help us appreciate the intricacies of English pronunciation and provide insights into why certain words may be challenging to pronounce correctly today.

6 commonly mispronounced English words

Speaking of words that are challenging to pronounce, here are just a few examples of frequently mispronounced words in the English language:

  1. Pronunciation: Ironically, some people mispronounce this word as "pruh-nown-see-AY-shun." The right way to say it is "pruh-nuhn-see-AY-shun."
  2. Espresso: Less commonly pronounced as "ehk-SPREHS-so," the correct pronunciation is "eh-SPREHS-so."
  3. Asterisk: Many people say "AHS-tuh-rihks," but the correct way to pronounce it is "AHS-tuh-rihsk."
  4. Nuclear: It's not "NYOO-kyoo-luhr"; the right pronunciation is "NOO-klee-uhr."
  5. Memento: Often mispronounced as "mo-MEHN-to," the correct pronunciation is "muh-MEHN-to."
  6. Peremptory: It's not “pree-emp-TOH-ree”; the correct pronunciation for this word meaning having the expectation of immediate obedience is "puh-remp-TOH-ree."

By becoming aware of these common mistakes, you can take steps to improve your pronunciation and avoid similar errors in your speech.

Tips to help you pronounce words correctly

In order to enhance your pronunciation skills and avoid common mistakes, consider the following tips and strategies that can help you tackle even the trickiest of words with ease and confidence:

  1. Listen and Repeat: When learning a new word, listen carefully to its pronunciation by native speakers or using online resources like dictionary websites with audio examples. Repeat the word several times, mimicking the speaker's intonation and rhythm.
  2. Break Down the Word: Divide complex words into smaller syllables and pronounce each one separately before combining them back together. This helps you focus on individual sounds and improve your overall pronunciation.
  3. Practice with Tongue Twisters: Tongue twisters are phrases designed to challenge your articulation skills. By practicing these, you can train your mouth muscles to produce difficult sounds and improve your diction.
  4. Record Yourself: Use your smartphone or another recording device to record yourself speaking or reading aloud. Listen back to the recordings and identify any mispronunciations or areas where you struggle. Practice these words until you can consistently pronounce them correctly.
  5. Ask for Feedback: Don't be afraid to ask friends, family members, or language partners for feedback on your pronunciation. They may notice mistakes that you overlook, helping you correct them more quickly and effectively.

Online resources and apps for pronunciation practice

There are a wealth of resources and tools to help you improve your pronunciation skills. Here are three popular online resources and apps that can assist you in practicing and perfecting your pronunciation:

  1. Elevate: Elevate is an award-winning brain training app that features 40+ games to improve your communication, speaking, and vocabulary skills. One of the games is specifically dedicated to teaching and testing the pronunciation of tricky words. Download Elevate on iOS or Android and try it for free.
  2. Forvo: Forvo is an online pronunciation dictionary featuring audio recordings from native speakers. Simply search for a word, and you'll hear how it's correctly pronounced by people from different regions. Visit Forvo to start exploring.
  3. YouGlish: YouGlish allows you to search for YouTube videos containing specific words or phrases spoken by native English speakers. By listening to the word being used in context, you can gain a better understanding of its pronunciation and usage. Check out YouGlish for more information.

By using resources like these, you can practice your pronunciation skills at your own pace and receive valuable feedback to help you refine your speech.

Start practicing your English pronunciation today

Understanding the pronunciation of tricky words is essential for communicating effectively and making a great impression in both professional and casual settings. By knowing the history and complexities of English pronunciation, becoming aware of commonly mispronounced words, and employing various tips and resources to improve your skills, you can confidently tackle even the most challenging words. 

Remember that practice makes perfect, so keep listening, repeating, and refining your pronunciation to achieve clarity and eloquence in your speech. And download the Elevate app on iOS or Android today to make your pronunciation practice fun!


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