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Blog-native speaker errors

10 Words English People Have Difficulty Pronouncing

[ssba] English is such a strange language that even English speakers get confused with it. Some words just don’t want to be pronounced in a standard way, here are 10 of the worst offenders:

1. Et cetera

Apparently 34% of Britons pronounce the beginning of this word as /ek/ when it really should be /et/ or /eʔ/!

Et cetera /etˈsetrə/ not /ekˈsetrə/.

2. Pronunciation

This is always a fun one for the teachers at Pronunciation Studio. The main confusion with this word is that the letters in ‘pronounce’ and ‘pronounceable’ are said as ‘noun’ /naʊn/. The letters in ‘pronunciation’ should be read as ‘nun’ /nʌn/. To make the /ʌ/ sound, the lips must be relaxed and your jaw should be mid-open with the tongue in the centre-back part of your mouth.

Pronunciation /prənʌnsiˈeɪʃən/ not /prənaʊnsiˈeɪʃən/.

3. Specific

Many people seem to forget about the /s/ in this word. Try saying “it’s specific” and “it’s pacific” quickly. Can you hear a difference?

Specific /spəˈsɪfik/ not /pəˈsɪfɪk/.

4. Quinoa

Given the sheer volume of people pronouncing this word as /kwɪˈnəʊə/ I wonder if the battle for / ˈki:nwa:/ has already been lost.

Quinoa /ˈki:nwa:/ not /kwɪˈnəʊə/.

5. Similarly

The thing to remember about this word is that it contains 4 syllables ( ˈsɪm – ə – lə -li). As with all good tongue twisters, the best advice for learning them is to start off saying it slowly and then quickly!

Similarly/ˈsɪmələli/ not ˈsɪməlerɪli/

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6. Facade

If you’ve only ever come across this word in its written form, it’s not hard to see why one might pronounce it wrong. It does flout almost every English spelling rule! This word originates from the French word ‘façade’ which is not far off the present English pronunciation. The key to pronouncing this word correctly is to move the stress to /ˈsɑ:d/ and to pronounce the < k > as /s/ and the second < a > as /ɑ:/ as in car /kɑ:/.

Facade /fəˈsɑ:d/ not /ˈfækeɪd/.

7. Hyperbole

This word brings back a little shudder whenever I come across it. Yes, I once tried to sound clever at university… The key to pronouncing this word is to forget about bowls and hyperactivity altogether. Try saying hyper, but with the stress on ‘per’ instead of ‘hy’. Pronounce ‘bole’ with two syllables.

Hyperbole /haɪˈpɜ:bəli/ not /ˈhaɪpəbəʊɫ/.

8. Voluptuous

I once heard a great joke for remembering the pronunciation of this. It went something along the lines of, ‘being voluptuous doesn’t mean you’re lumpy’. It helps me remember it anyway…

Voluptuous /vəˈlʌptʃuəs/ not /vəˈlʌmptʃuəs/.

9. Sliver

If you refer to a snake’s movement, you should say it slithers. If you would like a small piece of cake ask for a sliver. Given the close proximity of these two sounds (/the /v/ is labio-dental, and the /ð/ is dental) this mistake is not surprising, but rather ridiculous (or is that ‘raver’).

Sliver /ˈslɪvə/ not /ˈslɪðə/.

10. Prescription

The confusion in this word is the prefix ‘per’ and the prefix ‘pre’. As with all prefixes the prefix should not be stressed.

Prescription /prəˈscrɪpʃən/ not /pəˈscrɪpʃən/