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11 Tricky Words to Pronounce in English: When Language Leaves You Speechless

  [caption id="attachment_3183" align="aligncenter" width="625"]Rolled tongue flikr” de Gideon Tsang from Austin, USA - rolled tongue. Sub licență CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. "Rolled tongue flikr” de Gideon Tsang from Austin, USA - rolled tongue. Sub licență CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.[/caption] English pronunciation is the language world’s Cirque du Soleil with the way it often twists and turns and ties your tongue in a knot. As native speakers of the glorious land mine that is the English language, please let us assure you: the pronunciation confuses us too.

Dating profile of the letter c

Imagine, if you will, what would happen if you let the letter c loose on Tinder.

Hey there, I’m looking for some noncommittal fun! There’ll always be a third wheel in our relationship but I’m so flexible you’ll love me anyway. I can be strong, weak, or even silent depending on what you want from me and who we’re with. I’ll slither like a snake when I’m in the company of a voluptuous vowel, but put me next to a consonant and who knows what crazy shenanigans I might get up to – call me!

Okay. Perhaps this wouldn’t make a very good dating profile but hey, we’re language and travel people, not dating profile professionals. But given how difficult it is to get to grips with the seemingly always changing pronunciation of our lovely English language, who knows: perhaps this is exactly what the letter c would say if it were given a voice! We’re not singling out c especially after a bad break up but let’s face it, we’ve all known one of these characters in our time. We’re not bitter. But we’re not above internet shaming either...

Tongue Twisting

In a recent Independent article based on a Reddit thread, ten words were voted the most difficult English words to pronounce. See if you agree. Like all us Brits, the words we say (at least, the way we write them) are not always exactly what we mean (or how we say them).

1. Rural

bale-191199_1280 Say what you see: Roo-r-al. What we really mean is: Sounds like a meek lion having a yawn. /ˈrʊərəl/ Put it into practice: Uttlesford is a popular rural place to live (according to a study done by Halifax, at least)

2. Jewellery

gemstone-665698_1280 Say what you see: Yes, we know, this is the word as written by us lovely Brits, instead of the jewelry used by the Americans. Perhaps our way is more difficult to write but it’s pronounced the same… we’re awkward, we know. jew-ell-er-ree What we really mean is: jule-ree /dʒuəlri/ Put it into practice: I might have to sell my jewellery to pay for my English lessons...

3. Colonel

Colonel Sanders Say what you see: Col-o-nel. What we really mean is: Kernel. As in peanut. /ˈkɜːnl/ Put it into practice: The colonel has a secret recipe.

4. Spaghetti

pasta-503952_1280 Say what you see: Spag-het-tea. What we really mean is: Spag-et-tea /spəgɛti/ It’s not a surprise that so many people actually pronounce this as basketti instead! Put it into practice: ‘I’ll have the spaghetti bolognese, please.’

5. Penguin

penguins-429128_1280 Say what you see: Who knows? pen-goo-win? Pen-g-you-in? What we really mean is: Pen-g-win. With the g and w said in a rush. /ˈpɛŋgwɪn/ Oh, Benedict. We love you but fear you will never live this down: Put it into practice: Penguins can’t fly. But they’re pretty good at dancing. Honest.

6. Brewery

alcohol-21938_1280 Say what you see: Brew-er-ee What we really mean is: Well. Perhaps we spend a little too much time at the pub but this one doesn’t seem so bad… Br-oo-er--ree /bruəri/ Put it into practice: You won’t find a pint of Baileys at the brewery!

7. Anemone

sea-anemone-4907_1280 Say what you see: It looks like it could be pronounced like ‘alimony’. Or ‘maintenance’, if you’re from the UK. What we really mean is: ah-nem-oh-nee /əˈnɛməni/ Put it into practice: Help! I have an anemone on my knee!

8. Squirrel

animal-17854_1280 Say what you see: Where do you start. Skew-ir-rell? What we really mean is: skwirrul /ˈskwɪrəl/ Not like this: Put it into practice: I squirreled away a little money so I can go to Times Square.

9. Drawer

cupboard-349935_1280 Say what you see: Draw-er This one is most often confused when you see the phrase ‘chest of drawers’. What we really mean is: Draw. Forget the er altogether! /drɔr/ Put it into practice: ‘Can you put these onesies away in the drawer? I don’t want anyone to see...’

10. Choir

czech-republic-92452_1280 Say what you see: Cheese-oi-are? What we really mean is: K-w-y-uh or k-wire /ˈkwaɪə/ Put it into practice: Pronunciation is difficult? You’re preaching to the choir on that one.

11. Colloquial

skateboarding-498298_1280 Say what you see: Col-lo-kwee-al What we really mean is: /kəlokwiəl/ Put it into practice: ‘You can’t use that in an exam, it’s a colloquial expression, it's way too informal!’

Beyond pronunciation

Of course, there’s more to pronunciation than making it sound right. There are all sorts of stresses to consider, emphasis, turning a statement into a question with the intonation of your voice; the list feels endless. English has such a variety of dialect, pronunciation, and accents that while native speakers relish the banter between countries and even counties, the English learner can feel like they’ve been given the punch line but not told the joke. Which is why having a tutor is so important, to interpret the joke that English can be and have you doubled over in double-entendres before the day is done. If you’d like a joke deciphering, reassurance that English is worth the confusion, or just some guidance in your chosen language, contact us for courses in your area!