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How to pronounce difficult words in English

English can be a challenging language when it comes to pronunciation. With diverse influences and origins, many words simply don’t follow the standard rules of vowel and consonant sounds. If you’ve ever found yourself stumbling over a jumble of letters, unsure of how to pronounce a particular word out loud, you’re not alone! Here are some tips to help you tackle those pronunciation puzzles:

Start With the Roots Many difficult English words have roots in other languages like Latin, Greek, or French. Understanding the origin can provide clues on vowel sounds and syllable stress. Words with Latin roots (like “pronunciation”) often put stress on the syllable before the second-to-last consonant.

How to pronounce difficult words in English
How to pronounce difficult words in English

Listen Closely and Repeat When you come across a new tricky word, repeat it out loud several times while really focusing on the way it’s pronounced. Hearing the vowel and consonant sounds can help cement them in your memory better than just reading the spelling.

Use Online Resources With so many free pronunciation tools on the internet, you can quickly look up the proper way to say a word. Check reputable dictionaries with audio pronunciation samples or use text-to-speech apps to have unknown words read aloud.

Break It into Syllables Polysyllabic words with lots of consonant blends like “strengthen” or “catastrophe” can be overwhelming. Try breaking them down into syllables and practicing each chunk individually: strength-en, ca-tas-tro-phe.

Here are some examples of difficult English words along with tips on how to pronounce them:

Choir

  • Pronounced “kwi-yer”
  • Don’t pronounce the “ch” like the “ch” in “chair”
  • Listen for the “w” consonant sound after the “k” vowel

Rendezvous

  • Pronounced “rahn-day-voo”
  • The “ous” ending sounds like “oo”
  • Stress is on the second syllable “day”

Salmon

  • Pronounced like “sam-un”
  • The “l” is silent
  • Be careful not to pronounce the “l”

Wednesday

  • Pronounced “wenz-day”
  • The “d” sounds like a soft “d”
  • Don’t pronounce the “ed” ending

Isthmus

  • Pronounced “iss-muss”
  • Stress the first syllable “iss”
  • The “th” makes a hissing “s” sound

Phlegm

  • Pronounced “flem”
  • The “ph” makes a hard “f” sound
  • Drop the “gh” entirely

Homage

  • Pronounced “hom-ij”
  • Don’t pronounce the “e” at the end
  • Accent is on the first syllable “hom”

Drought

  • Pronounced “drowt”
  • Drop the “ugh” ending
  • Sounds like “drow” as in “throw”

Quinoa

  • Pronounced “keen-wah”
  • The “qui” sounds like “kee”
  • Accent is on the first part

The key things that can help are breaking words into syllables, listening for unusual letter combinations, and practicing words out loud. Looking up pronunciations in dictionaries or using text-to-speech can also be very useful. With time and exposure, pronouncing tricky English words will become more natural.

Learn Patterns and Rules Although English has abundant irregularities, there are some conventions that can help with pronunciation. Words with a silent “b” like “crumb” or a silent “k” like “knee” often follow certain spelling patterns. The more you expose yourself to these rules, the more automatic correct pronunciations become.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask If you’re still unsure how to pronounce a specific word, don’t hesitate to ask a language partner, teacher, or even a virtual assistant. Getting that feedback can save you from fossilizing an incorrect pronunciation.

The most important things are to have patience with yourself and lots of practice. Even native English speakers occasionally stumble over irregular spellings and unfamiliar loanwords. Remember, clear pronunciation develops over time, so stay committed to improving. The more you push through difficult words, the more confident you’ll become.

Bonus TIP:

Here are some tips for properly pronouncing the word “lasagne”:

Lasagne is an Italian word, so the pronunciation follows Italian rules rather than English rules.

The correct pronunciation is: lah-zahn-yeh

Breaking it down:

Lah – The “la” makes an “ah” vowel sound, like the a in “father”

zahn – The “gn” combination makes a “ny” sound, like the “gn” in “cignon”

yeh – The “e” at the end makes a “yeh” sound

So it’s three distinct syllables: lah-zahn-yeh

The biggest mistake English speakers make is pronouncing the “gn” like the “gn” in “gnat”. In Italian, this letter combination makes that “ny” sound instead.

Another common error is stressing the wrong syllable. The stress should be on the first syllable “lah”.

You’ll also sometimes hear people drop the final “e” and say “lah-zahn-yuh”, which is not quite correct in Italian.

Listening to native Italian speakers say the word can really help cement the proper lasagne pronunciation. Just remember lah-zahn-yeh, with that distinct “ny” sound for the “gn”.

Catch you soon in my upcoming English blogs,

Janet

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