If English is not your native language, you may be pronouncing some of our really common words incorrectly. If you want to speak English so that everyone understands what you say the first time, it’s important to pronounce these super common words correctly. In this article and the accompanying videos, I will be giving you the American English pronunciation for these words. Note that in several of them, you’ll find the British pronunciation to be different. I have chosen the following words based on my experience working with non-native English speakers over the years.
For each of the ten words listed, I have created a detailed Youtube video to teach you exactly how to pronounce the word and each of its difficult sounds. To see a video, just click on the link next to the word. And please subscribe to my Youtube Channel and click on the little bell icon to receive notifications of when new videos are posted. I post new lessons each week, and you won’t want to miss any of them.
First, here are three relatively easy to pronounce words. The issue many people have is that they have silent letters.
1. Island – silent S. Pronounce it like this: AI lənd. The A in land is pronounced as a schwa since land is a weak syllable. If you’re not familiar with the schwa, check out my video on that as well: https://youtu.be/YcRiskgHjek Island: https://youtu.be/fO5zqFADJOc
2. Would – silent L. In addition, the OU is pronounced like the OO in “book” or “good”. This word sounds identical to the word “wood”. https://youtu.be/-ZB3uF8oXYk
3. Whole – silent W. This word is pronounced exactly the same as “hole”. In addition, there is one other tricky part: the pronunciation of the L. It is both a dark L and a syllabic L. A dark L is used after vowel sounds in English. For this L variety, the back of your tongue, as well as the tip, needs to touch the roof of your mouth. The easiest way to do this is to just close your mouth when you say the L sound, so your whole tongue touches the roof of your mouth. In addition, the L here forms an extra syllable by itself, so “whole” and “hole” sound like two syllables: HO əl. https://youtu.be/rr0nMxzM3zU The following two words look a lot more difficult than they are to pronounce:
4. Pizza – How do you pronounce a double Z in English? That’s something you don’t see very often. This word really isn’t too hard. The first syllable sounds like the name “Pete”, and the second syllable is pronounced like the “su” in sun. It sounds like this: PETE su. There are no Z sounds at all. https://youtu.be/pSZ7erHNc8c
5. Clothes – This word is much more difficult in British English. But lucky for you, we’re talking about American English today. The pronunciation is super easy. It’s exactly the same as “close” as in “Close the door”. Please not that in both “close” and “clothes”, the final S is voiced. It’s pronounced like a Z. https://youtu.be/QoFYSwuDmbA
The words in the next group are probably truly hard to pronounce for you because they contain sounds that are usually problematic for people whose native language is not English. And sometimes there are even two or three problem sounds in a word. With a little instruction and a lot of practice, you can learn to say each of these correctly.
6. Water – Several non-native speakers living in the U.S. have asked me how to pronounce this. They tell me that when they ask for water in a restaurant, their server never understands what they want. If you’re in North America, make sure not to use the British pronunciation with hard T and missing R. The middle T is pronounced as a d and make sure to fully pronounce the ER. This very American sound is so fundamental to correct pronunciation. If you are not pronouncing it correctly, it will give you a heavy accent, or worse, make many words unintelligible. Note that all the words 6-10 in this list include this common sound. Spend some time to master it. Check out my ER video here: https://youtu.be/HByKhq6s95Y Water: https://youtu.be/oOtQzbnK8rQ
7. Tired – This is a weird one. Similar to #3 above, it contains a syllabic consonant. The R here forms a syllable by itself with no vowel sound. And don’t be fooled by the ED ending. We usually don’t pronounce the E in that ending. Pronounce this word as TAI erd. There’s that ER again, and it’s followed immediately by a D. Make sure you don’t forget to pronounce both sounds. Blend them smoothly together. https://youtu.be/-geqNWyTPMI
8. Theater – You may think the TH is the most difficult sound in this word, but it’s more complicated than that. This word has 3 syllables. Make sure the first syllable is stressed. Say it longer and longer than the others. Reduce the A in the middle to a fast, quiet schwa and fully pronounce the ER sound. There it is again! And one more thing: the T is a flap – pronounce it as a D. Say it like this: THE ə der https://youtu.be/0oF_fPSZ748
9. Girl – What gives a lot of people trouble here is the ER and L right next to each other. Another thing to note is the dark L which is also a syllabic L, just “whole/hole” in #3. To pronounce it, put your entire tongue to the roof of your mouth, and make the word two syllables instead of one. GER əl. https://youtu.be/klRDWaieRMA
10. World – This may be the hardest common word for many non-native speakers. It is really similar to “girl”. It has exactly the same two issues with ER and L, but adds another issue. You need to add another consonant sound to the end of the word. And ending consonants, especially clusters, can be a big challenge for many non-native English speakers. Fortunately, adding a D sound to an L sound is not so difficult, since your tongue tip is in the same place for both L and D. Just make sure to smoothly blend those two sounds together. Pronounce it like this: WER əld. https://youtu.be/yc1lKDIdXjg
Are the above words difficult for you to pronounce? What common English words would you add to the list of the most difficult to pronounce? Please let me know in the comments section below, so I can make a video for you.