At this stage I’ve lived in an English speaking country for more than 12 years, and I can call myself an English speaker for more than that because I was speaking the language long before I came to Ireland all those years ago.
Anyway, having been an English speaker for so long doesn’t mean my language is free from errors.
Every now and then I realize I’ve been making some sort of a mistake.
It might be a specific English word that I’ve been using wrong.
A couple of weeks ago, for example, I found out that the English word “deal-breaker” has a negative connotation rather than a positive one!
I thought that if something is a “deal-breaker”, it’s the most appealing feature among all others, but it turns out it’s quite the opposite – a “deal-breaker” is the biggest risk factor!
It could also be an English idiomatic expression I’ve been using the wrong way.
Only this week I found out that the idiom “rule of thumb” doesn’t actually mean a very strict rule – which is what I’d thought – it actually means a general rule that can be widely applied.
On some occasions though, it turns out I’ve been MISPRONOUNCING a specific word for years without realizing it, and that’s what today’s article is all about!
Before we begin, just let me tell you one thing – making these kinds of mistakes is completely normal!
I just do it as a normal part of my English improving process, and I warmly suggest you approach your own errors the same way!
And now, without further ado, let’s look at the English words I’d been mispronouncing without realizing it!
This is a good one – I was pronouncing the word “southern” as [saʊθərn] for years while in reality the pronunciation is totally different – [sʌðərn] – which makes it sound almost like the word “sudden”!
And I hope you can totally understand why one would think that “southern” should be pronounced as [saʊθərn] – it’s all because of the way “south” is pronounced!
Quite naturally, a lot of people assume that once “southern” is a derivative of “south”, it should be pronounced the same way, but in reality it’s not really the case.
It’s one of those English language irregularities, I guess, so – if you’re also pronouncing it as [saʊθərn] – change it to [sʌðərn].
And, if you find it difficult, imagine it’s the word “sudden” you have to pronounce. I bet it’s going to make it easier for you!
Ironically enough, I was pronouncing the word “pronunciation” this way: [prəˌnaʊnsiˈeɪʃn] – and as a matter of fact, plenty of us, foreigners, pronounce it the same way!
The correct pronunciation of the word pronunciation is [prəˌnʌnsiˈeɪʃn] – and now I’m making sure to put emphasis on the second syllable by pronouncing it just like I would the word “nun”.
And here’s my take on why we tend to pronounce this word wrong.
It’s because of the way the verb “to pronounce” is pronounced – [prəˈnaʊns] – so again, we tend to believe all derivatives should be pronounced the same way.
Unfortunately, English isn’t a regular language, so we have to deal with such oddities from time to time!
This English word is perhaps not as common as the previous ones, and I’m pretty sure I’ve come across this particular word only as part of the following collocation – “finite recourses” – which means “limited recourses” otherwise known as “non-renewable resources”.
The funny thing is that I hadn’t heard this particular English word spoken out loud by anyone, so I had always assumed that it’s pronounced the following way: [finət].
I mean – if we go by the logic that the word “definite” is the opposite to “finite”, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be pronounced the same way, right?
Guess what? Turns out that sometimes there’s no logic in English pronunciation, and in case you’re wondering how the word “finite” is pronounced, then here’s the answer – [faɪnaɪt].
Yes, I know it makes no sense, but that’s the way it is! And, to make it easier for you to get to grips with pronouncing this word, here’s a little trick.
Say “fine night” – it’s exactly how the word “finite” is pronounced!
You may not believe it at first, but I only found out NOW that the word “almond” is pronounced [ɑːmənd]! Not only the letter ‘L’ is silent, but you also have to stretch the ‘A’ sound!
Now that’s a real surprise to me – I mean, I was convinced that this word is pronounced [almond]!
Quite obviously, this English word falls under the same category of words where the letter ‘L’ is silent such as “salmon” [sæmən] or “balm” [bɑːm], but the funny thing is that I wasn’t aware of that until today when doing a research for this article – that’s when I stumbled across this word.
Isn’t that mad?
There was a time when I pronounced the word “height” the following way – [heɪt].
And if you think about it, it actually makes sense! Let’s take another measurement related English word – “weight”. This word is pronounced [weɪt], so I was thinking that “height” is pronounced the very same way, only the first letter has to be swapped for ‘H’.
Little did I know back then that irregularities are commonplace in the English language, and it’s best to check pronunciation of English words before making any assumptions about it!
It this particular case, spelling of the word “height” makes it a bit confusing.
The word is pronounced [haɪt], so it kind of makes the letter ‘E’ redundant, I mean – if it was spelled “hight”, it would make an awful lot more sense, wouldn’t it? Especially considering the word “high” is a perfectly valid word, so why didn’t they attach the letter ‘T’ to it just the way they did with words “weigh” and “weight”?
Well, I guess it’s one of those rhetorical questions that will never get answered…
I clearly remember the moment my then workmate Will pointed out that the word “cruise” is pronounced [kruːz] instead of [kruːɪ:z] – and, of course, I took his advice on board and I’ve been pronouncing this word properly ever since.
If you asked me why I’d been pronouncing the letter ‘I’ in “cruise”, the answer would be quite simple – it’s pronounced that way in my native language!
And this clearly illustrates another confusing aspect of English pronunciation, namely – if a particular word’s spelling resembles its pronunciation in your native language, you are led to believe that it’s pronounced just like in your native language.
Well, obviously it’s not always the case, so don’t forget English spelling always has the ability to surprise you by being completely different from the way the particular word is actually pronounced!
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Now, obviously this list barely scratches the surface of all the words that we, foreigners, may find difficult to pronounce – in fact, there’s hundreds of such words and I don’t doubt for a second there’s more of them that I pronounce incorrectly to this day.
But I never intended this article to contain a comprehensive list of such words anyway – all I wanted was to show you guys that no matter how advanced your English may be, there’s still plenty of room for error!
And what about you?
What English words have you been mispronouncing?
Please, let me know in the comments section below!
P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!
P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!