This is a double episode with two audio episodes on one page, and it’s going to be really useful for you because it’s all about difficult pronunciation in English. Listen to Paul Taylor and me discussing the tricky relationship between spelling and pronunciation. There are lots of jokes, impressions, funny accents and useful comments about this important area of the English language. Use this episode to avoid some very common mistakes in English pronunciation, and try not to laugh on the bus while you’re listening! Check this episode page for word lists, transcriptions and my video of 40+ difficult words to pronounce in English.
I’m doing another talk on the topic of humour at the British Council in Paris on 19 October. It is also being live-streamed on Facebook. Details below.
Click here for the British Council France Facebook Page for the live stream – Thursday 19 October at 19:00 Paris time (CET).
Difficult Words to Pronounce in English: Notes, Word Lists and That Useful Video (below)
- Focus /fəʊkəs/
- Sting /stɪŋ/
- Boy George /bɔɪ ʤɔːʤ/
- Spandau Ballet /spændɑː bæleɪ/
What problems do French people have with pronunciation in English?
- /h/ sounds
- /th/ sounds
Part 1 ends here… Part 2 continues below!
- /r/ sounds
- Some vowel sounds, particularly certain ‘long’ and ‘short’ sounds, such as…
bitch” /i/ and “beach” /i:/
shit” /i/ and “sheet” /i:/
- voiced and unvoiced sounds
- Paul’s “how to beatbox” with boots and cats
The words & phrases from the TOPITO article – “The Most Difficult Words to Pronounce in English – the hell of /th/ sounds“
1. I have a sore throat
10. William Wordsworth
The TOPITO article (it’s in French by the way) http://www.topito.com/top-trucs-durs-dire-anglais
An academic “focus” on French people speaking English, from Frankfurt University
There are some differences in the sound systems of the two languages that can cause French learners problems of comprehension and speech production. Spelling errors may result from the frequent lack of correspondence between the pronunciation of English words and their spelling.
A typical pronunciation problem is the inability to correctly articulate the vowel sounds in minimal pairs such as ship / sheep, live / leave, full / fool. Because the tip of the tongue is not used in speaking French, learners often have problems with words containing the letters th (/θ/ /ð/), such as then, think and clothes.
Another common feature of English spoken by French learners is the omission of the /h/ sound at the beginning of words. This sound does not exist in French and leads to problems such as ‘Ave you ‘eard about ‘arry?, or overcompensation by pronouncing the /h/ in words like hour, honour.
French learners typically have problems with the unpredictable stress patterns of English words, particularly of cognates. (Word stress in French is regular.) Learners may also be unwilling to engage in the prevalent vowel reduction of unstressed syllables in English. Consider, for example, the way that English native speakers swallow the first syllable of the word tomorrow (t’morrow). These problems result in the stereotypical staccato French accent of beginning learners.
From Frankfurt International School Website http://esl.fis.edu/grammar/langdiff/french.htm
/th/ can be voiced [ð] or unvoiced [θ]
A quick guide to producing TH sounds:
- Stick tongue out slightly
- Let air pass under/through teeth and over the tongue
- You don’t need your lips!
- It’s not /f/ /s/ /d/ /v/ or /z/
- It’s [ð] (voiced) or [θ] (unvoiced)
Watch my video (below) for more help with /th/ sounds.
More words which learners often find difficult to pronounce
- Architecture /ˈɑː.kɪ.tek.tʃər/
- architectural /ˌɑː.kɪˈtek.tʃər.əl/
- Drawer /drɔː/
- Colonel /ˈkəːn(ə)l/
- Comfortable /ˈkʌmftəbəl/
- Pronunciation /prənʌnsɪˈeɪʃən/
- Recipe /ˈresɪpi:/
- Scissors /ˈsɪzəz/
- Strengths /streŋkθs/
- Clothes /kləʊðz/
- Eighth /eɪtθs/
- Queue /kjuː/
- Fruit /fruːt/
- Sixteenth /sɪkˈstiːnθ/
- Eighteenth /eɪˈtiːnθ/
“Ghoti” is pronounced “fish” (is it?)
This is an old attempt to prove that English spelling makes no sense. Note: David Crystal doesn’t agree.
David Crystal disagrees with this “ghoti” (See below)
Some Words with Silent Letters
- government (ok, so the ‘n’ isn’t really silent, but this word has 3 syllables, not 4)
More here: https://mywords.cle.ust.hk/sir/silent_words.php
- Business /ˈbɪznɪs/ or /ˈbɪznəs/
- Busy /ˈbɪzi:/
- Derby (place and a horse race) /ˈdɑːbi:/
L/R (Often difficult for Japanese speakers, or people from East Asia in general)
- Roller coaster
- Red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry
- Luke (correct) /lu:k/
- Mr Luck (the most common wrong version, especially in writing)
- Teacher luck pot cat? (teacher luke podcast)
- Mr Luke (still not correct – it’s just “Luke” or “Mr Thompson”, although Moz called me Mr Luke as a sort of joke)
- Often pronounced “Tom-sun” in France
- and pronounced “Tom-pu-son” in Japan
Some rude or funny tongue twisters read by Paul and me
She sells sea shells on the sea shore.
Red lorry yellow lorry red lorry yellow lorry…
I’m the pheasant plucker’s mate.
I am only plucking pheasants
Because the pheasant plucker’s late.
and on the slitted sheet I sit.
Two smart fellows; they felt smart.
Three smart fellows; they all felt smart.
Nor the fig pluckers’ son,
But I’ll pluck figs
Till the fig plucker comes.
Not a punt cut square,
Just a square cut punt.
It’s round in the stern and blunt in the front.
Mrs Puggy Wuggy has a square cut punt.
(don’t say “
cunt” – really, don’t say that word, it is extremely rude)
The shells she sells are surely seashells.
So if she sells shells on the seashore,
I’m sure she sells seashore shells.
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
He would chuck, he would, as much as he could,
And chuck as much as a woodchuck would
If a woodchuck could chuck wood.
Betty Botta bought some butter;
“But,” said she, “this butter’s bitter!
If I put it in my batter
It will make my batter bitter.
But a bit o’ better butter
Will make my batter better.”
Then she bought a bit o’ butter
Better than the bitter butter,
Made her bitter batter better.
So it was better Betty Botta
Bought a bit o’ better butter.
Pronunciation practice – repeat after me!
There’s no quiz for this episode – instead I thought I’d make a video so you can practise your pronunciation by repeating after me. Word list with definitions below.
Word List + examples [The definitions are in brackets]
- Sore throat – I’ve got a sore throat today [a painful throat, because you have a cold]
- Squirrel – I saw three squirrels in the park [cute little animals with bushy tails that live in the park]
- Throughout – Squirrels live in this park throughout the year [all the way through]
- Bewildered – I was bewildered by all the options [confused]
- Hierarchy – There’s a flat hierarchy in our company [a system of levels]
- Anaesthetist/Anaesthetise – It’s the job of the anaesthetist to anaesthetise the patients with an anaesthetic [to give someone an anaesthetic – something which stops you feeling pain]
- Threshold – If you earn more than £70,000 you enter the next tax threshold [a level or point where something ends and something else begins]
- Worthlessly – I was worthlessly trying to impress her by showing off [in a worthless way – with no worth or no point]
- Pass the Worcestershire sauce, would you? [a kind of brown sauce for giving flavour to food]
- William Wordsworth was a wonderful writer
- live / leave – You have to live a little before you leave this world
- ship / sheep – we put all the sheep onto the ship, so the ship was full of sheep
- full / fool – The room is full you fool!
- Architecture – I love the architecture
- Architectural – The architectural style is fascinating
- Drawer – The knives and forks are in the top drawer on the left [for example, where you keep the knives and forks in the kitchen]
- Colonel – Colonel Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken [a senior officer in the army]
- Kernel – Pine kernels can be a delicious addition to a salad [a nut]
- Comfortable – Are you comfortable? Would you like a pillow?
- Pronunciation is important. You have to pronounce words properly.
- Recipe – Can you give me that delicious cake recipe? / This is a recipe for disaster! [the instructions for how to make certain food]
- Scissors – Do you know where the scissors are? [a tool for cutting paper or fabric]
- Strengths – What are your strengths and weaknesses? [strong points]
- Clothes – I bought some new clothes today.
- Months – She’s 18 months old now.
- Eighth – Henry the Eighth was a Tudor king of England
- Queue – Sorry, are you in the queue? Are you skipping the queue? Sorry, the end of the queue is back there. Yes, we’re all queueing up, we’re not just standing here. Unbelievable. [a line of people waiting for something]
- Fruit – Do you have any fresh fruit?
- Sixteenth – It’s the sixteenth of October
- Eighteenth – It’s the eighteenth of November
- Thirteenth – it’s Friday the thirteenth
- Thirtieth – it’s the thirtieth of December
- Bomb – There was a bomb scare in the station. People were talking about a bombing. I remember when the IRA bombed Oxford Street. [an explosive device]
- Climb – Do you want to go climbing with me next weekend? I’m going to climb that mountain on Saturday. You climbed it last year didn’t you? [to go up something steep like a ladder, a hill or a mountain]
- Comb – I’m just combing my hair with a comb. [something that you use to make your hair straight]
- Crumb – Why are there lots of bread crumbs on the table? Have you been cutting bread here? There are lots of crumbs everywhere. Can you clean them up please? [little bits of bread or other food]
- Debt – (Many students leave university with) thousands of pounds of debt. [money which you have to pay back to someone after you borrow it]
- Doubt – There’s no doubt about it. It’s a brilliant film. [something you’re unsure about]
- Government (ok, so the ‘n’ isn’t really silent, but this word has 3 syllables, not 4) The government is yet to make a statement.
- My name is Luke (not Mr Luck) Thompson
- This is a podcast – not a postcard, or potcard, or pot cast or pot cat. It’s podcast.
See Paul’s One Man Show #Franglais – http://paultaylorcomedy.com/
By the way, if you’re in France, you really should see Paul’s one man show called #Franglais because it is back in theatres for another run. A lot of the comedy in his show is based around pronunciation differences, including the way people say his name, the way French people say funny things without realising it and more. Check out paultaylorcomedy.com for more information.
Here’s David Crystal’s response to “GHOTI” = FISH
Remember that thing that goes around the internet about how “Fish” should be spelled GHOTI?
Basically David Crystal believes that English spelling is not actually senseless, chaotic or mad. It is complex but it’s not completely random. In fact it is the end result of a fascinating process of development that can tell us a lot about the rich history of the English language.
From a Guardian review of his book “Spell It Out”
‘Crystal shows a brisk impatience with the tradition that likes to pretend that English spelling is senseless. The famous suggestion that you could spell “fish” “ghoti” (gh as in “rough”, o as in “women” and ti as in “motion”) is a witticism often ascribed to George Bernard Shaw but, Crystal says witheringly, has been doing the rounds since the middle of the 19th century. It is, he argues “complete naughtiness. The spelling ti is NEVER used with this sound at the end of a word in English, and the spelling gh is NEVER used with this sound at the beginning of a word.” It doesn’t do, then, to simply throw your hands up and say: “Isn’t our language mad?” The real story is much more interesting than that.’ https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/sep/14/spell-it-out-david-crystal-review
You can read more about the interesting story of English spelling and what it can teach us about the history of the English language by reading David Crystal’s book “Spell It Out”, which I expect is available from any half-decent book shop.
So, that’s it for this double episode then, thanks for listening!
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