For the purposes of this blog, we will need to review 2 very important kinds of sounds in English – consonants and vowels.
First, there are the ‘open’ voiced utterances that require no blockage of the mouth or throat. We call them vowel sounds. They are generally written as A,I,E,O,U sometimes Y. Those are just letters but sometimes letters can be represented by more than one sound. That’s why phonetic symbols are more precise. Symbols such as: æ ɑ ə ɛ ɪ i:
Some sounds are the results of blocking some area of the vocal cavity and either causing sibilance (hissing sounds), fricatives or plosives. These are generally accounted for by our consonants in English – B,C,D,F,G,H,K,L,M..etc.
It just so happens that English for one reason or other tends to favour a pattern of Consonant/Vowel C/V/C/V/C/V/C/V and so on. Words like banana, manager, and evasive seem to be very English-friendly in terms of their pronunciation. Words that tend to have tricky consonant clusters are not. Words such as clothes, firsts and strangling, while still English words, do not fall off the tongue as easily as the former examples.
Below is a small list of words in English that are really a pain in the neck to try and pronounce correctly even for native speakers.
The cluster of consonants, in the beginning, isn’t nearly as bad as the 4 consonant sounds that come at the end. N-G-TH-S . There aren’t many words in English that can support more consonants clustered together than that. I’m sure that it’s got to be a kind of a record. Perhaps British royalty would take the time and attention to enunciate every consonant properly but most native speakers just pronounce it as something more approximating /strenx/
This is a bit tricky but, what’s more, it has no relative connection to the way it is spelt whatsoever. So how is it pronounced? Pretend you’re saying ‘What’s this here?’ really quickly – That’s the correct amount of syllables but in fact it’s pronounced WORST –uh – SURE. You can effectively ignore the CESTER in the middle of the word. English is great, isn’t it?
Many people internationally have difficulty first and foremost deciding how many syllables this word should have. On www.forvo.com the great pronunciation website that shows you a map you can use to see how words are pronounced in different English speaking parts of the world, there seems to be no agreement as to whether COMFORTABLE has 3 syllables or 4. In the former, it sounds like /Komft uh buhl/ in the latter – /Kom fuh tuh buhl/. About 80-85% of search results suggest the 4 syllable option. Nevertheless what ends up happening with this fascinating conundrum is that the first syllable is stressed and the last three syllables can be just mumbled out. /KOM-f’t’bl/
English ‘R is very strange. Every language treats the letter R a bit differently. Some languages trill it and kind of flutter the tongue. Some languages pronounce it deep at the back of the throat. Indian English uses a retroflex R which bends the tongue up and back to the roof of the mouth. But English R is rhotic meaning the tongue falls low in the centre-bottom of the mouth. It is a difficult sound and thusly it is often one of the last sounds children learn to make. Until they actually get it, they will often substitute a ‘W’ in its place. “Mommy mommy, it’s waining. “ (It’s raining) The combination of the Ls and rhotic R in this particular word make it extremely difficult to say.
Okay, so this is not one word but it is worth mentioning as it seems to have a few issues. Along with the tricky combination of rhotic Rs and Ls there is also the long i: vowel following by another vowel sound, which although it is also spelt ‘EA’ it has a completely different pronunciation. The first word contains a sound like i: like in the word ‘SEE’ the second EA is pronounced like the letter ‘I’ in the word GIRL. Try saying this one over and over really quickly. It’s a great exercise.
So there you have five tricky words to pronounce in English. What words do you really have difficulty saying in English? Let us know in the comments below.