Free English Lessons

How to Pronounce Difficult Words in English – Video Lesson

by Oli Redman on 14 February, 2017 , No comments

We’ve got a challenge for you. Read this sentence aloud, as fast as you can: “The Worcestershire rural brewery queue is the sixth longest in the world.” Could you read the sentence quickly and fluently? There are many difficult words to pronounce in this sentence.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how to pronounce these and other difficult words in English. You’ll see what makes some words difficult to pronounce in English, and how you can train your pronunciation so that you can pronounce all of these words easily!

1. How to Pronounce World

Try saying word.

Now, say world.

Many English learners can say word easily, but world is more difficult. Why? The only difference between the words is the /l/ sound.

  • word /wɜːd/
  • world /wɜːld/

Actually, the /l/ makes a big difference. Let’s see why.

To say /l/, you probably know that your tongue needs to touch the top of your mouth.

However, there are many different ways to pronounce /l/. You can use the tip of your tongue or the blade (the wider part). You can touch the top of your mouth just behind your teeth, or you can touch further back.

Different languages produce /l/ sounds slightly differently.

The English /l/ is pronounced using the tip of your tongue, touching near the front of your mouth (just above and behind your top teeth.

For most English words, it doesn’t matter so much how you pronounce /l/. However, if you produce /l/ differently from a native speaker, you’ll have real problems with the word world.

To say world, first say /w/ and /ɜː/.

When you pronounce /ɜː/, your tongue should be relaxed, lying on the bottom of your mouth.

Next, the tip of your tongue moves up and touches the top of your mouth just above and behind your top teeth. Don’t use the blade of your tongue, and don’t pull your tongue back. If you do, you won’t be able to move between the two sounds.

Remember, just use the tip of your tongue, and move it slightly upwards to touch the top of your mouth.

If you get it right, your tongue should be in the right position to pronounce the /d/ sound without moving. This means you can move smoothly between /l/ and /d/.

If you have to move your tongue between pronouncing /l/ and /d/, then your tongue is too far back.

Try saying the /d/ sound. Can you feel where your tongue is? This is where your tongue should be to pronounce /l/.

When you say the word correctly, it’s a very small movement between /ɜː/, /l/ and /d/. Try one more time:

How’s that? Can you do it at natural speed?

Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce it correctly straight away. Start by pronouncing it really slowly, and focus on the movement between /ɜː/, /l/ and /d/.

Remember that your tongue should not move at all between /l/ and /d/.

When you can produce the movement correctly, start to increase the speed.

Here are some other words you can practice with. These words have the same sound combination:

  • curled
  • hurled
  • unfurled

Okay, one down. What’s next?

2. How to Pronounce Fifth

Ordinal numbers, like fifth, sixth or eighth can be especially difficult to pronounce for non-native speakers.

Why is that?

In all of these words, you have a lot of consonants together. Look at the phonetics:

  • fifth /fɪfθ/
  • sixth /sɪksθ/
  • eighth /eɪtθ/

In particular, you have to combine different consonants with the /θ/ sound.

First of all, you should be comfortable with the /θ/ sound before you practice this. Say this sentence:

  • The third thing is that both therapists think Theo’s teeth are thoroughly filthy.

Can you pronounce /θ/ easily? If not, pause the video, practice this sentence, and focus on /θ/.

Okay? Let’s look at how you can combine /θ/ with other consonants.

We’ll start with fifth.

Can you work out what’s happening here?

As you release the /f/ sound, your tongue needs to move between your teeth to produce the /θ/ sound.

The two movements—releasing the /f/ and pronouncing the /θ/–need to be very close together. There shouldn’t be any gap between them, otherwise you’ll add a vowel sound and pronounce the word incorrectly.

Try it slowly. Say fifth and hold the /f/ sound.

Next, as you release the /f/ by pulling your bottom lip down, push your tongue forward quickly so it’s between your teeth, and pronounce /θ/.

Remember, if it’s difficult, start slowly and focus on producing the movements accurately.

When it’s easier, try at a more natural speed.

Okay, but what about sixth?

The sound combination is different, but the principle is the same. Look at the phonetics for sixth.

  • sixth /sɪksθ/

You need to move from /s/ to /θ/ very quickly, without relaxing.

First, pronounce /s/.

Where’s your tongue? It’s just above and behind your top teeth.

To move from /s/ to /θ/, your tongue needs to slide forward and end between your teeth.

Your tongue should be touching the top of your mouth the whole time. Don’t relax and let your tongue move away from the top of your mouth. Otherwise, you’ll add a vowel sound and mispronounce the word.

Try it slowly. Say and hold /s/, then slide your tongue forward to pronounce /θ/, like this.

Practice this a few times until you can make the movement comfortably.

Next, let’s try the full word.

Let’s try at full speed.

Can you pronounce the sound combinations correctly? Remember, start slowly and train the movements.

What about eighth?

It’s the same idea.

Think about what happens when you say /t/. You put your tongue above your top teeth, you build pressure, then you move your tongue to release the pressure and release the sound.

Normally, after you say /t/, your tongue relaxes and finishes in the middle of your mouth.

When you say eighth, instead of relaxing your tongue, you need to release the /t/ so that your tongue finishes between your teeth and you can say /θ/.

A good way to think about this: imagine you want to ‘catch’ the /t/ sound between your teeth.

Let’s try slowly.

Remember, you want your tongue to go directly from /t/ to /θ/. Don’t let your tongue relax or pull back.

Let’s try at natural speed.

With all of these words, start slowly and train the movements. When you are comfortable with the movement, start trying to increase the speed.

On the other hand, if you can’t pronounce it correctly, slow down!

Focus on getting the sounds correct first. You can work on speed later.

Okay, let’s look at our next word:

3. How to Pronounce Rural

Can you say rural brewery? Many English learners say that these are some of the most difficult English words to pronounce correctly.

So what makes these words so difficult? Let’s look at the phonetics:

  • rural /rʊərəl/
  • brewery /brʊəri/

It’s the combination of the /r/ sound with the /ʊə/ vowel sound.

Remember in part one we talked about /l/ sounds? We said that there are different ways to produce an /l/ sound.

/r/ is the same. There are many ways to say /r/. For example, in Spanish (and many other languages), /r/ is produced by touching your tongue to the top of your mouth.

The English /r/ is produced differently. To say rural brewery, you need to produce /r/ in the English way. Otherwise, you’ll have a really bad time trying to say the words. It will make you angry.

So, let’s look at how to produce /r/ in an English way.

First, say /w/. If possible, practice with a mirror. You see the way your lips move? Your lips start closed, and then open to make the /w/ sound.

Next, try to curl your tongue up and back, towards the back of your mouth.

Very important: your tongue does not touch anything. It curls towards the top of your mouth, but it doesn’t touch the top of your mouth at all.

You can also pull the back of your tongue up towards the top of your mouth. It doesn’t matter whether you use the tip of your tongue or the back; you just need to pull your tongue towards the top of your mouth, but without touching it.

So, let’s go back to where we were: you’re trying to make a /w/ sound, but with your tongue pulled back and towards the top of your mouth. Your tongue should be tense.

Do all of this and try to make a /w/ sound.

If your tongue is in the right place, it will be difficult to say /w/ cleanly. You’ll produce a sound between /w/ and /r/.

Practice until your tongue is in the right place. Check by trying to say /w/. If you can say /w/ cleanly, your tongue isn’t where it should be.

Get your tongue in the right place, then try saying /r/ with a small movement of your lips.

So why are we doing all this?

To say rural or brewery fluently and correctly, you need to say them without moving your tongue–except at the end of rural where you need to move your tongue forward to pronounce /l/. This is the secret. If you move your tongue around, you won’t be able to connect the consonants and vowels smoothly.

In both words, your tongue stays pulled back, and your lips do most of the work.

However, your lips also shouldn’t move too much. If you open your mouth very wide, it’ll be hard to pronounce the words. You need to make small, minimal movements.

Do you see how little my lips move? Remember, your tongue needs to be pulled back and tense through the whole word, until you move forwards to pronounce /l/ at the end.

Pronounce /r/ with your lips, moving onto the round shape of /ʊ/, like this:

Relax the /ʊ/ sound to produce a schwa, but don’t move your lips too far:

Bring your lips together again, keeping your tongue pulled back, to produce another /r/ sound. Then relax to pronounce the second schwa, then move your tongue forwards to pronounce /l/:

Can you do it? Try it slowly.

Now let’s try a little faster.

What about brewery? You can use the same techniques. You need to move from /r/ to /ʊə/ and then back to /r/ again.

Again, you need to keep your tongue pulled back, and use small lip movements to produce the sounds.

If it’s difficult, you need to practice the /rʊər/ sound combination some more. Go back to rural and practice the steps to combine these sounds.

If it’s easy, great! Let’s try at natural speed.

Got it? Let’s move on to:

4. How to Pronounce Queue

In some ways, queue doesn’t belong in this lesson. It’s not actually difficult to pronounce: /kjʊː/

But, many English learners mispronounce it. Why? It’s because the spelling and the pronunciation are so different.

English is not a phonetic language. The same letter can make different sounds in different words, and different letters can have the same sound.

However, queue is an extreme example, which is why many English learners get confused and make mistakes.

Remember: letters and sounds are not the same thing in English! English spelling is not your friend. The spelling does not necessarily tell you how to pronounce a word, and in many cases it can be actively confusing.

What other words are like this?

The words choir /’kwaɪjə/ and throroughly /’θʌrəli/ are good examples, but there are many more.

What can you do? You have two choices: you can complain and make yourself angry at how illogical English spelling is, or you can learn phonetics.

Remember that in these words, the pronunciation itself is not generally difficult. If you have a problem, it’s almost always because the spelling is confusing.

Unlike English spelling, phonetics are logical and regular. Phonetics will never lie to you. Learn phonetics!

Or just get angry and complain. Your choice!

Okay, one last thing.

5. How to Pronounce Worcestershire

Similar to part four, the pronunciation of Worcestershire isn’t so difficult, but the spelling and pronunciation are not closely connected.

  • Worcestershire /’wʊstəʃə/

In particular, the word Worcestershire has a lot of silent letters. In fact, it’s only three syllables: /’wʊ-stə-ʃe/

However, I wanted to give this word its own section. Why? Because many English place names are like this: the pronunciation can be difficult to guess from the spelling.

For example, how would you pronounce these place names?

Pause the video and think about it if you want.

Ready? Let’s check:

  • Leicester /’lestə/
  • Warwick /’wɒrɪk/
  • Berkshire /’bɑːkʃə/
  • Salisbury /’sɒlzbri/

Did you guess the correct pronunciations? Again, you can see that the pronunciation doesn’t match the spelling at all.

Don’t worry if this is confusing. Many visitors from to the UK from other English-speaking countries also find it difficult!

Do you remember the sentence from the beginning of the lesson?

  • The Worcestershire rural brewery queue is the sixth longest in the world.

Try saying it. Has your pronunciation improved? I hope so! If not, just keep practicing. It can take time to get better.

That’s the end of the lesson. Thanks for watching. See you next time!

Oli RedmanHow to Pronounce Difficult Words in English – Video Lesson