Problems with pronunciation


With many languages you can look at a word and know (more or less) how to pronounce it. With English this is not true: it is often very difficult to know the pronunciation from looking at a word. For example:
cough (pronounced like ‘off’) enough (like ‘stuff’) through (like ‘too’) and dough (like ‘so’)
The only way you can be sure about the pronunciation is to learn some phonetic symbols which tell you the pronunciation. Dictionaries use them, and there is a table of phonetic symbols, with examples, . Phonetic symbols are used next to many words in the index, and there is a special list of words , which cause pronunciation problems for speakers from different countries.

Word stress

When a word has two or more syllables, one of them has the main stress. In these examples, the main stress follows the symbol ‘:

‘accent pre’fer edu’cation ‘necessary Ja’pan Japa’nese

If you put the stress on the wrong syllable, it may be difficult for listeners to understand what you are saying.

Key letters and sounds

A common problem is that a single letter or combination of letters has more than one pronunciation, e.g. -ough in section A. Here are some more examples:

the letter ‘o’ is often /d/, e.g. hot; or /a/, e.g. some; or /au/, e.g. no
the letter ‘a’ is often /ae/, e.g. hat; or /ei/, e.g. same; or /a:/, e.g. fast
the letter ‘u’ is often /a/, e.g. run; or /u/, e.g. put
the letter ‘i’ is often /i/, e.g. sit; or /ai/, e.g. side

Silent letters and short syllables

There are many words in English where a letter is not pronounced:
fasten plumber calm knee wrong comb
There are also many words where we almost ‘eat’ one of the syllables, and as a result a vowel sound almost disappears and a word, for example, with three written syllables may be two (or two and a half) in spoken English. For example:
interested /intrastid/ fattening /faetnir)/ vegetable /vec^tabl/
Note: The exercises on the next page practise some words with difficult pronunciation.