9 English words that are hard to say in British and American English

Does it drive you crazy that English words are pronounced differently from the way they’re spelt? Don’t worry, we can help.
We’re looking at more words that English learners find tricky to pronounce and comparing how we say them in British and American English.

In this video we look at how we pronounce:
• jostle
• temperature
• mayor
• manoeuvre/maneuver
• despicable
• pneumonia
• pathetic
• tsunami
• ubiquitous

We talk about:
• silent letters
• the tricky English th sound
• syllable and word stress
• British and American differences
and lots, lots more.

To see our other videos on how to pronounce difficult words, click here.

We’re back with some more words that are difficult to pronounce in British English.
And in American English.
Are you ready to try them?
I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American.
And all the people you’ll meet in this video come from lots of other countries.
English is their second, or third or even fourth language and we’re going to ask them to pronounce some tricky words.
So let’s get started!

Jostle pronunciation

Jostle.
Jostle.
Jostle.
Jos – jostle – so difficult!

There are two things to remember here. The word starts with ‘j’ – jostle.
So it’s a /d/ and ‘zh’ sound together- ‘j’, ‘j’.
And the letter t is silent. We write it but we don’t pronounce it.
Jostle.
Jostle.
So what does jostle mean?
If you push roughly against someone in a crowd, you jostle them.
You push or knock them.
When I get on the train in rush hour I get jostled.
Say it with our learners

Jostle.
Jostle.
Jostle.
Jostle.

OK, next word.

Temperature pronunciation

Temperature.
Temperature
Temperature.
Temperature.

Ah nearly.
How many syllables does it have?

Temperature.
Temperature
Temperature.
Temperature.
Temperature.

So it has three syllables. Temp-p(e)ra-ture
Temperature
Temperature.
And temperature is the measurement in degrees of how hot or cold something is. For example, the temperature is about 80 degrees today.
He means it’s about 27 Celcius. In the US they still use Fahrenheit to measure temperature.
Yeah, I’m always really hot!
Say it with our learners.

Temperature.
Temperature.
Temperature.
Temperature.
Er, temperature.

What’s next?
OK, the next word is complicated.

Mayor pronunciation

Mayor.
Mayor.
Mayor.

That’s nearly right but it has a different vowel sound.

Mayor.
Mayor.
Mayor.

That’s better. We pronounce this word in different ways in the US. Some people say may-or with two syllables. And I say mayor, with one.
What is a mayor?
It’s a public official – the head of a city or town.
Like the Mayor of London.
May-or or mayor
Mayor.
You don’t pronounce the r sound at the end.
Yeah. Unless the next word starts with a vowel, there’s no R sound for me. Mare. Say it with our learners.

Erm, Mayor.
Mayor.
Mayor.
Mayor.
Mayor.
Mayor.

OK, next one.

Manoeuvre pronunciation

Manoeurvre. That one is French!
Manoeurvre. It’s a French word so…
Manoeurvre. French. Whatever.

They’re right, of course. It’s a French word we use in English but we say it differently.
We met one French learner who knew the pronunciation would be different and he had a guess at how we might say it in English.

Manovee? Manovee?

Great guess but he’s completely wrong!
Maneuver.
Manoeuvre.
You know, I think it’s easier to say this word if you’re NOT French.

Manoeurvre.
Manoeurvre.

They were good.
What does maneuver mean?
It’s a skillful or careful movement that we make.
For example, I’m very good at maneuvering our car into tight parking spots.
That’s true! He is!
Say it with us.
Maneuver.
Manoeuvre.
What’s next?

Despicable pronunciation

Despicable.
Despicable.

They’re almost right.
They just need to change the vowel sound in the middle. Despicable.

Despicable.

What does it mean?
Something that’s really bad and not moral is despicable.
A despicable crime.
A despicable person.
Say the word with us.
Despicable.
Despicable.
The next word’s hard. The spelling is misleading again.

Pneumonia pronunciation

Have a guess.
Er, pneumonia.
Pneumonia. Although I don’t know what’s that.
Pneum.. pneumonia.
Pneumon.. pneumonia.
Pnu..Pnue… Uh! Pneumonia.

Oh no, they’re all wrong.
It’s hard because the spelling is so different from the pronunciation.
The letter p should be silent.

Ah! Pneumonia.
Pneumonia.
Pneumonia.

They got it!
What is pneumonia?
It’s a serious illness that affects your lungs.
It makes it difficult to breathe. You know we say this word a little differently.
Really?
Yeah.
Pneumonia.
Pneumonia.
I say nju – there’s a little y sound. Pneumonia.
And I say nuu. Pneumonia.
Say it with our learners.

Pneumonia.
Pneumonia.
Pneumonia. Cool!

Next word.

Pathetic pronunciation

Pathetic. Pathetic.
Pathetic.
Pathetic.
Pathetic.

The tricky thing here is the ‘th’ sound.
Yes, it’s not a /t/ sound. It’s ‘th’.

Pathetic.
Pathetic.

How far should your tongue stick out to make a th sound?
That’s a good question. You don’t want it going out too far – that’s silly – and you don’t want it back too far either or you’ll make a /t/ sound.
This is a good measure. Just touch your finger lightly with your tongue.
My tongue is down in the middle and I can feel its sides between the sides of my teeth. And I’m blowing air out. ‘th’, ‘th’. That does it! Say the word with our learners.

Pathetic.
Pathetic.
Pathetic.
Pathetic.
Pathetic.
Pathetic.

OK, next word.
Our learners were pretty good at this one.

Tsunami pronunciation

Tsunami.
Tsunami.
Tsunami.

So is it ‘tsunaaami’ or ‘tsunahhhmi’?
Tsunami.
Tsunami.
It’s ‘tsunahhhmi’.
An ‘ah’ sound.
What’s a tsunami? It’s a huge wave in the sea caused by an earthquake.
It’s a Japanese word and it starts with a Japanese sound – tsu.
So a t sound quickly followed by s. tsu. tsu.
Then ‘nah’ then ‘me’. Say it with us.
Tsunami.
Tsunami.
Let’s have a really hard one now.
OK.

Ubiquitous pronunciation

Wow! Ubiquitous.
Ubiqui – ubiquitous.
Ubiquitous.
Ubiquitous.
Ubiquitous.
Ubiquitous.

No!
It’s very hard!

Ubiquitous.
Ubiquitous.
Ubiquitous.

They came very close!
Yeah.
What does ubiquitous mean?
If something seems to be everywhere, we say it’s ubiquitous.
For example, in Philadelphia there are lots of stores where you can buy donuts.
Yeah, Dunkin’ Donuts are ubiquitous.
And places where you can buy cheesesteaks are very common.
Yeah, they’re ubiquitous too. Cheesesteaks are a Philly dish.
Ubiquitous.
Ubiquitous.
So it starts with a /j/ sound.
And it has four syllables. U-bi-quit-ous.
What’s that trick for saying long words?
Backchaining.
With a long word it often helps to start at the back and work forward. Try it with me.
-tous.
-quit – tous.
-BI-quit-ous.
u-BI-quit-ous.
So that’s it.
But we’ve made lots of other videos about words that are hard to pronounce.
I’ll put a link to the playlist at the end of this video.
We want to say a big thank you to all the learners who helped us teach these words.
They were terrific and it was lovely to meet them all.
If you’ve enjoyed this video please give it a thumbs up and share it with a friend.
And don’t forget to subscribe and click that notification bell!
Bye-bye.
Bye!

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