Difficult words to say in British and American English

We’re looking at more words that English learners find tricky to pronounce and comparing how we say them in British and American English.
We’ll show you how we pronounce:
• island
• squirrel
• priority
• Leicester
• schedule
• vulnerable
• width
• peculiarly
And along the way we talk about silent letters in English, word stress, How R sounds are different in British and American English, and the tricky English th sound.

You’ve told us some of the words you find hard to say.
And we’re going to show you how we pronounce them.
In British English.
And American English.
Before we start, we need to explain something.
Everyone you’ll see in this video is a non-native English speaker.
Apart from us. I’m British and Jay’s American.
But everyone else speaks English as a second language.
Or third or fourth language. They’re all very smart.
And also very nice, because they let us film them. Let’s see them in action.

How to pronounce island

Island.
Island.
Island.
Island.

Oh no they’re all wrong.
It’s hard because the spelling is so different from the pronunciation.
Island.
Island.
There are two things to remember with this word.
The first vowel sound isn’t eee. It’s eye.
And the other thing is the ‘s’. It’s a silent letter. Island.
But some of our learners got it right. Say it with them.

Island.
Island.
Island.
Island.

How to pronounce squirrel

OK, next word.

Squirrel.
Squirrel.
Squirrel.
Well done.
But it’s like kind of difficult to say, like skw and then the -rrel. Like squirrel. Yeah.

He did a good job. It starts with a ‘skw’ sound.
Yeah. And we say this word a little differently in British and American English.
Squirrel.
Squirrel.
In a lot of words I pronounce R sounds less strongly than Jay.
Or you don’t pronounce them at all.
True. But in this word you can hear my R sound – squirrel. -rel. It’s clear. It’s still different to your R sound though.
Squirrel, squirrel
Your R is so strong and powerful that it replaces the vowel sounds! It sounds like skwrrl.
Squirrel. Squirrel.
Our learners did a good job with this word though.
Say it with them.

Squirrel.
Squirrel.
Squirrel.
Squirrel.
Squirrel.
Squirrel.

Vicki doesn’t pronounce her R sounds properly because she’s British.
I beg your pardon!
We’ve made another video about that.
I’ll put a link here. What’s next?

How to pronounce priority

Priority.
Priority.
Priority.

OK, we just need to make a little change here.
Is it pri(ee)ority or priority?
Priority.
Priority.
So we both say pry – priority.
And I say priority – with a clear t sound, and you say…
Prioridy.
He flaps the t so it sounds a little like a fast d sound.
Well of course. Good pronunciation is my priority!
Say it with our learners.

Priority.
Priority.
Priority.
Priority.

How to pronounce Leicester

OK, next word.

Leicester.
Leicester.
Leicester.

That was a hard one!
I know. The spelling’s so weird.
Leicester.
Leicester.
Leicester’s is the name of a city in England. It’s in the Midlands.
And in the US, there are towns called Leicester in Massachusetts and New York state.
I didn’t think any students would get it right because the spelling is so strange, but some did.

Leicester.
Leicester.
Yes!
I have the English Monopoly, so I know it.
Ah!

So it’s a place on your Monopoly board?
Yes, Leicester Square. It’s a theatre district in London. Say it with us.
Leicester Square.
Leicester Square.
OK. We had a lot of requests for the next word.

How to pronounce schedule

Schedule.
Erm, schedule.
Schedule.
Schedule.
Schedule.

They’re all correct! Good job!
But there’s another way of saying it too.

Schedule.
Schedule.

They’re correct too for me! Jay and I say this word in different ways.
Schedule.
Schedule.
So in British English, you say sh – Schedule.
Yeah. Schedule.
So you don’t say sk- schedule?
Well, here’s the thing. These days a lot of British people do. American English has influenced how we speak.
So you’ll hear some people in the UK say schedule these days.
Uh huh.
Say it with us.
Schedule.
Schedule or schedule.
And I thought of something else. What’s this?
It’s a train schedule.
Uhuh. And I’d say it’s a train timetable. So another thing that happens is we often say timetable where you’ll say schedule.
OK, what’s the next word?

How to pronounce vulnerable

Vulnerable.
Vulnerable.
Vulnerable.
Vulnerable.

Not quite, but they’re almost there!
Yes, the main stress needs to be on VUL. Vulnerable.
Vulnerable.
Vulnerable.
What does it mean?
If someone is vulnerable then they’re weak.
It’s easy to hurt them, physically or emotionally.
An army could be vulnerable to attack.
And children who aren’t vaccinated are vulnerable to the measles.
How many syllables does vulnerable have?
Good question. Vuln-e-ra-ble, 4, but this second syllable is just a schwa and sometimes it practically disappears.

Vulnerable.
Vulnerable.
Vulnerable.
Yes!

They were good.
Yes, say the word with us.
Vulnerable.
Vulnerable.
You know there’s a lot of regional variation with how we say some of these words in the UK.
That’s true in the US too. If you say words differently, write and tell us in the comments.
OK, what’s next?

How to pronounce width

Width.
Width.

Perfect! They said it very well!
Yeah.
Next word then.
No! We need to look at how they did it.
OK. So what does width mean?
How wide something is, is its width – so the distance from one side to the other.
So wide is the adjective and width is the noun.
Width.
Width.
Some people think this is one of the hardest words to say in English.
I think it’s because with the /d/ sound you have to stop the airflow, ‘wid’ but then you have to start it again to make the ‘th’ sound. Wid-th.
Is there a way to make it easier?
Well, you could try saying ‘with’, without the /d/ sound. Some of our learners did that.

With.
With.
With. With. Something like that.

I’d understand them, I think.
Oh yes, me too. So that’s a cheat you can use if you find this hard. But ‘width’ is better of course.
Try saying it with us.
Width.
Width.
OK, the next one’s a long word.

How to pronounce peculiarly

Erm. Peculiarly. Something like that.
Peculiarly.

How many syllables does this word have?
Peculiarly. Five.
Peculiarly.
OK, that’s the right number of syllables, but where’s the main stress?
Peculiarly– cue – the second syllable.

Peculiarly.
Peculiarly.

They did well!
I agree because it’s a ‘peculiarly’ difficult word!
Peculiarly.
Peculiarly.
There’s a really cool technique for pronouncing long words like this.
Yeah. Often they’re easier if you backchain them, so start at the back and work forward.
ly.
ar-ly.
li-ar-ly.
cu-li-ar-ly.
Pe-cu-li-ar-ly.
Try it with me.
ly.
ar-ly.
li-ar-ly.
cu-li-ar-ly.
Pe-cu-li-ar-ly.
Could you say it?
And now we want to say a big thank you to all the English learners who appeared in this video.
They were such good sports.
If you’ve enjoyed it, check out our other videos about words that are hard to pronounce.
We have a series now. I’ll put a link at the end of this video.
And why not share this video with a friend. They might enjoy it too.
Have a great weekend everyone and see you soon.
Bye-bye.
Bye.
They did well.
I agree because it’s a pecu-. Peculiarly.
They did well.
I agree because it’s a peculiarly difficult word.
Because it’s a peculiarly difficult word.
One more time. I’m going to make you do it again.
Oh no.
Peculiarly. Oh I got it right!

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