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10 Words English Learners Commonly Mispronounce

English learners commonly mispronounce sixth, squirrel, rural, penguin, thirty, and mischievous, among other words. English is a funny language to learn how to pronounce. Some pronunciation rules are simple to remember, like the ones I'm about to describe to help you improve your American English pronunciation.

Let's take a look at why sixth, squirrel, rural, penguin, thirty, and mischievous, among others, are so hard for English learners to pronounce.

Words with the hard G /g/ consonant sound

The word penguin, pronounced /peng-gwn/, is a difficult one for some American English speakers, although honestly, it sounds like the British pronouncation would be difficult for English learners. You can hear the different between the two here.

There are two sounds that make the word penguin difficult to pronounce. First, in the first syllable, there's a hard G /g/ consonant sound. Then in the second syllable there's the GW /gw/ consonant blend.

In English, the GW consonant blend is an extremely uncommon sound in American English. Mainly it's heard in names from French, such as Gwen (Gwendolyn) and Guinevere.

Need help with the hard G /g/ or a soft G /dʒ/ consonant sounds? Check out my guide and video.

Words with the American R [ɹ] consonant sound

The words squirrel and rural are difficult for almost everyone who's not familiar with the American R [ɹ] consonant sound. The American R [ɹ] sound is distinctly American, it's not a sound typically found in other English-speaking areas, such as the UK, Australia, or South Africa.

Need some help with pronouncing the American R [ɹ] ? Check this guide and video out.

Words with the voiced TH /ð/ and unvoiced TH /θ/ sounds

The voiced TH /ð/, as heard in the word thirty, and unvoiced TH /θ/ sound, as heard in the word sixth, are two sounds that many languages don't have.

It's difficult for English learners to say both TH sounds without practicing. However, by practicing over and over again with a native American English speaker, the TH sound will become easier and more natural to pronounce.

Need some guidance prouncing the TH sounds? Check out this guide with a short video to show you how.

Super challenging words with multiple difficult sounds

Thirty is an example of word with both the voiced TH /ð/ sound at the start and the American r consonant sound in the middle. That's a double challenge for English learners.

And then there's the ordinal number thirthieth! That's a triple challenge with a voiced TH /ð/ sound in the first syllable, the American r consonant sound in the middle, and an unvoiced TH /θ/ sound in the third syllable.

But these pronunciation challenges can be overcome with a lot of practice, I promise!

Words that are funny to hear

There are words, when pronounced incorrectly, that can sound completely different and pretty funny with a meaning that’s truly unintended.

Because they hadn't worked on practicing both the TH sounds, I've heard many non-native English speakers incorrectly pronounce teeth as teat. That's because they didn't know how to pronounce the unvoiced TH /θ/ sound in teeth correctly.

The upper half of the graphic is teeth, the lower half is of cow udders
What do you prefer, talking about teeth or talking about teats? It's all in the pronunciation!

Tell me, who wants an image of a cow's teat when you're trying to talk about a person's teeth?

I've also heard thirty pronounced like dirty. What a funny difference between thirty and dirty! And some English learners get confused pronouncing six with sex. Ha!

It can be quite embarassing to make a mistake with mispronunciation. So practice, practice, practice your English pronunciation!

How to improve your English pronuncation

The best way English learners can practice is by recording themselves saying the same word over and over. Listen to the recording and see if it matches the pronuncation of a native American English speaker. Make corrections to how your mouth moves and then practice again with the recording.

With my English students, it typically takes 10 minutes of practice at the beginning and end of the lesson and may take up to three lessons to get. Some students even learn in just one lesson with just one evening of homework practicing with the recording.

Need more pronuncation tips? Check out this guide and video.

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