3 Difficult Things about English Pronunciation

If you’ve studied English, you’ve definitely struggled with English pronunciation. English words are notoriously difficult to pronounce because there are many exceptions to spelling and pronunciation rules.

It’s a vast language and it has borrowed from many other languages; this can create major headaches for those learning it. And, regardless of which English dialect you’re learning – American, British, Australian – you’ll still run into the same difficulties.

Here are three difficult things about English pronunciation as well as some tips on how to learn pronunciation – without driving yourself crazy!

English Pronunciation Difficulties

1. Written English Versus Spoken English

One of the most confusing aspects of English pronunciation is that English words are sometimes pronounced differently than they’re spelled. This is especially true for silent letters, which include r, l, b, k, h, n, p, s, t, and w. These letters aren’t silent all the time, of course – just for certain words.

There are also letters than can be pronounced different ways. For example, s can be pronounced as a /z/ and t can be pronounced five different ways.

There are 19 vowel sounds in English but only five vowels to create these sounds. Thus, sometimes the same vowel letters or combination of vowels will be pronounced differently.

Take the words blood, food, and good, for example. They contain the same vowels, but they are pronounced in three different ways!

2. Vowel Sounds

As mentioned in the last section, there are five vowels in English but 19 vowel sounds. Saying these vowel sounds requires a wide range of mouth positions: front, back, center, open and closed, relaxed, rounded, and more.


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Some vowels are long and some are short, and all change length depending on the amount of stress put on them. Other languages such as Spanish, Arabic, and Japanese, have fewer vowel sounds, so this presents a natural challenge for speakers of these languages.

3. The Schwa

English is composed of strong and weak sounds. The most common sound in English is the schwa, or /ə/ (pronounced uh). It appears in about one of every three vowel sounds.

We use the schwa in lightly pronounced, unaccented syllables in words with more than one syllable. It’s hard to know when to pronounce it, though, because you won’t see it written in a text.

There are some helpful schwa exercises online, such as this one from BBC or this audio exercise from The Sound of English. There are also various YouTube videos practicing the schwa.

Although it takes some practice, it’s very possible to learn English pronunciation! Listen to English as much as you can, speak with native speakers as often as you can, and do exercises to practice.

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