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  • Why is English Pronunciation so Difficult?

    Why is English pronunciation so difficult? One of the most confusing things about English is pronunciation. English has a total of 17tk spoken vowel sounds. This makes English unusual, as most languages have 5-6. Spanish, for instance, has 5 vowel sounds, Mandarin 6, and Portuguese 9.

    English Pronunciation Guide

    Another odd thing is that we only use 5 letters – a,e,i,o and u – to write all 17 sounds. Other languages, like Spanish or French, have 5 written vowels and 5 sounds.

    But what really makes English pronunciation difficult is when your native language does not contain one of our vowel sounds. If you’re language is like most, you have fewer vowel sounds than English has, which means there are going to be several sounds that you’re going to have to learn how to make, but hear as well.

    A few years ago I did a language exchange with an Argentine friend. We’d speak for 45 minutes in English, then 45 in Spanish. At one point we started talking about pronunciation, and I explained that “boot” and “foot” should have completely different sounds. My friend could not hear the difference between these two sounds, even when I said them one after the other. To an English speaker, there is a very clear difference.

    How do you learn how to produce a sound that you can’t hear? Practice. You’ll want to listen to how the sounds are made repeatedly, and get help making them. One of the most important parts of practicing English pronunciation is learning what you need to do <em>physically</em> to make the sound. Learning exactly where your tongue and lips should be, and how wide open your mouth should be, can help produce that moment in which you suddenly find yourself making a sound you never knew existed. It’s an exciting moment in learning!