One of the toughest things you will find about learning English is that words don’t always sound as you would expect them to. This is because English is a combination of many other languages. English learners from all over the world face different challenges with pronunciation because of interference from their first language.

There are, however, some words that students from all over the world have trouble with. Let’s take a look at them.

Importance of Pronunciation:

English speakers can be easily misunderstood when pronouncing words incorrectly. Furthermore, when only one word is pronounced incorrectly, many people will think they understood you and therefore won’t ask for clarification. This can lead to some very confusing miscommunications!

That’s why it’s important to identify and fix common pronunciation mistakes to create smoother relationships with new English-speaking friends, business contacts, service people such as waiters or hairdressers and many others.

The 2 Elements of Pronunciation:

Following are the two aspects that affect pronunciation:

  1. Word Stress

When used in the context of linguistics, word stress essentially refers to the syllable in a word that’s emphasized the most. Stress is very important when speaking English because a word can entirely change meaning depending on where you put the stress.

Consider the word “contest,” which has two syllables: con-test.

You can either put stress on the first syllable or the second, which would be as follows:



The word with stress on the first syllable is a noun that means “a competition.” The word with stress on the second syllable is a verb that means “to oppose.” Note that in this case, the word stress not only changes the meaning of the word but also the part of speech (noun vs. verb).

  • Intonation

If you didn’t raise or lower your voice at certain parts of each sentence, you’d sound like a robot! Intonation involves the rise and fall of your voice when speaking in full sentences. Incorrect intonation can change the meaning of a sentence or just sound very strange to native speakers. It’s especially important for conveying feelings or adding nuance to sentences.

For example, think about the sentence, “Why are you home so late?”

It’s important to master English intonation if you want to sound natural and keep listeners focused on the content of your sentences. Here’s an in-depth guide to how English speakers use intonation in different contexts.

Pronunciations You Should Avoid:

  1. Clothes

This word has only one syllable, the ‘e’ is silent and the ‘s’ makes a ‘zzz’ sound. Be careful not to say ‘clothe iz’.

2. Colleague

This word only has two syllables ‘koh-leeg’. Make sure not to pronounce the ‘ue’ on the end. When it’s a plural, the ‘s’ makes a ‘zzz’ sound like in ‘clothes’.

3. February

Many people have trouble pronouncing English words that have two ‘r’ sounds close together. Make sure to pronounce both ‘r’ sounds: Feb-roo-a-ree, not Feb-yoo-a-ree. Similarly, ‘library’ should be pronounced ‘li-bra-ri’.

4. Athlete

Be careful to avoid adding extra syllables in the middle of words. For example, make sure there are only two syllables in ‘athlete’: ath-leet, not ath-a-leet.

5. Escape and especially

Putting an extra ‘x’ sound in words with ‘es’ is a common mistake in English. Make sure to say ‘escape’ and ‘especially’ rather than ‘excape’ or ‘expecially’.

6. Wednesday

Watch out for silent letters. In the ‘Wednesday’, the ‘d’ is silent. The word is pronounced ‘wenz-day’.

7. Prescription

If you go to the doctor, he or she might give you a prescription to take to the pharmacist so you can buy any medicine you need. Sometimes people mix up the ‘re’ with ‘er’ and say ‘per-scrip-tion’ instead of pronouncing it correctly as ‘pre-scrip-tion’.

8. Ask

Mixing up the ‘s’ and ‘k’ in ‘ask’ is a very common mistake that many native-speakers make. In fact, it is a common part of some English dialects. If you are learning general English, make sure to say ‘ask’ not ‘ax’ so that it sounds correct to people all over the world.

9. Nuclear

Again, this is a word where people often get confused about the order of the sounds and pronounce it ‘nu-cu-lar’. Remember to get the sounds in the correct order and pronounce it ‘nuc-lee-ar’.

10. Pronunciation

The final common mistake is with the word ‘pronunciation’ itself! Many people get confused with the sound of the verb form ‘pronounce’ and say ‘pronounciation’ for the noun form. This is incorrect. Make sure to say ‘pro-nun-si-ay-shun’ if you want to be correct.

In A Nutshell: Correct pronunciation makes a positive impact and shows your command over the language. Therefore, it is greatly necessary that you make sure you are pronouncing words correctly. Once you’ve mastered these words, your pronunciation will be more correct

About the Author

Indulekha Prabha

My name is Indulekha Prabha. I am an English teacher and a content writer by profession. When I'm not working you can find me writing fiction, reading poetry and painting.

View All Articles