Take a spin around a globe. Do you recognize all of the country names? Depending on when your globe was created, some of these country names might not even exist anymore. Ceylon, Mesopotamia, West Germany, Prussia, Yugoslavia, Zanzibar — all are no longer in existence.
What about the countries still around — can you pronounce all the names? Country names are often based on the native languages, and they don’t always translate easily to English. You might think a mispronunciation is no big deal, but it reflects a lot more. Think about your name. If you’re a "James," and someone constantly calls you "Jamie," even after numerous reminders, you might think they’re just being plain rude. When you learn a little bit about the language of a country and its proper name, you’re showing respect.
Here are five countries with names that are often mispronounced by English speakers. Once you learn them, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable talking about them in other contexts, and perhaps get to know some people from those countries. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to plan your next vacation.
Many English speakers pronounce the name of this small country (formerly part of the USSR) as "bel-AR-us." The name is actually pronounced "bell-uh-ROOS." The official languages of Belarus are Belarusian and Russian; both Slavic languages have a different style of pronouncing vowels from American English. The “u” is pronounced like “oo,” and the accents tend to hit the final syllable.
Moldova is another former Soviet Republic located in Eastern Europe. When faced with the name, English speakers tend to put the accent on the middle syllable: "mole-DOH-vuh". Native Romanian speakers will spread the emphasis more equally across all three syllables: mol-doh-vuh. The country takes its name from the Moldova River, the site of the first capital.
The Middle Eastern country Qatar uses Arabic as the primary language. The sight of a “q” without an accompanying “u” can be confusing for English speakers, leading to a pronunciation of "cat-AR." But if you pronounce the name correctly in Standard Arabic, you almost swallow the final syllable — "CUT-ter." In some dialects, the country’s name is pronounced "KIT-ar."
You'll find the series of islands known as The Maldives off the coast of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. Americans might pronounce the country’s name by breaking it into recognizable syllables: "MAL-dives" with an American accent, elongating the final “i.” However, this final syllable is actually pronounced with a long “e”: MAL-deeves.
"The Maldives" may come from a Sanskrit phrase that means garland islands, referring to the general shape of the islands. Sanskrit has more open vowel sounds than American English, as well as a vowel structure somewhat similar to Spanish, so the “i” is pronounced like “ee.”
You might be confident in your pronunciation of this Middle Eastern country's name, but while most Americans would say "eye-RACK," the correct pronunciation is "ee-ROCK," with the "i" pronounced as a long "e." The same principle applies to its neighbor Iran, which is not "eye-RAN," but rather "ee-RON."