Hardest English Words for Non-Native Speakers To Learn

2 min read

How many times have you come across a word pronunciation that sounded different than how you'd been saying your entire life? Don't sweat it. With 20 vowel sounds and 25 consonant sounds, the English language can become complicated real fast. Add in odd spellings and silent letters, and you've got a language packed with words that don't have straightforward pronunciations.

Even the most well-read native English speakers can have difficulty deciphering odd or unintuitive pronunciations. But if English is your second language, there are a few words that are notoriously tricky to sound out.

"Worcestershire"

To be fair, this can be a tricky one for native speakers, too. Worcestershire sauce originated in the town of Worcester, England, when a request to derive a particular mixture from an Indian sauce was made. It is easy to get confused with the "r" in the beginning, "cest" in the middle, and "shire" at the end, so some people prefer to call it "the British soy sauce." While the word looks long, the pronunciation strips out a few syllables. The correct pronunciation is “WOO-ster-sher.”

"Isthmus"

This little section of land has crystal-clear water on both sides connecting the otherwise separated expansive lands. But don't be fooled by the spelling. The "th" is silent, and it's pronounced "is-muss."

"Rural"

In some parts of the United States, this adjective for an undeveloped area can be slurred together as one syllable. It's a bit of a tongue twister with the double “r.” The standard pronunciation is two syllables: “ROO-ruhl.”

"Squirrel"

"Squirrel" is one word that Germans can find particularly difficult to pronounce. The furry creatures are pronounced, "SKWIR-uhl."

"Memoir"

There are many loan words borrowed into English from other languages, so while this spelling hints at its French origins, the pronunciation is sturdier in English. The pronunciation is "mem-wahr," but the "-oir" can be pronounced by non-native speakers like "choir," which is another hard word to say (KWY-er).

"Et cetera"

The language may be dead, but correct pronunciation is not. Both native and non-native English speakers tend to pronounce this Latin phrase as “EX-set-er-uh.” The phrase (which means "and other similar things") is actually pronounced as “ET-set-er-uh” with a "t" sound in the first syllable.

"Quinoa"

This superfood has nutritional superpowers but its tricky pronunciation might also catch shoppers' eyes in the grocery store. Native to the countries in the Andean region, this Spanish word allows various pronunciations, but the primary is “KEEN-wah.”

"Massachusetts"

Reddit is filled with threads about the hardest English words to pronounce, and this state name keeps popping up, along with its various confusing town names (We've already talked about Worcester.) "Massachusett" was an Algonquian tribe that lived along the coast of the current state. Non-English speakers can sound out all the syllables as "ma-suh-CHOO-suhts."

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