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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: How to Pronounce Most Difficult Words in English - Improve Your Accent

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Hi, Im Daniel.

Welcome to Oxford Online English!

Ive got a challenge for you.

Read this sentence aloud, as fast as you can: ‘The Worcestershire rural brewery queue

is the sixth longest in the world.’

Lets try again: ‘The Worcestershire rural brewery queue is the sixth longest in the


Could you read the sentence quickly and fluently?

There are many difficult words to pronounce in this sentence.

In this lesson, youll learn how to pronounce these and other difficult words in English.

Youll see what makes some words difficult to pronounce in English, and how you can train

your pronunciation so that you can pronounce all of these words easily!

Before we start, dont forget to visit our website: Oxford Online English dot com.

You can see all our free lessons, including pronunciation lessons.

You can also study English in online classes.

We have many qualified, professional teachers who you can choose from.

But now, lets get back to our difficult sentence.


Now, sayworld’.

Many English learners can saywordeasily, butworldis more difficult.


The only difference between the words is the /l/ sound: ‘word’, ‘world’.

Actually, the /l/ makes a big difference.

Lets see why.

To say /l/, you probably know that your tongue needs to touch the top of your mouth: /l/.

However, there are different ways to pronounce /l/.

You can use the tip of your tongue or the blade (the wider part).

You can touch the top of your mouth just behind your teeth, or you can touch further back.

Different languages produce /l/ sounds slightly differently.

The English /l/ is pronounced using the tip of your tongue, touching near the front of

your mouthjust above and behind your top teethlike this: /l/ /l/

For most English words, it doesnt matter so much how you pronounce /l/.

However, if you produce /l/ differently from a native speaker, youll have problems with


To say world, first say /w/ and /ɜː/: /wɛː/ /wɛː/

When you pronounce /ɜː/, your tongue should be fairly relaxed, sitting in the middle of

your mouth.

Next, the tip of your tongue moves up and touches the top of your mouth just above and

behind your top teeth.

Dont pull your tongue too far back.

If you do, you wont be able to move between the two sounds.

Youll pronounce it something like this: Dont do this!

Remember, just use the tip of your tongue, and move it slightly upwards to touch the

top of your mouth: ‘world.’

If you get it right, your tongue should be in the right position to pronounce the /d/

sound without moving.

This means you can move smoothly between /l/ and /d/.

If you have to move your tongue between /l/ and /d/, then your tongue is probably too

far back.

Try saying the /d/ sound.

Can you feel where your tongue is?

This is where your tongue should be to pronounce /l/: ‘world’.


When you say the word correctly, its a very small movement between /ɜː/, /l/ and


Try one more time: ‘world’.


Hows that?

Can you do it at natural speed?



Dont worry if you cant pronounce it correctly straight away.

Start by pronouncing it really slowly, one sound at a time.

Focus on the movement between /ɜː/, /l/ and /d/.

Remember that your tongue should not move at all between /l/ and /d/.

When the movements are correct and comfortable for you, try saying it faster.

Here are some other words you can practise with.

These words have the same sound combination: ‘curled’.

hurled’ ‘unfurled

OK, one down.

Whats next?

Ordinal numbers, like fifth, sixth or eighth can be especially difficult to pronounce for

non-native speakers.

Why is that?

In all of these words, you have a lot of consonants together.

Listen and look at the phonetics: ‘fifth’ ‘sixth

eighthIn particular, you have to combine different

consonants with the /θ/ sound.

First of all, you should be comfortable with the /θ/ sound before you practise this.

Say this sentence: ‘Both therapists think Theos teeth are thoroughly filthy.’

Can you pronounce /θ/ easily?

If not, pause the video, practise this sentence, and focus on /θ/.

Read the sentence slowly, and make sure your tongue is between your teeth

every time theres a /θ/ sound.

If youre OK with the /θ/ sound, then lets look at how you can combine /θ/ with other


Well start withfifth’.

FifthCan you work out whats happening here?

As you release the /f/ sound, your tongue needs to move between your teeth to produce

the /θ/ sound.

The two movementsreleasing the /f/ and pronouncing the /θ/--need to be very close


There shouldnt be any gap between them, otherwise youll add a vowel sound and pronounce

the word incorrectly.

Try it slowly.

First, start to say fifth, but stop on the secondf’, and hold the /f/ sound: /fɪfffffffff/

Here, youre making the /f/ sound with your top teeth and your bottom lip: /fɪfffffffff/

Next, you /f/ by pulling your bottom lip down, and at the same time you push your tongue

forward so its between your teeth, and pronounce /θ/: ‘fifth

FifthRemember, if its difficult, start slowly

and focus on producing the movements accurately.

When its easier, try at a more natural speed: ‘fifth

FifthOK, but what about sixth?

The sound combination is different, but the principle is the same.

Look at the phonetics for sixth.

You need to move from /s/ to /θ/ very quickly, without relaxing.

First, pronounce /s/.

Try to hold the sound.

Wheres your tongue?

Its just above and behind your top teeth.

To move from /s/ to /θ/, your tongue needs to slide forward

and end between your teeth.

Your tongue should be touching the top of your mouth the whole time.

Dont relax and let your tongue move away from the top of your mouth.

Otherwise, youll add a vowel sound and mispronounce the word.

Try it slowly.

Say and hold /s/, then slide your tongue forward to pronounce /θ/, like this: /sθ

/sθ/ Practice this a few times until you can make

the movement comfortably.

Next, lets try the full word: ‘sixth’ ‘Sixth

Lets try at full speed: ‘sixth’ ‘sixth

Can you pronounce the sound combinations correctly?

Remember, start slowly and train the movements.

What abouteighth’?

Its the same idea.

Think about what happens when you say /t/.

You put your tongue above your top teeth, you build pressure, then you move your tongue

to release the pressure and release the sound: /t/.

Normally, after you say /t/, your tongue relaxes and finishes in the middle of your mouth.

When you sayeighth,’ instead of relaxing your tongue, you need to release the /t/ so

that your tongue finishes between your teeth and you can say /θ/.

A good way to think about this: imagine you want tocatchthe /t/ sound between

your teeth.

Lets try slowly: ‘eighth’.


Remember, you want your tongue to go directly from /t/ to /θ/.

Dont let your tongue relax or pull back.

Lets try at natural speed: ‘eighth’ ‘Eighth’.

With all these words, start slowly and train the movements.

When you are comfortable with the movement, then you can try going faster.

On the other hand, if you cant pronounce it correctly, slow down!

Get the sounds right first.

You can work on speed later.

Now, lets look at our next word.

Can you sayrural brewery’?

Many English learners say that these are some of the most difficult English words to pronounce


So, what makes these words difficult?

Listen and look at the phonetics: ‘rural’, ‘brewery’.

The combination of /r/ with the /ʊə/ vowel sound is the problem here.

Remember in part one we talked about /l/ sounds?

You saw that there are different ways to produce /l/.

/r/ is the same.

There are many ways to say /r/.

For example, in Spanishand many other languages—/r/ is produced by touching your tongue to the

top of your mouth.

The English /r/ is produced differently.

To sayrural brewery’, you need to produce /r/ in the English way.

Otherwise, youll have a really bad time trying to say the words.

It will make you angry.

So, lets see how to pronounce /r/.

First, say /w/.

If possible, practise with a mirror.

You see the way your lips move?

Your lips start closed, and then open to make the /w/ sound: /w/


Next, try to curl your tongue up and back, towards the back of your mouth, like this:

Very important: your tongue does not touch anything.

It curls towards the top of your mouth, but it doesnt touch the top of your mouth at


You can also pull the back of your tongue up towards the top of your mouth.

It doesnt matter whether you use the tip of your tongue or the back; you just need

to pull your tongue towards the top of your mouth, but without touching it.

So, lets go back to where we were: youre trying to make a /w/ sound, but with your

tongue pulled back and towards the top of your mouth.

Your tongue should be tense.

Do all of this and try to make a /w/ sound.

If your tongue is in the right place, it will be difficult to say /w/ cleanly.

Youll produce a sound between /w/ and /r/.

Get your tongue in the right place, then try saying /r/ with a small movement of your lips:

/r/ /r/.

So, why are we doing all this?

To sayruralorbreweryfluently and correctly, you need to say them without

moving your tongue--except at the end ofruralwhere your tongue moves forward to pronounce


This is the secret.

If you move your tongue around, you wont be able to connect the sounds smoothly.

In both words, your tongue stays pulled back, and your lips do most of the work.

However, your lips also shouldnt move too much.

If you open your mouth wide, itll be hard to pronounce the words.

You need to make small, minimal movements: ‘rural’.


Do you see how little my lips move?

Remember, your tongue needs to be pulled back and tense through the whole word, until you

move forwards to pronounce /l/ at the end.

To help you, lets see how to pronounce the word one sound at a time.

Pronounce /r/ with your lips, moving onto the round shape of /ʊ/, like this: /rʊ/


Relax the /ʊ/ sound to produce a schwa, but dont move your lips too far: /rʊə/


Bring your lips together again, keeping your tongue pulled back, to produce another /r/


Then relax to pronounce the second schwa, then move your tongue forwards to pronounce

/l/: ‘rural’.

Can you do it?

Try it slowly: ‘rural’.

Now lets try a little faster: ‘rural’.


What about brewery?

You can use the same techniques.

You need to move from /r/ to /ʊə/ and then back to /r/ again.

Again, you need to keep your tongue pulled back, and use small lip movements to produce

the sounds: ‘brewery’.


If its difficult, you need to practice the /rʊər/ sound combination some more.

Go back toruraland practise the steps to combine these sounds.

If its easy, great!

Lets try at natural speed: ‘brewery’.


Got it?

Lets move on!

Actually, ‘queueisnt difficult to pronounce: /kjʊː/

But, many English learners mispronounce it.


Its because the spelling and the pronunciation are so different.

English is not a phonetic language.

The same letter can make different sounds in different words, and different letters

can have the same sound.

However, ‘queueis an extreme example, which is why many English learners get confused

and make mistakes.

Remember: letters and sounds are not the same thing in English!

English spelling is not your friend.

The spelling does not necessarily tell you how to pronounce a word, and in many cases

it can be actively confusing.

What other words are like this?

The wordschoirandthoroughlyare good examples, but there are many more.

What can you do?

You have two choices: you can complain and make yourself angry at how illogical English

spelling is, or you can learn phonetics.

Remember that in these words, the pronunciation itself is not generally difficult.

If you have a problem, its almost always because the spelling is confusing.

Unlike English spelling, phonetics are logical and regular.

Phonetics will never lie to you.

Learn phonetics!

Or just get angry and complain.

Your choice!

Lets look at one last thing.

Similar to part four, the pronunciation ofWorcestershireisnt so difficult,

but the spelling and pronunciation are not closely connected: ‘Worcestershire’.

In particular, the word Worcestershire has a lot of silent letters.

In fact, its only three syllables: /'wʊ-stə-ʃe/

Many English place names are like this: the pronunciation can be difficult to guess from

the spelling.

For example, how would you pronounce these place names?

Pause the video and think about it if you want.


Lets check: ‘Leicester.’




Did you guess the correct pronunciations?

Again, you can see that the pronunciation doesnt match the spelling at all.

Dont worry if this is confusing.

Many visitors from to the UK from other English-speaking countries also find it difficult!

Do you remember the sentence from the beginning of the lesson?

The Worcestershire rural brewery queue is the sixth longest in the world.’

Try saying it.

Has your pronunciation improved?

I hope so!

If not, just keep practising.

It can take time to get better.

What other English words do you find especially difficult to pronounce?

Let us know in the comments, and maybe theyll appear in a future video!

Thanks for watching!

See you next time!

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