The 10 Hardest Words to Pronounce in English

Our top British pronunciation tips to tackle the 10 hardest words to pronounce in English.
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Introduction to Hard Words

My name is Anna English from Englishlikeanative.co.uk where we help students from all over the world to learn and speak English like a native with our English Language and Pronunciation courses. Let’s start with a quick intro to this free lesson.  You can jump straight into the 10 hardest words to pronounce if you prefer.  In this lesson there is also a video and a listening exercise at the end.

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Anna Tyrie is a British Accent Coach for Received Pronunciation.

Why are some English words so hard to pronounce?

English words can be hard to pronounce for a combination of reasons; some because of the complexity of mouth movements, and some because of their bizarre spelling!  I have chosen ten relatively common words for this lesson.  I could have included words like synecdoche, antidisestablishmentarianism, or supercalifragilisticexpialidocious but they are rarely used in everyday conversations and therefore not as helpful as my list is going to be.

How to learn the correct pronunciation of hard-to-say

words

In this lesson, you’ll have a chance to practice the correct pronunciation of these 10 difficult words.  We will provide you with audio examples in the British Received Pronunciation accent. These audios are for you to listen to and use for comparison.  First, without listening to the audio examples, record yourself saying the 10 hard-to-pronounce words using your phone, or any online audio recorder.  Then, listen to the audio example and compare the difference.  

When comparing yourself, it’s important to try to be objective.  Try to listen to your voice recording as though you were listening to a different person.  Don’t be critical of the sound of your voice.  Simply try to understand the differences in pronounciation.

Learn British English pronunciation online

You can learn British English pronunciation online with our full Pronunciation Course and find out more about the ‘5 hardest sounds in English pronunciation’ in my article.  You can also subscribe to my newsletter to get free access to my mini pronunciation course to get some British pronunciation tips

If you’re serious about perfecting your pronunciation and speaking confidence and clarity, I can give you a comprehensive Pronunciation Assessment which will give you a clear road map to speaking clearly and confidently.

What is Received Pronunciation (Modern RP)?

British Received Pronunciation is an accent also known as the Modern RP accent, Standard British English or BBC English.  The RP accent has been widely known as the accent that many BBC News presenters use, though this is slowly changing. 

The RP accent is generally considered a de-regionalised accent, though it is most commonly found in the South East of England.  RP is used by all major dictionaries to help define pronunciation of English words using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). 

To help you with your attempts with these difficult English words, I’ve included the IPA spelling of all the words below for your reference. Let’s get started.

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The 10 Hardest Words to Pronounce in English

Let’s jump into the pronunciation of my top 10 hardest words to pronounce in English.

#1 – Anemone pronunciation

(/əˈnem.ə.ni/)

Do you know how to pronounce Anemone?  Or do you just think you know?  Anemone pronunciation trips up native and non-native English speakers alike.  Even the little fish Nemo found this word difficult to pronounce in the Disney film Finding Nemo.  This is a real tongue twister, and many people struggle with getting the right number of Ns and Ms.  Let’s have a go.  

Anemone, think of a lemon (lemon spelt with an N) on a knee. A-nemon-knee, a-nemon-nee, anemone. Got it?  

Try to record yourself, then listen to my audio example and compare the difference before.

Do you know the correct Anemone pronunciation in a modern RP accent?

#2 – Colonel pronounciation (/ˈkɜː.nəl/)

How to pronounce Colonel…. Hmmm… How many L sounds or O sounds do you think it has? Here’s a clue.  It’s not pronounced how it is spelt! 

Colonel is a military rank and it is not pronounced as it is spelt at all.  It would be easier if it was written ‘Kernel’.  Unfortunately, it’s not spelt like that (Kernel), in fact, a Kernel is the edible part of a nut. So perhaps thinking of ‘A colonel eating kernels’ will help you to remember this pronunciation. 

#3 – Draught pronunciation (/drɑːft/)

How do you pronounce Draught?  Try to make a recording of your pronunciation to compare with my example below.   

Here are my British pronunciation tips: Don’t feel daft when you pronounce the word draught, when I got it wrong I just laughed. Draught is pronounced, draft.  Not to be confused with the ‘first draft of a book’, which sounds the same but has a different spelling.  

Draught means a current of cool air which blows through a confined space “Is there a window open somewhere, there’s a terrible cold draught in here?”.  Draught is also an adjective to describe beer or cider that is served from a barrel “Ooo a nice cold pint of draught beer”.

Do you know how to pronounce Onomatopoeia in a British Accent?

#4 – Onomatopoeia pronunciation

(/ˌɒn.əˌmæt.əˈpiː.ə/)

Feast your eyes on this beautiful word.  Onomatopoeia – What a lovely word.  You try to pronounce it and make a recording to compare with the example audio in a moment. 

This word is used to describe words that sound like the noise they refer to.  For example, zip, bang, plop, buzz, hiss, etc.  

Here’s my British pronunciation tip for Onomatopoeia: break it down, ona-matter-pier.   Now compare your pronunciation with the Modern RP accent in the example.

#5 – Quinoa pronunciation

(/ˈkiːnwɑː/)

A lot of native English speakers wonder how to pronounce Quinoa.  Quinoa’s pronunciation has Spanish roots and you would not believe how many English people got /still get this word wrong (including me!).  Make your pronunciation recording now.

Here’s my British pronunciation tip: It’s not quin-oh-ah, it’s key-noir because of its Spanish origin. Are you keen-ah to have some quinoa?  Now compare your recording to mine. 

#6 – Segue pronunciation

(/ˈseɡ.weɪ/)

Segue.  This word was brought back into popularity by the mobility device and it means to transition from one thing to the next.  Speaking of which, try your pronunciation now, then check out my British pronunciation tip before comparing your recording to mine. 

British pronunciation tip: This word rhymes with ‘weekday’.

#7 – Squirrel pronunciation

(/ˈskwɪr.əl/)

Number seven, how do you pronounce squirrel?  Squirrel – This cute little nut collector graces gardens and woodlands across the UK and pronouncing its name will make you spit out your dentures (if you wear dentures, of course).  

British pronunciation tip for Squirrel pronunciation: Skwi – like squid, rul. Squirrel.  Now listen and compare with my British RP accent.

Learn the correct squirrel pronunciation in a British accent.

#8 – Worcestershire pronunciation

(/ˈwʊs.tə.ʃər/)

Number eight, Worcestershire (/ˈwʊs.tə.ʃər/ ) – this one is very tricky.  Whether you’re talking about the location (there’s one in both the UK and the USA) or the sauce, this is a familiar word in English.  But it’s bizarre spelling trips many of us up.

Wednesday pronunciation

#9 – Wednesday pronunciation

(/ˈwenz.deɪ/)

Can you correctly pronounce this midweek day?  Wednesday’s pronunciation is surprisingly difficult – Blast those silent letters!  Make your own recording now. 

Who said Wed-nes-day?  It’s an understandable mistake to make, the spelling of Wednesday is CRAZY… I mean, who made this stuff up?…

Here’s my British pronunciation tip: it’s pronounced When’z-day. You don’t pronounce the /d/.  You don’t pronounce the ‘nes’. I don’t know why it’s there… Don’t even get me started on Feb-ru-ary…

We are nearly at the end of the list, are you finding any of these hard English words challenging, don’t forget after number ten I’ve included a bonus word – don’t miss it.

#10 – Sixth pronunciation

(/sɪksθ/)

Number ten, try not to spit on the screen as you try to pronounce sixth… Sixth (:/sɪksθ/) – make your recording now. 

Now, it’s generally considered that the ‘th’ sound is one of the most difficult sounds in English for non-native English speakers to pronounce, even for some natives too.  It’s the last sound that children learn as they develop their speaking.   

British pronunciation tips for how to pronounce Sixth: The word sixth positions the ‘th’ after an /s/ sound, which follows a /k/ sound. This means you have to move your tongue very quickly from the high back /k/ to a tip of the tongue /s/ position then through the teeth for the th.  

The pronunciation of sixth is like tongue break dancing.  In honesty, if you just jump from the /k/ to the th, missing out the /s/ then no one will notice.  Now compare your pronunciation with mine.

Here is how to learn British English pronunciation online and develop your RP accent

If you would like more help with your pronunciation, I am offering a free pronunciation course covering the 5 hardest sounds in English. All you have to do is subscribe to our mailing list.  Simply provide your name and email address below and the free course will be delivered to your inbox.

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Hard to pronounce words in English

Bonus Word

Rural pronunciation – Rural  (/ˈrʊə.rəl/ )

How to pronounce Rural – This is not a word that native English speakers struggle with but the English R is a strange beast to much of the rest of the world.  

British R Pronunciation

We use a still floating tongue in British R pronunciation.  The tongue holds in a curled position.  Students with Spanish, Italian or German as their native language are often tempted to trill or tap the /r/.  Other students exchange the /r/ for an /l/ sound.  

However you naturally treat the /r/, it can be a struggle to pronounce these two tricky /r/ sounds so close together.  Give it a try…Rural.

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