Have you ever had difficulty understanding someone’s pronunciation, even if he or she knows how to speak English? It can be very frustrating for both the speaker and the listener.
As a corporate speech coach, I am often asked why English is such a difficult language to pronounce. There are several reasons. Unlike many other languages, such as Spanish, there are few rules (and many exceptions for the rules we do have) for pronunciation. Consider the different pronunciations for the “ch” in these words: cheese (ch), chaos (k), Chicago (sh). Sometimes other letter combinations also have the “ch” sound, such as question (ti), and puncture (tu). This is because many words in English come from other languages.
People from various places settled in the USA, and they brought their regional variations of English here as well. Bury can be pronounced “berry” or “bury”, route can be “root” or “route”, and other words can have variations as well.
Third, we have many silent letters in our written words. “Clothes” has no “th” sound, “light” has no “gh” pronounced and “knee” has no “k” .
There are many more examples of these as well.
Attendees in Business Speech Improvement’s pronunciation training seminars for international employees frequently tell me that in their native countries, members of work groups help each other with many things, including communication if needed. Yet in America, colleagues often do not provide this help. This is because Americans are more individualistic, and may not be comfortable asking if someone wants help with communication.
Americans are also very concerned about appearing discriminatory. However, if a speaker of another language asks his manager or Human Resources for help or to attend a speech improvement seminar, a company is often quite willing to provide it. So, help may be offered, but only if someone knows to request it.
English is a challenging language to learn, but it can be done!
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- American English Pronunciation Challenges – by Katie Schwartz - July 4, 2014