Pronunciation of Written Words

Hands down. Once you’ve learned the basic rules, the pronunciation of written words in German is easier than in English. Learning German guttural sounds may take time, but it’s doable. In English, sometimes, okay, quite often even Americans have problems pronouncing American words. Especially when a word originates from a different language it can quickly become a guessing game. Even when the words are pure English, one group of letters can sound completely different in different words.

Where we Americans often have problems speaking the guttural sounds originating at the bottom of the throat. Swiss seem to get stuck on the “th”. Quite often it ends up with a little spitting. To avoid this they often just drop the “h”. We had a Basic programmer teacher do that years ago when explaining a fundamental programming idea. Instead of saying “If, then” he said “If, ten”. Swiss can also have difficulty with “v” at the beginning of words. Quite often they end up sounding like “w”. Wollyball or Weanis Williams are prime examples.

Names of Places

I would suppose that Swiss newscasters have to be especially careful to say the names of places in America right. To add a higher degree of difficulty, many place names are of Native American origins. I’ve heard alternative pronunciations of many places in America on the Swiss news. Arkansas, a name from the Quapaw Native Americans is pronounced Are-can-saw, not Ar-can-sis for example. That is especially difficult because there is state and city called Kansas (pronounced Can-sis). The name Kansas is a Sioux (pronounced Sue) word meaning “people of the south wind”.

Illinois is the French version of an Algonquin word for “tribe of superior men”. It has nothing to do with “noise”. Once you know its origins are also French you can understand why the “s” isn’t spoken. The word Chicago is tricky because of the “Ch” at the beginning of the word. Is it pronounced like the “ch” in “chick” or “chic”? It’s pronounced like “she” in “chic”.

Names of People

When Ben was learning English in the States he ran across a few pronunciation problems. Once on a list, he saw his school counselor’s name: Mr. Hughes. Was it somehow pronounced like “hug” with a “hes” at the end? He didn’t know anyone with a similar name so he had no idea how to pronounce it. This was before Hugh Grant was a famous actor. Now everyone can figure it out. Thanks Hugh for making life easier.

Many Swiss had problems with the name “Sean” until Sean Connery came along as Bond. Who would have guessed that it was pronounced “Shawn” and not “Seen”?

O-U-G-H

There are lots of words that contain “ough”, but it can get tricky. There must be at least 10 different ways to pronounce that. Here’s the list I came up with along with the pronunciations.

Has the same vowel sound as ‘bow-wow’
plough (plou) an agricultural machine to turn over soil
bough (bou) a large branch of a tree
slough (slou or sloo) an area of muddy ground

Has the same vowel sound as ‘huff’
rough (rŭf) something that is difficult
enough (ĭ-nŭf′) an adequate number or quantity

Has the same vowel sound as ‘true’
through (thro͞o) in one side and out the other
slough (slou or slo͞o) an area of muddy ground

Has the same vowel sound as ‘toe’
though (thoh) synonymous with “in spite of”

Has the same sound as ‘up’
hiccough (hik-uhp) an involuntary spasm of the diaphragm. It is often spelt “hiccup”

Has the same sound as ‘off’
cough (kôf) to make a noisy expulsion of air from the lungs

Has the same sound as ‘autumn’
thought (thôt) an idea or product of mental activity, past tense of to think
bought (bôt) past tense of to buy
ought (ôt) synonymous with “should”

Has the same sound as ‘owe’
thorough (thur-oh) to do something completely

Has the same sound as ‘mock’
lough (lok) the Anglo-Irish spelling of the word loch, referring to a lake or bay

So, just for fun, try and read the following sentence out loud.

The wind was rough along the lough as the ploughman fought through the slough and snow, and though he hiccoughed and he coughed, he thought only of his work, determined to be thorough.

Here is a great sketch of “ough” words from the “I Love Lucy” show using many of the words above.

I completely understand, English can sometimes be very difficult!

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