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Common Pronunciation Confusions

Updated: Feb 14, 2019

English pronunciation can be difficult to wrap one's head around especially when coming from languages such as Italian, French or Spanish. Your first language can influence how you interpret the words you read in English and how you say them.

Here are some common points of confusion with audio so that you can hear and learn how to make the correct sounds.

1. /iː/ or /ɪ/?

These two phonemes are frequently confused and can result in some unfortunate mistakes. You're likely to want a sheet /ʃiːt/ on your bed and you don't use a sheep /ʃi:p/ to travel the seas.

Instead of using both sounds, students often use /iː/ (found in words like sheep or clean) all the time and don't use /ɪ/ at all.

Here is an audible example of the differences between the two sounds using words.

- 'Sheep' /ʃiːp/ and 'Ship' /ʃɪp/

- 'Eat' /iːt/ and 'It' /ɪt/

- 'Been' /biːn/ and 'Bin' /bɪn/

Can you hear the difference? The first word uses /iː/ and the second word uses /ɪ/

2. The 'th' sounds.

It's also very common to hear the sounds /θ/, /f/ and /t/ confused.

Confusing /θ/ and /f/ is common amongst native speakers (imagine saying 'free' instead of 'three', while it is common to hear an Italian use /t/ instead of /θ/ (e.g. saying tree instead of three, the number).

- 'thin' /θɪn/, 'fin' /fɪn/ and 'tin' /tɪn/

- 'three' /θriː/, 'free' /friː/ and 'tree' /triː/

- 'thought' /θɔːt/, 'fought' /fɔːt/ and 'taught' /tɔːt/

Both the /θ/ and /ð/ sounds are achieved by placing the tip of your tongue between your teeth and, for /θ/ you blow gently while for /ð/ you must hum.

Listen to these examples. Can you hear the difference? Which one is correct?

'This' /ðɪs/, not /dɪs/

'The' /ðə/, not /də/

You may also accidentally say a different word if you use a different sound:

- 'they' /ðeɪ/ and 'day' /deɪ/

3. /ə/

The 'schwa', or /ə/ is the single most common sound in the English language. It is never a stressed sound and so when identified should be a soft sound.

It can be made using single letters or with a combination of letters.

About / əˈbaʊt/; occur /əˈk3ːr/; submit /səbˈmɪt/

Water /ˈwɔːtə/; actor / ˈæktə/; survive /səˈvaɪv/; thorough /ˈθʌrə/

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