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My super-quick method for pronouncing EVERY English word correctly.
Today, I’m going to show you the very best online dictionary to use to study English. and teach you how to pronounce any word in American English. english isn’t phonetic. That means the letters don’t correspond directly to sounds. I made a video where I went through all the pronunciations of OUGH. It’s surprising how many there are and how different from each other they are. What’s not surprising is that I often get emails from students asking how to pronounce something and I want to give you all the resources I can to figure out and learn how to pronounce any word in English like a native.
First of all, when you use an online dictionary, you’ll see that they’ll try to help you with the pronunciation. Let’s look up the word ‘identify’. Dictionary.com tells me that this is how I sound pronounce it. Cambridge dictionary has completely different symbols. Oh, and they have two pronunciations. One for British English, and one for American English. That’s good to know. I wonder which one was listed in Dictionary.com. It didn’t say one way or another.
Merriam Webster has yet another different set of sounds. Here’s McMillan, it looks similar to the Cambridge dictionary. Both McMillan and Cambridge used IPA symbols. That is the International Phonetic Alphabet to show the pronunciation and this is what I recommend. It’s more standard.
I have a playlist to help you learn the symbols and sounds together. Click here on in the description below to see that playlist. There will be small differences. For example, Cambridge puts these little dots between syllables and McMillan doesn’t. I like Cambridge the best because it gives both British and American English pronunciations. However, it uses this symbol instead of the IPA symbol for EH and it shows this symbol instead of the IPA symbol for the American R so it isn’t perfect. None of them are. But Cambridge is probably the best. Once you know the IPA, you can figure out the pronunciation of any word when you’re using a dictionary that uses IPA, sort of. Let’s dig deeper.
Online dictionaries also have audio clips for each word. Let’s listen to some.
That sounds a little robotic, doesn’t it?
I wouldn’t recommend using this as your example of how to practise. What about Cambridge?
It’s a little hard to tell what he’s doing with this T here. I’m definitely not hearing a True T. let’s compare the British pronunciation.
There, there’s a clear True T.
hard to tell what he’s doing here. It’s almost like I barely hear the T at all.
It’s almost like a flap.
Okay, there’s our British pronunciation again. So it doesn’t say that that’s the British English pronunciation but I know it is. But that could be confusing if you’re a non-native speaker. You might not know if you’re hearing British English or American English.
Again, I’m not hearing a True T there.
And I’m also not told if this is British English or American English.
So they have the T written out in the pronunciation but I don’t really hear it.
Tt, tt, tt. Do you hear that sound?
What’s going on there? The pronunciation didn’t match the IPA symbols and it didn’t match the other online dictionaries. This is when another source with lots of real Americans speaking full sentences is important. Because dictionaries don’t take into account some of the changes that Americans make. We do a lot with the letter T. We have a Stop T, a Flap T, a True T, and a Dropped T. But in the dictionary, they’ll only ever just show one symbol, the symbol for the True T.
A great next step is to go to Youglish.com. It’s a collection f Youtube videos with subtitles and you can search for a particular word or phrase and then filter by American English.
Let’s listen to the word ‘identify’.
Identify. Identify. No T there.
Identify that specific.
Identify. Identify. No, there was no T there.
You need to identify… Identify. Again, no T.
Identify. Identify. No true T, the T is totally dropped.
Identify. Identify. So her beginning vowel, a little different there. But again, there’s no T sound at all, it’s totally dropped.
So we’ve listened to five examples so far and none of them had a True T. Even though when we looked them up in the dictionary, they all had written out in the sounds that there was a True T.
Okay, so looking at the dictionary was a good first step if you know IPA. But it wasn’t great for listening and repeating. Some of the audio sounded robotic, wasn’t identified as American English or British English. Did you notice, I just used the word ‘identify’? and I dropped the T too, didn’t I? it’s important to go to a source like Youglish.com where you can find examples of real Americans using the word you’re studying in context. This helps you get a more natural pronunciation and you can also learn how to use the word by studying how native speakers use it in full sentences to express their ideas.
One of the things that makes English so hard is figuring out how to pronounce something based on how it’s written. I want you to know it’s a challenge for us too. When I’m reading and I come across the word that’s unfamiliar to me, I usually stop and look it up. So even Americans need to do this, need to look up the pronunciation. There’s also the flipside when we hear a word, figuring out how to write it down, how to spell it, can be tricky. Native speakers of American English have a hard time with spelling too.
I was playing charades with a group of friends once and we all had to write down something for someone to act out. So we all wrote something down on a piece of paper, and put it in a bowl. My friend wrote down ‘Rachel scratching her eczema.’ Because at that time, I was having a lot of skin issues and she wrote it like this: eggsema. Eggs, like the eggs we eat from a chicken. that just made me laugh so hard but it also made perfect sense. Eczema. One pronunciation is the EH as in Bed vowel, G and Z, just like the word ‘eggs’. So when you’re learning a new word, it might indeed be hard to figure out the pronunciation. But even when you know the sounds and you hear a native speaker, it can be hard to do it yourself. I want to show you one other trick that you can have to work on this. Slow down the videos on Youglish.
In the YouTube player, come here to settings and then click speed and you can see you have lots of options. You’re going to choose normal or something slower. Here, I’ve chosen 0.5 speed. That’s half as fast as normal.
Eczema. Eczema. So by hearing it slower, it helps me more easily identify what exactly she’s doing with the sounds and I can imitate it myself slowly.
So now you have the resources and the know-how to teach yourself the pronunciation of any word. The thing I love about Youglish is if you’re looking for something that’s not in the dictionary, like a business name, for example. There’s a good chance you’ll find examples of native speakers saying it on Youglish. You can also use Youglish for a whole phrase, not just a single word. I hope these resources help you train your best pronunciation. Keep checking back with me for more tips on how to improve your American English pronunciation with new videos every week.