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Want to know the exact pronunciation for the MOST DIFFICULT ENGLISH WORDS? I’ve got exactly what you need!
Today we’re studying words that are difficult in English because of the sound combinations. Don’t worry, they’re not just difficult for non-native speakers. They can be difficult for native speakers too.
So, and I also struggle with, and there’s no synonym for this one: rural. Rural. I get questions about that. R-U-R-A-L. It’s very difficult. Rural. Now, I’m noticing a pattern. With ‘regularly’ and ‘rural’, I think you’re having issues with R’s and L’s maybe. I have always struggled with the R. And I don’t know why. Can you help me? I can.
Rural? Yeah, that’s a tough word. We’re going to go over it, break it down, make it easier to pronounce, along with several other difficult words. And yes we’ll study the mouth movements of these tricky sound combinations with up close, slow motion shots. Craig Melvin is a broadcaster for NBC and he said rural is a tricky word, he also said regularly.
R’s and Ls’s. These are sounds you’re going to be seeing a lot of in this video. In fact, each word in this video has both sounds. Regularly. Regularly. Part of what we can do to make this word easier is focus on stress. The first syllable is stressed. Re-. For the first R, you need a lot of lip rounding. Re-. Let’s see that up close. Regularly
Can you believe how much the lips round for a beginning R? The tip of the tongue is pulled back and up a little bit inside the mouth, rrr. Re– Then the jaw drops and we have the EH vowel in the stressed syllable. Quite a bit of jaw drop. The tongue tip is down and the middle part of the tongue lifts up. This is a lot more jaw drop than we’ll get in the rest of the word with the unstressed syllables. Here we see the tongue move a little bit.
This is at the back of the tongue as the back lifts. Reg– The back of the tongue goes up to touch for the G: ggg— It’s touches the soft palate. Reg, reg. Regularly. Now we have three unstressed syllables. Reg–ularly. Regularly. You’ll see that the lips don’t round nearly as much for this second R because it doesn’t begin a stressed syllable. The lip position is more relaxed. Simplifying your mouth movements and mouth positions in unstressed syllables will help you sound more natural when speaking, it will help you focus on stress, and I think it will make these difficult words easier to say.
Let’s look at the mouth for the rest of this word. Regu– Y sound, schwa as the mouth moves into position for the L. This is a light L because it comes before the vowel or diphthong in the syllables. The Y sound is made with the back of the tongue on the roof of the mouth. Yy— yy– It’s up there for the G, it slides forward as it comes down. Regu-, regu-. Regularly. Regul– The light L can be made two different ways, with the tongue here, pressing up on the bottom of the top front teeth, or inside the mouth, pressing up on the roof of the mouth. Next we have the schwa-R. The R absorbs the schwa, so you don’t need to try to make a separate sound. It’s just R: Reg-u-lar–rrrr– Right from L to R. You’ll be able to see the tip of the tongue pull back and up for the R.
So here’s the R. See how the lip position is different from the beginning R? Much more relaxed. Let’s compare the two. Beginning R, much more rounded. R ending a syllable, much more relaxed. The tongue tip still pulls back and up though. Regularly. Now we move into another Light L, and again the tongue is pushing up against the bottom of the top front teeth. Then the tongue tip will go back into the mouth, behind the front bottom teeth, for the EE vowel: Ly– The front part of the tongue is arching towards the roof of the mouth. Let’s watch that word a few times slowly. Regularly. Regularly. Regularly.
When you’re practicing a longer word like this, it does help to break it up and practice it just the stressed syllables and just the unstressed syllables. Reg-ularly. Reg-ularly. It also helps to practice it slowed down. Regularly. Regularly. That’s something we do a lot of in my online school Rachel’s English Academy. If you can’t get it at regular pace, slow it down, work out the movements, make that comfortable before trying it again quickly. This feels like a lot of work, but you’re not going to have to do this for every word, just those words or phrases that are especially tricky for you.
So now you’ll hear it, you’ll see it three times, then a fourth time with no sound, you say it that fourth time, in slow motion. Regularly. Regularly. Regularly.
Now let’s tackle Rural. Rural. Beginning R, that’s going to be a really tight circle of the lips with the tip of the tongue pulled back and up. Rr– Rural. Rr– Yes indeed, a tight circle for the lips. Wait. Before we go further with that, I have to show you a clip from Rock, the pronunciation of the word ‘rural’ was actually a joke for their entire episode.
Oh, this isn’t for TGS. It’s for my movie. The rural juror has a limited release next week.
Oh, congratulations! I didn’t know they had a release date for the rur– for that movie.
Rural juror. Basically that phrase is almost entirely an R sound. Let’s get back to the word. The first syllable is stressed, it starts with the R sound. now the next sound is tricky because it’s followed by an R in the same syllable. The vowel is the vowel in book, cook, push, uh. UH. But the R that follows it does change it. You’ll hear a couple of different pronunciations of this word, but the most common is to make this an R vowel, Rur-al. Rural. Let’s look at it.
From the tight circle for the beginning R, the lips relax a bit for the R vowel. Lips are still flared though. The tongue has relaxed position just a bit. The tongue isn’t quite as close to the roof of the mouth. Now there is a little re-emphasis of the R as the tongue does go back up a little closer to the roof of the mouth again. Rrruuu— rruu—
I totally get why this word is so frustrating to practice. Working on it will help you improve your R sound. Because you can’t do this word without an American R. Ruuur– so I start with an R, then I let the tongue lower just a bit, and then I bring it back up again. Rrruuu– rural– rural. Then we have the second, unstressed syllable. You’ll see the lips relax. You can’t see the tongue, but the tip is coming back down behind the bottom front teeth.
What? This is an L. In ‘regularly’, we saw that tongue tip came here, ll. But that was a light L. This is a dark L. It comes after the vowel in the syllable. The Dark L is made with the back of the tongue and the tongue tip down relaxed. Watch. Rural. You will not see a tongue position like what we saw on ‘regularly’ with the Light L. No tongue tip visible. So you go straight from the R to the dark sound. Rruuurraal. Uhl. L is a syllabic consonant. It absorbs the schwa.
You don’t need to try to make that sound. Rural. Uhl. Just make that dark sound, tongue tip down, and the dark sound made with the back of the tongue. Uhl. uhl. The tongue presses down in the back just a little bit to make the dark sound. Rural. Let’s watch it three times slowly, then we’ll play it again silently, it’s your turn to practice it out loud that fourth time. Rural. Rural. Rural. Rural. A tough word. But again, if you practice it slowly, intentionally, it will get much easier. Who knows, maybe it will end up being your favorite words.
Before we move on to the next word, let me give a shout-out to Cambly who sponsored this video. I know a lot of you are teachers and I know a lot of you are parents. Cambly has a great way to help your kids learn English and sound natural because they’re learning from native teachers. Cambly has courses for kids aged -. They will meet with an experience one-on-one teacher on a completely flexible schedule that’s best for your family’s needs.
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The next word also came to mind from a video in the Interview a Broadcaster series that I did. This is Chris Jansing, a senior national correspondent for NBC news. She pointed out a word with R and L that gets mispronounced a lot. I do have some pet peeves. Like nuclear, which we know is nuclear. Nuclear. If you’re not confident saying this word it makes sense, because you’re hearing it mispronounced all the time. Many people say: nu-cu-ler, but it should be: nuc-le-ar. Nuclear.
The L goes with the K. Not, nu-cu-lar. Nuc-le-ar. By the way, this word has two different meanings. The one you probably know is relating to the nucleus of an atom, the release of energy associated with that, and then things like nuclear waste, nuclear weapons. But we also use it in reference to a family. It refers to parents and children. So, this is my nuclear family, and this picture was taken back in April.
When I was a kid, my nuclear family was different, it was me, my parents, and my brother. Nuclear. L goes with the K sound, first syllable stress, let’s look at it. Nuclear. Nu– nu– N consonant, OO vowel. Lips move into a circle for that stressed vowel, nu. Then the back of the tongue touches the soft palate in the back, that’s making the K. Kkl– The tongue tip immediately comes through the teeth for the L. Nucl-. It’s a light L because it comes before the vowel in the syllable. Then the tongue tip goes down, touching the backs of the bottom teeth for the EE. Nucle- –ar.
Next, you’ll see the lips come into a relaxed flare for the R, and you’ll see the tongue tip pull back and up a bit for the ending R. Nuclear. Focus on the stress, I think it will help. Now you’ll see it and hear it three times slowly. Then a fourth time silently, repeat it back out loud that fourth time. Nuclear. Nuclear. Nuclear.
Squirrel. How much do you hate this word? Let’s study it. It’s a two-syllable word with stress on the first syllable. Squirrel. Squirrel. Let’s take a look. Squirrel. First we have an S. The teeth are together. Why are the lips rounding? They don’t need to round for the S. That’s because they’re already getting ready for the W. You can’t see the K, that’s done with the back of the tongue and it happens very quickly before the lips come into a tight circle for the W. Squ.
Now we have the hard part. An R vowel-consonant. The thing I always have to tell my students with this vowel is that it doesn’t sound different than R. Rrr— the sound for the vowel and R are together, just one sound. Squ-irr–el. So don’t try to make a vowel and then an R, it’s just the R sound. So the lips flare and the tip of the tongue pulls back and up. Squirrel. Let’s see. Squir– Tongue tip lifted and pulled back, squirr-. It doesn’t pull back much.
I’ve definitely had students make a sound like squirr–. This is from pulling the tongue tip too far back. Rrrr. The correct sound is more forward. Squir– rrr– The tongue tip does pull back, but not a lot. Watch the sound you get. Match it to rrrrrrrrrrr and not rrrrrrrrrrr. And to finish off the word, we have a dark L. You won’t see the tongue tip come out of the teeth or go to the roof of the mouth because it’s a dark L. Squirrel. We just want the dark sound. the tongue tip comes back down from the R, And it touches lightly the backs of the bottom front teeth, it’s the back part of the tongue that makes that dark sound, pressing down the back a little bit, uhl, uhl, squirrel. Let’s watch. Squirrel. Squirrel. Here’s the dark sound. Let’s watch and listen three more times, then you repeat once while we’re watching. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. Regularly, rural, nuclear, squirrel. We covered some truly crazy words in this video.
What do you think of this slow motion, up close footage? Does it help? It would be way better if my cheeks were transparent, wouldn’t it? Sorry about that. I’ve dreamed about that for years. Please let me know in the comments below if you like this kind of video and what words you’d like to see next. And the best way for me to know that you liked it is to share it – the more views it gets, the more I know, do that again.
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