The 5 Most Difficult Sounds in English Language Pronunciation

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Difficult Sounds in English

English is full of difficult sounds! Some are difficult for you, but may be easy for others.

For example, Brazilians have a hard time with the H and R sounds.

Asian learners struggle with R and L.

Arabic speakers have a hard time with P and B, 

BUT there are 5 sounds that EVERYONE struggles with!

Sounds are Not Letters

AND keep in mind that SOUNDS are NOT LETTERS! Sounds are phonemes, represented by letters. For example, the letters “th” make the sound “th,” which is one sound not represented by a single letter. Other sounds may be represented by a single letter, but the most difficult sounds are represented by more than one letter.

A lot of English learners and teachers will tell you that pronouncing these sounds is essential for communication in English, and that causes a lot of stress because it can take years to get them right. 

BUT honestly it is not essential to have perfect pronunciation in order to communicate.

For example, a lot of English learners say “t” instead of “th” or “tank you” instead of “thank you.” I will still know what you mean from the context. 

Even if you say something like “turd” instead of “third” it might make us giggle, but we will be able to understand what you mean, which is the most important thing, right?

The truth is that perfect pronunciation is, well, for perfectionists. You DON’T need it for fluent communication. 

BUT Mastering Difficult Sounds in English Language Pronunciation Will Improve Your Confidence

However, if your pronunciation is more native-like, it can help you to communicate more effectively by lowering the work (cognitive load) other people have to do to understand you. It’s especially difficult to talk with someone if you have a heavy accent and they have never spoken with someone like you before… but as for me, well, as an English teacher I’m used to speaking to people from all over the world with all kinds of cool accents!

Having native-like pronunciation can also make you feel more confident, and make you feel more a part of the native speaker’s culture.

You should, however, be proud of your accent and where you’re from. If you can keep a little of that with you when you speak English, as long as it’s not harming your communication, then why not?

The 5 Most Difficult Sounds in English Language Pronunciation

I’ve told you the truth — that you don’t need perfect pronunciation for communication. There is something more important, however, and that is called STRESS. For the sake of time, I am not going to teach it in this lesson, but I will teach it next week. Be sure to subscribe so you get a notification when it is published! If it is already published, I will link to it here.

So what are the 5 most difficult sounds and how can you practice them? 

  1. The TH sound
    1. Father
    2. Theater
  2. The ER sound
    1. Nurse
    2. Father
  3. The schwa sound
    1. Amazing
    2. Entrepreneur
  4. Consonant clusters
    1. Cluster
    2. Friend
    3. Stretch

 5. Short vs. Long vowels

    1. App, ape
    2. election
    3. Lick or like
    4. rob , robe
    5. Umbrella, usually

How to Improve Your Pronunciation

So, how do you get better at pronunciation? Especially with these difficult sounds?

It is NOT by simply repeating (that can even hurt you, if you continually repeat the wrong way!)

What you need to do is to understand the way the sounds work in your mouth. But THAT is another lesson!

I have a special invitation for you! If you are interested in learning more about speaking English fluently, join us for a free live fluency training! Check the link below for the next day and time available.


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Do you want to sound more like an American? You should check out this trick.


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