I've noticed that I and others (sometimes entire communities) mispronounce words in a second language, which they could in theory pronounce well using phonemes of their first language, because of the words' spellings. For example, pronouncing "rough" as [rɔf] instead of [rɐf] because the first vowel is "o", for a speaker who has the sound [ɐ] in their first language. Or incorrectly putting the accent on a word's last syllable, because the word ends with a consonant. People can stick to these mispronunciations for years, not noticing their mistakes, and teaching them to others.

Are there any strategies or tactics that reduce these errors when learning new words? I'm not asking how to correctly guess the pronunciation of a word, but instead how not to be deaf to the real pronunciation, due to knowing the spelling of the word.


4 Answers 4


A straightforward way is to learn the words in a way where you not only see the word but also hear the word.

When learning new words with Anki, AwesomeTTS can automatically generate an audio-file with the proper pronunciation.

Other solutions like Pimsleur Tapes, Rosetta Stone or Duolingo also will give the learner the correct pronunciation.


I think the right way to learn the right word pronunciations is to get the proper pronunciation dictionary (or any dictionary where each word is associated with its dictionary).

By dictionary, I mean either:

To reduce the errors, you'll have to check the word as soon as you can, to avoid remembering it wrong and repeat few times loudly and compare with the lector voice. Also by comparing with similar words which has same phonetic notation. Especially note the accent on which syllable is the stress which sometimes are more important than the pronunciation of the letters it-self. Once you learn few similar words, it should be easy to learn similar.

Also you shouldn't worry about pronouncing specific consonants/vowels/diphthongs (e.g. [rɔf]/[rɐf]), since everybody of us has different accent, even native English people each coming from different countries or even from local regions, they all could have different pronunciation. I think the most important is to understand the context and be able to talk with people, so they can understand you.

  • Yes, I agree that accents can be less important than other things for being understood. Still, having a pronunciation that matches a native accent better can help with being understood (even if it's not the same accent as the person you're speaking with—they might be familiar with that other accent, but might not be familiar with other learners who have made your particular mistakes.)
    – Dan Getz
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 13:47
  • 2
    It is true that even native people have different accents, however the problem is the difference between natives is usually smaller than the difference between natives and foreign people
    – Ooker
    Commented Apr 20, 2016 at 4:56

I am a native English speaker who read many books as a child. As a result of this I have often said a word I learned from a book only to be told that it is pronounced completely differently than I thought. In a language like English these mistakes may be inevitable because of the way rules of pronunciation shift so dramatically between words. In a language like Spanish, which has very regular rules of pronunciation, you could probably guess pronunciation without ever hearing the word aloud.

If you are trying to learn a language with irregular pronunciation (e.g. English) then the solution may be to increase the number of things you listen to. This may mean you need to listen to audiobooks (perhaps even while reading the book) or listen to the radio (try stations from multiple regions so you can get used to different accents).

If feel that you are persistently making the same mistakes then you may need to convince native language speakers to correct you when they hear mistakes. This could be anxiety-inducing; however, you could look at it as a sort of game you play with the people you talk to. If you don't have anyone to talk to (or you're too shy) then you could try watching television shows and pausing after each line to try and repeat it. This is time-consuming but may be worth it if it gives you practice pronouncing words the way they should be pronounced.


When the relationship between spelling and pronunciation is not extremely straightforward, there are no shortcuts for this. As a general rule, use dictionaries that provide the pronunciation and/or sound recordings from sites such as Forvo. (When I was studying languages at universities, we were told to use dictionaries, e.g. learner's dictionaries, with IPA transcriptions.)

  • When choosing a dictionary for the language you are learning, choose one that provides pronunciation information, ideally using the International Phonetic Alphabet or IPA. The advantage of IPA is that it works across languages, unlike some dictionary-specific systems that are used in a minority of dictionaries. If your target language has several "standards" for pronunciation, e.g. British versus American English, make sure that the dictionary at least provides the pronunciation for the variant you are learning. (Many good English dictionaries provide phonemic transcriptions for both British and American English.)
  • When learning new words, don't just look up their meaning (and usage examples) but also their pronunciation. Don't simply guess the pronunciaion or trust your intuition. Vera F. Birkenbihl liked to give the example of a German learner of English who mispronounced "although" as /ɔːltʌf/ instead of /ɔːlðoʊ/ for thirty years. Even in languages with a more straightforward relationship between spelling and pronuncation, you may guess an incorrect pronunciation. For example, native speakers of English or Dutch would not automatically pronounce the German world "Gluten" as / ɡluː'teːn/ (i.e. with a long and stressed on the second syllable). If you use word lists, add the transcription to the list for every word where the pronunciation differs from what you expected. (When I was studying English at university, they made us look up the pronunciation of hundreds of words; tedious but effective. There were no audio files on the internet at that time.)
  • If you use a spaced repetition system such as Anki, learn how to add audio files, e.g. from Forvo.com, to your flashcards. These can be used instead of IPA transcriptions. In longer words, audio files can be useful for learning the secondary stress, if there is one.
  • When listening to audio materials, you may want to take note of words that are pronounced differently than you expected. These words can then also be added to your spaced repetition system.

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