English pronunciation: can you spot the odd one out?

Cristina Cabal

Cristina Cabal has been teaching English to adult learners for over 25 years and has put that experience to good use in her own blog. As an advocate of interactive learning Cristina has been testing out English language knowledge over the past months. In her last quiz of the series, Cristina sets a pronunciation challenge; find the odd one out.

Should you ask your students what it is they find most challenging about learning English, most of them would probably answer “pronunciation”. But why is it such a nightmare for our students? The truth is that figuring out how to pronounce a word in English can sometimes be almost impossible. For example, did you know that the letters ‘ough’ can be pronounced in 6 different ways? I know it’s hard to believe, but take a good dictionary and have a look at the pronunciation of ‘although’, ‘drought’, ‘through’, ‘fought’, ‘cough’ and ‘enough’. Amazing, isn’t it? Add to this the fact that, sometimes, the same word can have different pronunciations – ‘record’ (noun and verb) or ‘live’ (verb and adjective). Or different words can have the same pronunciation, take for example ‘write’ and ‘right’ or ‘hear’ and ‘here’.

In my opinion, there are 2 main reasons that make English pronunciation difficult.

First, English has 44 sounds. What about your students’ mother tongue?  How many sounds are there in your students’ native language?  For example, Spanish or Japanese have less than 30 sounds. This means that when they speak in English, they are mainly using those sounds. The problem is that to pronounce English words correctly, they would need to add another 10 sounds in order to pronounce words nicely and this can be hard.

The second reason is that English pronunciation is unpredictable and really difficult even for English speakers.  There are some pronunciation rules, but there are so many exceptions to these rules that they are not worth learning.

Research shows that 80% of English people struggle to pronounce place names or common words such as ‘espresso’ or ‘prescription’. What is more, if they are reading something, and they come across a word they have never heard before, most probably they might not know how to pronounce it. I know, small consolation!

Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic wand to make you know how to pronounce every word correctly, but this quiz I have created focuses on some of the most common mistakes made by English learners and might be helpful.
In the quiz, you will have to choose the word that is different from the other three. Read them carefully. Good luck!


That may be the last of Cristina’s quizzes for now but the fun doesn’t have to be over. Why not take it from the top and test your knowledge on American versus British English spelling?

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