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Help me find online resources for how to pronounce difficult words
May 5, 2012 1:32 PM   Subscribe

I have terrible pronunciation. Can you direct me to dictionary-type sites that teach how to pronounce words using high-quality audio files? Merriam-Webster has the basics and is easy to use, but I am also looking for resources that cover more specialized vocabularies such as cooking terms, medical terms, technology terms, the names of important cultural figures, place names, and product names. Obscurity/difficulty level: stuff like sambal oelek, Yulia Tymoshenko, Mies van der Rohe, SUSE, Schenectady, Elidel, Saucony.

I already know about this VOA site and HowJSay.com -- am looking for more & better. Thanks.
posted by Susan PG to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
Maybe forvo.com? I generally use it to figure out how to pronounce words & names in other languages. It won't have everything, but it might you with things you can't find elsewhere.
posted by brainmouse at 2:00 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you a native speaker of English with no history of cognitive impairment (e.g., stroke or aphasia)? Then you don't have terrible pronunciation, by definition. Your question suggests that you have identified a set of vocabulary items that you've seen in print, but never heard in speech. That's a very common problem, especially with uncommon words and technical terms. You can find lots of examples (in particular here, on Metafilter) of people who'd always pronounced "misled" as if it were the past-tense form of the verb "to misle," or "awry" with a long e. Foreign names have other obstacles, since it takes a while for accepted pronunciations to establish themselves, and they may be "domesticated" to one extent or another: for example, many large European cities have English names that differ markedly from their locally accepted names.

I think the biggest factor is to become comfortable with the idea that you know more words in writing than in speech. For the vast majority of the words you encounter, a dictionary like the one you link to should provide more or less authoritative guidance. If a dictionary is unable to help you, you can confidently assume that no one will think less of your speaking ability if you've never had to pronounce the term in question.
posted by Nomyte at 2:07 PM on May 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have found that asking people in social situations how certain expressions should be pronounced is a great way to start a conversation. Believe me, they won't think less of you for asking for assistance with pronunciation; they''ll treat it like a delightful spark of intelligence, and those seem rarer these days. Also, librarians love this.

A young friend of mine who is a voracious reader has come up with some fantabulous pronunciations on his own. The first time I heard him pronounce "Arch-i-pell-AH-go" (archipelago), I decided then and there that for me it was how it was going to be pronounced from then on. It still makes me happy.

A number of the words you listed are also personal nouns and trade names, so the pronunciation can easily vary from name-holder to name-holder. "Meese Ven der Row" may be the architect/designer, but my neighbor with the same spelling pronounces it "Vandry." You'll never know unless you ask that person.

And just for the record, "Saw-ko-nee" (Saucony) violates everything I've ever learned about pronunciation, except rule three above. I personally feel they do it just to be contrary, or so that sport shoe salesmen will have some tiny reason to feel smug and superior for ten seconds. Meh.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:01 PM on May 5, 2012


any word you're unsure how to pronounce--search Youtube for it. The search results will be videos (with audio)in which you're sure to find the word correctly pronounced.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 3:12 PM on May 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


The only reliable way I've found to learn these things is to listen to what I lovingly like to refer to as "boring people talking." NPR, TED talks, the BBC news, etc. That plus the dictionary and YouTube (as stated by BadgerDoctor) for specific look-up situations.

Also, be aware that great hordes of seemingly well-informed people can say proper names wrong for a long time and then collectively get corrected. One of the players on my school's football team has been talked about for months because he's really important, and actually most of the local radio types talked about him for years because he was a good player in high school. The university put out a notice to all the media folks that oh, by the way, they've been saying his name wrong since he enrolled, and this is really how he meant it to be said. Listening to them all trying (or not trying) to say it the new way during the Spring Game broadcasts was pretty amusing, especially when they reminded each other about it. The radio guys, somewhat ironically (given how much more they talked about him before the notice went out) did a much better job with the transition than the TV guys did.

Oh, WRT: Yulia Tymoshenko, everyone gets the Slavic names wrong. Just give it your best shot, that's what they all do. Or listen to the BBC, they usually do a better job than US broadcasters.

(I still say "eschew" would be better as "ess-kew" not "ess-shoe.")
posted by SMPA at 4:18 PM on May 5, 2012


> Maybe forvo.com? I generally use it to figure out how to pronounce words & names in other languages.

Bad idea. See this thread; there is no way to evaluate the accuracy of the given pronunciations, and I can assure you there are plenty of inaccurate ones.

> you can confidently assume that no one will think less of your speaking ability if you've never had to pronounce the term in question.

You are not answering the question, which is not "how to feel better about myself" but "how to pronounce difficult words."

OP: Unfortunately, there is no one source you can rely on. If you're lucky, Wikipedia will give a pronunciation (as with Saucony and a number of the others); if it doesn't, you can try googling, e.g., [Elidel pronounced], which gives "Pronounced: ELL-ih-dell" in the first hit. For sambal oelek there's a Visual Dictionary audio file, which is nice. But for particularly difficult items, you may have to post AskMe questions. (Or feel free to MeMail me; I do this sort of thing a lot, and have a lot of resources—like you, I need to know how things are pronounced!)
posted by languagehat at 4:22 PM on May 5, 2012


> any word you're unsure how to pronounce--search Youtube for it. The search results will be videos (with audio)in which you're sure to find the word correctly pronounced.

No, you're not "sure" to find it correctly pronounced. YouTube is a good idea, and I use it myself, but you have to use common sense; Junior Seau will be correctly pronounced because he played in America and every sportscaster knew how to say his name, but foreign names are routinely butchered.

> everyone gets the Slavic names wrong. Just give it your best shot, that's what they all do.

Again, the OP is not asking "how to give it my best shot" but "how to pronounce difficult words." As it happens, Wikipedia gives an accurate IPA pronunciation of Tymoshenko's name, so there is no need to guess.
posted by languagehat at 4:27 PM on May 5, 2012


> For sambal oelek there's a Visual Dictionary audio file, which is nice.

...And I just realized it's wrong! Sambal oelek is the old (Dutch) spelling of sambal ulek, oe being the Dutch spelling of u, so it's /'sambal 'ulek/, not /'olek/ (per the audio file). Just shows you how careful you have to be.
posted by languagehat at 4:43 PM on May 5, 2012


The PronunciationBook youtube channel is good. For example, here's vichyssoise and Wittgenstein.

Pro tip: Do not trust the PronoUnciationBook or PronunciationManual channels for anything but hilarity. Their videos will come up as related videos!
posted by heatherann at 5:41 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


No, don't trust youtube. If you care as much about getting pronunciation right as I do, then here my recommendation for what I use almost excusivley:

I wish I could find the link, but some time ago I read an article that convinced me that howjsay was one of the best sites around for this type of thing. The author showed how the website curators were linguistics professionals, and they offered both British and American pronunciations, and they had an automatic tracking system so that if a word they had not covered was requested many times, it would be flagged and they would make a new entry for it. Also, I suspect from my own usage that howjsay probably has one of the largest if not the largest lists of words-- tens of thousands at a minimum. I've been surprised at the breadth and depth of different words in many varied scientific and technical fields, and of course they have all the commonly used words covered. Also the website is simple, clean interface. It just works.

Well that makes me sound like a bit of a howjsay fan, and I guess I am. To me it really is one of the "best of the internet" sites. Because of that, I want to say I think I got the recommendation from metafilter, but maybe that's just because I often think the best of the internet is on metafilter. (Along with the worst, sometimes sadly. More sadly, from the same people who are usually the best. Wait stop-- take it to metatalk, I know...)
posted by seasparrow at 5:46 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (part of the Library of Congress) has pronunciation materials online for people who create talking books:

The ABC Book (pronunciation guide to commercial names)
Say How? (pronunciation guide to names of public figures)

Other resources:

TeachingBooks.net Author Name Pronunciation Guide
AudioEloquence.com - Research & Pronunciation Sites for Audiobook Narrators
posted by candyland at 8:09 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh wow, thank you all so much. All these links are great.

Audio Eloquence by the way links to something called IDEA (International Dialects of English Archives), which features fifteen-minute-long audio files of people reading English text, including both English language dialects and English spoken in the accents of other languages. I've been looking for a resource that would help me get better at identifying non-North American accents, and this is perfect --- thank you candyland!
posted by Susan PG at 9:58 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


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