10 Common Difficult Words to Pronounce in English

By Aleja Briles

March 28, 2023

Man Practicing Common English Words

Trying to understand English can be a headache, even for native speakers. That’s why I want to cover 10 common difficult words to say in American English. Working on pronunciation of words is one of the most important steps to gaining confidence in speaking English fluently. If you want to hear how I pronounce these words, check out this youtube video here: https://youtu.be/UgZjlGBKi6s

In this post, we’re going to focus on 10 words in English that might seem very difficult to pronounce for ESL learners. My goal is to have you using these words more confidently by the end of today’s lesson. Let’s jump in!

  • Colonel (kur-nuhl): This word is pronounced ‘kernel’. This is someone in the military. You‘re going to hear this word more often than you think, especially when referencing family, friends or acquaintances that you may know that are in the military.
  • Mischievous (mis-chee-vee-us): Sometimes with this word you may hear different pronunciations depending on what region you‘re in or what country you might be in. In American English more often than not you‘re going to hear ‘mis-chee-vee-uhs’. This is if someone is sneaky or a little bit naughty or misbehaves but in an endearing way.
  • Drought (drowt): A drought is when there is a lack of rain or water, when the land is dry or if an area has not had rain in a long time. In this word the ‘gh’ sound is silent which makes it confusing for people trying to learn English.
  • Scissors (si-zrz): In the words scissors the C in this word appears to be silent and that double ‘s’ is going to give you more of a ‘z’ sound. Scissors are what we use to cut paper. I‘m sure you‘ve all seen scissors before.
  • Successful (suhk-seh-sfl): The word successful is definitely a mouthful. What I always encourage my students to do is to act as though you‘re smiling as you say this word. That will help you get out those letters more easily and fluently. That double C makes a ‘k’ sound.
  • Sixth (siksth): Sixth is the number order after fifth and before seventh. That ‘xth’ can be really difficult to pronounce.
  • Rural (rur-uhl): This is a word that‘s actually pretty difficult for me to say as well so don‘t be hard on yourself if you can‘t get it. This word is ‘rural’. This word has two of those difficult ‘er’ sounds that we have a lot in English. This is when something is out in the farmland or in ranch land. Open space is typically referred to as rural.
  • Specific (spuh-si-fuhk): The word specific has two of the letter ‘c’ pretty close to each other. That last ‘c’ sounds like a ‘k’ sound. This is not to be confused with words like Pacific which is the ocean. The word specific means something in particular or something that we’re trying to point out. If I say “I want this specific cookie,” I want a certain cookie. I want THAT one.
  • Temperature (tem-pruh-chr): This is another word that you might hear pronounced differently from region to region or across different countries. Here in America we say ‘tem-pruh-chr’ so that ‘er’ sound is not pronounced separately in temperature.
  • Often (aa-fn): I know this word seems pretty basic but that ‘oft’ can be difficult to bring together. Often refers to something that occurs frequently or regularly.

These words may not always come up in everyday conversation, but when they do, you‘re going to be prepared and be able to show off your English skills. Check back weekly for more English learning posts! See you soon!

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