The Most Important English Pronunciation Flaws That Learners Ignore

Profile Pic Pamela Lajato   August 03, 2018

Mistake 1. Pronouncing Heteronyms the Same Way

Heteronyms are words that are spelled exactly the same but mean different things.

For example, “read” looks the exact same in both the present and past tense:

I read a chapter from “Harry Potter” every night.

I read the textbook assignment before this morning’s class.

However, the pronunciation is quite different, with the present tense using a long “e” sound, like “reed,” and the past tense using the short “e” sound, like”red.” Forvo has some great audio files of the present and past tense of “read” compared side-by-side.

To avoid this mistake, learners should take the time to familiarize themselves with some of the most frequently used heteronyms. The University of Michigan has a helpful list of common heteronyms and how to pronounce them.

Mistake 2. Pronouncing Each Vowel Only One Way

English vowels can be complicated, with just one letter having many different sounds.

For example, the little vowel “o” has three distinct sounds, and that’s without considering vowel combination sounds!

Using the links below, listen to the following words:




Notice how each “o” is pronounced differently.

It’s really important that learners take the time to study every possible sound made by English vowels. For an in-depth guide on all the English vowel sounds, check out this article.

Mistake 4. Pronouncing “Th” Only One Way

Here’s another mistake similar to the one above. The English syllable “th” has two distinct pronunciations, which many English learners tend to forget.

“Th” can either be voiced (with vocal chord vibration) or voiceless (without vocal chord vibration). Here’s how that actually sounds:

Voiced “th” in the word “than”

Voiceless “th” in the word “path”

The easiest way to tell the difference is to put your fingers on your throat and see if you can feel vibrations.

You can see and hear a list of words that use the voiced “th” on this page from the University of California Berkeley. They also have one for the voiceless “th” here.

Mistake 5. Pronouncing Silent Letters

It’s important to remember that pronunciation doesn’t always go by the letters in a word. Very often, certain letters aren’t pronounced in English words.

Consider the word “used” in the following two sentences:

I used the last of the shampoo.

I used to hate broccoli.

When alone, as in the first sentence, you pronounce the final “d” in “used.” However, when it’s a part of the phrase “used to,” the final “d” sound is dropped.