I teach accent reduction in Los Angeles and all over the world. These 5 words are often mispronounced by non-native English speakers causing confusion and embarrassment.
- FOCUS. If you mispronounce the first vowel you will be saying something very bad.
Making that Long O sound correctly is critical. It’s NOT the same O sound as in DOG. Your lips must be shaped like a small circle, the size of the tip of a pen.
So if you mean to say, “They need to FOCUS” but you use the wrong O sound, the American, Canadian and the Brit may hear you say, “They need to F*CK us”.
Oh, dear. That is really not good.
- BEACH. This vowel sound is NOT the same sound as in RICH. You need to spend a long time on this sound.
So when you say to the American, “I like your BEACH” and you use the wrong vowel sound, they will hear you say, “I like your BITCH”.
Yes, they really will hear that!
- BOSS. The American and Canadian Short O sound is quite stretched out. It’s the sound you may make when the doctor asks you to stick your tongue and say, “Ah”.
If you make this sound too quickly, it will sound like a different vowel and therefore a different word.
So if you ask an American at work, “Where is the BOSS” and use the wrong vowel sound, they may hear, “Where is the BUS”, and start giving you directions to the BUS station.
- EDIT. That Short E vowel should be very light and quick, quicker than you may think.
If you spend too long on the vowel, Americans, Canadians and Brits will hear a Short A sound, and you will have said a different word.
Therefore, when you mean to say, “It’s important to EDIT.”, and you use the wrong vowel sound, you will have said, “It’s important to ADD IT.”, which is the opposite of what you meant to say.
- BETTER. In America and Canada, the T sound between two vowels is most often not used as a true T sound. It will be more of a Rolled R or a light D sound.
But the first vowel sound is the key here. The Short E must be said very quickly, or it will be heard as a Short A.
So when you mean to say, “This report is BETTER than the other one”, and you’ve spent too long on the vowel, you will have said, “This report is BADDER than the other one”.
And like #4, this is the opposite of what you meant to say.
Here is a short list of other words that have another meaning if you use the incorrect vowel pronunciation.
START – STOP
FEEL – FILL
LIVE – LEAVE
REACH – RICH
HEAD – HAD
LETTER – LADDER
MATH – METH
SETTLE – SADDLE
TECHIE – TACKY
TAXED – TEXT
Hiring a dialect coach or a speech coach for accent reduction is really important, as you may be saying many words improperly and your friends and co-workers may not say anything. Often they think they’re being rude or annoying, so they keep quiet allowing you to continue mispronouncing.