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Today I am going to explore whether there is a standard correct pronunciation of a word. You will find out if you need to be worried about mispronouncing English words.

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Is There a Correct Way to Pronounce English Words?

Today I will be delving into if there is a standard correct pronunciation of a word and whether we should be concerned with mispronunciations.

On the one hand we know there is a standard pronunciation for words because quite simply that is what you will see when you look in a dictionary.

However, on the other hand it may well depend on the dictionary that you are looking in. For example, we know there are differences between American English and British English. Additionally, if you check the same word in the British, Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries, in some cases, you will still find different pronunciations.

You may also find that you and those close around you pronounce words a certain way, only to discover this is not how either dictionary suggests the word should be pronounced. Does that mean it is incorrect?

Mispronunciation of English Words: Does It Really Matter?

Whether it matters to mispronounce words depends on the situation you are in and what your needs are regarding English. As a teacher, I do like the notion of there being a standard correct pronunciation of a word. We should strive towards an ideal form of a word.

But who decides on the ideal form? That is a different matter, but let’s say if a few dictionaries agree on the correct pronunciation of a word, nine times out of 10, I’m going to go with what they say. Depending on the situation I may even adapt my own pronunciation, but I don’t advise this for everyone.  I’m just a pronunciation geek!

You may adapt your pronunciation according to the context. So, if you’re in a posh, formal or business situation, you may want to use the ideal form of a word, the dictionary form. But, otherwise, in a relaxed context, where you are just being yourself, you may wish to knowingly pronounce a word in a different way, which is just normal for you in your accent.

What Impact Does Accent Have on Incorrect Pronunciation?

When you consider the variety of different English accents, the question of whether there is a correct pronunciation of words becomes a bit of a hot potato. People have strong opinions on this because they will say there should not be an ideal form of how a word is pronounced due to the many different accents that exist. The way a person says a word is going to depend on their accent.

aying there is a correct way to pronounce words is a 'hot potato' subject. A 'hot potato' subject.
Saying there is a correct way to pronounce words is a ‘hot potato’ subject. A ‘hot potato’ subject is one that people have strong views about and often refuse to discuss.

While this may be true, I believe there is such a thing as an ideal form of language. Knowing the rules and using the rules is a kind of discipline, so it takes a lot of training to get there. It is a skill and you have to work for it.

So, yes, there is what we can call a standard or correct form and usually that’s a good form for students to pronounce. But if for any other reason, such as you don’t have that accent or you are not interested in the specifics of pronunciation, it doesn’t really matter.

My view is, as a lover of language, reading, words, I like to say words in their ideal form. That is why in my lessons I always teach you the standard British pronunciation of a word. But where relevant, I will include other variants such as the posh English pronunciation or American English pronunciation of a word.

The Oxford English Dictionary View on the ‘Correctness’ of Pronunciation

Finally, I will give the last word on the topic of ‘correctness’ in English pronunciation to the the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). They state that the dictionary is “is not concerned with prescribing the correct way to pronounce English words”, but rather that it includes the form a word that is the:

most widely acceptable, as well as most intelligible to native British English speakers and to which the speech of very many of them will in turn approximate closely.”

Oxford English Dictionary OED

Extend Your Learning

◼️ Watch my lesson on How to Pronounce ‘Garage’

◼️ Watch my lesson on Pronouncing t’s in English | The Glottal Stop

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Jade Joddle grows your confidence and skill to shine when speaking English.

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