How Should We Pronounce Foreign Words? (2022)

What is different about words like bread, desk, and sword compared to words like burrito, bureau, and karaoke? If you said that the second set of words comes from other languages, you were right.

The process is called “borrowing,” and it happens when one language adds a word (or sometimes a short sound sequence) from another language into its own “lexicon” (that means “word collection/inventory in a language.”) Linguists also call these words “loanwords,” although both terms are pretty funny, because we certainly don’t give them back! All languages borrow words from other languages; this process is part of the larger category of phenomenon called “language contact.” The more bilingual people there are in an area—that is, the more contact between two languages in one spot—the more likely one language is to borrow from the other, although that’s not the only way it happens.

How Do Loanwords Get Pronounced?

Well, this is where things get tricky—and interesting. Let’s look at these three loanwords: tortilla, armadillo, guillotine. We pronounce the two L’s in tortilla like a Y, as they are in Spanish. Yet in armadillo we pronounce them like an L. Now consider guillotine from French: Most English speakers pronounce the two L’s like a Y, as it is in French, too, but not all English speakers!

(Video) The Guy Who Over-Pronounces Foreign Words

This spectrum of pronunciation patterns is called “assimilation.” Because English doesn’t usually pronounce L’s like Y’s, the word armadillo, we could say, has been fully assimilated into English. This could be because it has been around long enough for spelling to have influenced how speakers pronounce it.

What Is Assimilation, Exactly?

Well, in order to be used, loanwords must fit the phonological rules of the borrowing language, since a lot of the time, the original words contain sounds that the borrowing language doesn’t have. So, speakers automatically alter the words so they can say them. All native speakers unconsciously follow these rules. For example, in English we don’t cluster consonants V and L, so when we try, we stick a little space between them, out of necessity, and often without perceiving it, like the way we may pronounce the Croatian name “Vlasic pickles” like “vuh-lassik.” But, in Croatian and other languages such as Russian, that combination is common, so the speakers effortlessly blend the two sounds. Some speakers of Asian languages that do not have an L-sound may replace the L in foreign words with an R—a sound they do have, and one that falls into the same phonological category, so it makes sense as a substitute. This is just like the way English speakers often replace a Spanish rolled R with an English R. These substitutions aren’t random or illogical; they're systematic, and governed by rules. These rules—or restrictions—are called “phonotactic constraints.”

What’s really interesting (and more complicated) is that because word borrowing is a process, there are often long stretches in which the loanwords are pronounced differently in different speech communities. Here’s a fun example: Most of us in the U.S. say fillet a lot like French, without pronouncing the T. However, in Australia the word is fully assimilated into Australian English: They say “fill-it”! (Plus, you most likely have heard or will hear English speakers in some U.S. areas say tortilla with that L sound, too!) These variations across speech communities are possible when the words contain sounds that occur in both languages. For example, we say the French loanword cliché fairly close to the original: “klee-shay.” We are able to do this because we have a similar K-sound, L-sound, E-sound, “sh”-sound, and A-sound in English. Yet, we still alter the sounds slightly, and as a result, the word doesn’t sound like a French speaker is saying it.

Here is an interesting side note: While that fillet pronunciation may sound funny to many of us, most people would agree that the collection of dialects in Australia is fairly socially prestigious, meaning English there is not unfairly stigmatized worldwide, and so people are not likely to accuse Australians of ignorant pronunciations (something that unfortunately does get assigned to more stigmatized language varieties). Language and dialect “prestige,” or lack thereof, refers to the bias and stigma that people assign to ways of speaking that are associated with sociological characteristics, such as the financial or educational success of the speakers or the country. Studies about the interaction between society, culture, and language fall in the realm of sociolinguistics.

Even within one single speech community, there are sometimes variations. For example, while many people say the name of the French cathedral like “noder dame,” others say something more like “nochra dahm,” which is a bit closer to the French it came from.

(Video) How to Pronounce Foreign? (CORRECTLY)

Whether or not loanwords are adapted to the borrowing language or kept more “as is” depends on a variety of factors. One factor is how much people in the borrowing country hear native speakers of the lending language. Another factor is how much the sounds overlap. A third factor is how often the speech community uses the borrowed word. Yet another factor is the prestige of the lending language: Some studies show that speakers try to keep the original pronunciation more if the language is viewed as socially prestigious. (1) Finally, the longer a loanword has been borrowed, the more likely it is to be assimilated, or, at least, to have one agreed-upon pronunciation. For example, alcohol is technically a loanword, but it’s been around so long that we all say it the same way now. (1)

Why Are People Sensitive about How We Pronounce Loanwords?

Some people mock speakers for pronouncing loanwords using the speech patterns of the borrowing language, and other people mock speakers for pronouncing loanwords in the donor language “accent!” We just can’t win.

Let’s talk about that first type first. Unfortunately, it is very common for people to criticize speakers for pronouncing these words the way that the borrowing language requires. For example, people might make fun of you if you pronounce the L’s in “tortilla.” However, there are of course many reasons to avoid mocking speakers for using their own accents for foreign words, like that. For example, it’s important to remember that while you may speak the lending language, such as French or Spanish, fluently, or well enough to pronounce some words correctly, others haven’t had such exposure, or the privilege of education, or of learning and being exposed to other languages. Speakers are usually just pronouncing the words as they have always heard them. Also, think of how impossible it can be for speakers to produce sounds from languages we don’t know at all. Plus, if you happen to be using a word borrowed from a language you are familiar with, that works out great, but languages borrow from hundreds of other languages, so there is no way to make everyone able to pronounce all sounds around the world! (Here they are—click and see how many you can say!) Further, as blogger LinguiSchtick explains, brain studies show that sometimes, speakers are not even able to perceive certain foreign sounds that they don’t have in their native language—let alone produce them when pronouncing a loanword. (For more about the challenges of learning a language as an adult, and the varying degrees of bilingualism, read this article). So, it’s best not to accuse people of “butchering” a language they don’t know, especially when they are doing the best they can and speaking the way that they know.

Now let’s talk about the second way of pronouncing loanwords that people are sensitive about: honoring, so to speak, the original pronunciation. How should bilingual folks pronounce loanwords when they are fluent speakers of both languages? Bilingual anchorperson Vanessa Ruiz was criticized last year for pronouncing Spanish words with a Spanish “accent.” (You can read more about that story on LinguiSchtick’s blog.) In some ways, it seems unfair or at least unkind to criticize bilingual people for speaking as they normally would in their own language. When you hear people pronounce foreign words correctly, they may be doing it because they are they are engaging in an automatic act of “code-switching”: a language phenomenon that occurs largely unconsciously, and usually when the speaker knows that the listener is also bilingual.

What may have been off-putting to some about Ruiz is the fact that the code-switching felt less natural on live TV, because perhaps only half of her audience speaks Spanish. On the other hand, it could really only be labeled a communicative problem if the audience members who speak only English could not understand what she meant, and that was probably not an issue. Rolling R’s in Spanish words doesn’t really prevent English speakers from getting the message.

(Video) How to Pronounce FOREIGN -- American English Pronunciation

Another possibility is that people reacted to her in anger because they feel envious of people who are bilingual, though they may not be fully aware of it. Especially in the U.S., where learning a foreign language often isn’t required in schools, being fully fluent in a second language is pretty rare. Another possibility, also according to LinguiSchtick, is that people who do or do not pronounce Spanish words in Spanish ways may be expressing certain subtle political views about immigration, and cultural assimilation, which can definitely get folks riled up.

What About When We Learn a New Language, and Speak It to Native Speakers Who Don’t know English? How Should We Pronounce Their English Loanwords?

This is an interesting question! A good rule of thumb is, when you are speaking a foreign language, make your best effort to pronounce the English words the way they do, mostly because if you switch back into English accent patterns for English loanwords (hamburger is a common one), your listeners may not understand you. This applies to proper nouns and proper names, too, not just loanwords. Some people feel it is important to pronounce their own names as they truly sound in their own language, but that may not always work out well. For example, because French has no H sound, many French speakers pronounce “Hannah,” like “Anna,” no matter how much the Hannahs may try to insist otherwise! You could also find a compromise, like keeping the vowels and consonants that both languages share, but adapting the missing ones, or maybe adjusting syllable stress to a more natural pattern for the language you are speaking.

The neat thing about this is that sometimes people will switch to a foreign accent to say a name, like “Alice” as “ah-LEASE” in French, even when speaking in English, but only when the speaker knows that the other person speaks French, too, or, has met the francophone Alice in question. This is also a form of code-switching.

Here’s a funny story about a certain linguist who spent a year in France during college. She found herself following along pretty well, but then would hit a snag when French people spoke American names in a fully French accent, like this: “Sarah Jessica Parker” or “Elton John.” When she stared, baffled, they would say, “How could you not know who we’re talking about? He/she is so famous.” So, these pronunciations make sense for French people to communicate naturally with each other. It is a bit like the way we say “Paris” in English with the “S” at the end; it’s a proper noun that we use so much that it is officially an English word, even though it is spelled the same in both languages. So, this linguist learned that if she pronounced those English celebrities with a thick French pronunciation, the way they did, she was understood much faster.

So How Should We Pronounce Foreign Words?

In conclusion, here are some suggestions: Pronounce foreign words like you hear others do in your speech community; don’t criticize people who pronounce foreign words like their own native language requires; don’t criticize people who pronounce them like the foreign language; if you’d like to pronounce the foreign word in its original way, think about the people with whom you are speaking—do they speak that language, or know how to say those words the original way, too? And finally, if you’re traveling and speaking or learning to speak a foreign language there, try pronouncing English loanwords and names their way! The locals probably won’t even notice, and, they may understand you a lot faster.

(Video) How to Pronounce These Foreign Words in Russian? Пармезан, макароны, бухгалтер, парикмахер etc

And finally, finally, here's a short, funny video about the reaction you may get if you correct people's pronunciation of foreign words.

(1) Lev-Ari, S., San Giacomo, M., & Peperkamp, S. (2014). The effect of domain prestige and

interlocutors’ bilingualism on loanword adaptations. Journal of Sociolinguistics 18(5), 658–684.

(2) LinguiSchtick. (2015, Sept. 29). It’s okay if you can’t pronounce foreign words. LinguiSchtick. Accessed 2016, Sept. 27.

(Video) 22 Foreign Words in Daily English: Are they from your language?

How Should We Pronounce Foreign Words? (1)


What is a correct pronunciation? ›

Pronunciation is the way in which a word or a language is spoken. This may refer to generally agreed-upon sequences of sounds used in speaking a given word or language in a specific dialect ("correct pronunciation") or simply the way a particular individual speaks a word or language.

Why do we use foreign words? ›

First, if they do use foreign words and phrases, this can help readers interpret what is being said. It can even help them better understand where the speaker is from. It's also a great alternative to using foreign language at all.

How important is good pronunciation in a foreign language to you? ›

By using the correct sounds when you speak, others can quickly understand what you're trying to say. If you are great at grammar and know many different words, good pronunciation will help others hear and understand you even more clearly.

How do you write foreign words? ›

Foreign words and phrases used in an English text should be italicised (no quotation marks or inverted commas) and should have the appropriate accents: EXAMPLE: acquis, carte blanche, raison d'être, gezellig, hygge. AVOID: 'hygge' (inverted commas)

How can I improve my pronunciation? ›

Here are six top tips for you to practice and perfect your pronunciation.
  1. 1 - Listen! Listening to examples of authentic speech is the most obvious way to improve your own pronunciation. ...
  2. Record yourself. ...
  3. Get to know the phonemic chart. ...
  4. Use a dictionary. ...
  5. Do some exercise! ...
  6. Get to know your minimal pairs.
Nov 6, 2019

How do British pronounce Hello? ›

How to say hello like a British English speaker - English In A Minute

What is an example of a foreign word? ›

Many foreign words and phrases exist in our colloquial language. Some, like "Hasta la vista," have been made famous by the movies. Others, like "c'est la vie" and "ciao," are foreign, but their meaning is clearly understood.

What are foreign words? ›

Definition of foreign word

1 : a word of a foreign language. 2 : a word taken from another language, pronounced and written as alien, and in English usually printed in italics. 3 : a word adopted from another language : loanword.

How many foreign words are there in the English language? ›

One of the reasons why English has such a huge vocabulary- estimated to be more than two million words, though not all are in current use- is that English has borrowed words from up to 350 other languages. Some of the biggest contributions come from Latin and Greek, and French- via the Norman invasion of 1066.

What are the main types of pronunciation? ›

Essential Pronunciation Features

Sounds Consonants & Vowels 2. Speech chunks Chunking & Pausing 3. Stress Word stress & Sentence stress 4. Intonation Pitch level & Direction 5.

Does pronunciation matter in English? ›

The short answer is: It doesn't matter. The “quality” of your English does not depend on the origin of your accent. There's no such thing as a “good” or “bad” accent. But an understanding of clarity in English, and how your pronunciation can affect communication, does matter, and that's something you can improve.

How do you format foreign words in an essay? ›

In broad terms, unfamiliar foreign words or phrases should be italicized in English writing. This is common when referring to technical terms used by non-English writers.

Do you quote foreign words? ›

If you are writing a news-centric piece or are an independent journalist without a house style guide, follow the guideline from The Associated Press Stylebook (AP style): Use quotation marks around foreign words that aren't “understood universally.” In addition to the quotation marks, AP style also recommends ...

Do you Italicise foreign words? ›

If you're using a style guide, it will tell you whether to italicize foreign or unfamiliar words. For example, APA and Chicago styles specify that you only use italics the first time you use an unfamiliar non-English word or phrase. If you use the same word again, you should write it without italics.

How can I be perfect in English? ›

100 things you can do to improve your English
  1. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. ...
  2. Surround yourself in English. ...
  3. Practise every day. ...
  4. Tell your family and friends about your study plan. ...
  5. Practise the 4 core skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. ...
  6. Keep a notebook of new words you learn.
Oct 31, 2012

How can I speak English classy? ›

How to Speak Like a POSH BRITISH Person - YouTube

How can I speak clearly in English? ›

How to speak English better in 10 easy steps
  1. Imitate away. ...
  2. Avoid learning word by word. ...
  3. Use what you've learned immediately. ...
  4. Be an actor. ...
  5. Listen to others as much as you speak. ...
  6. Listen to yourself and get feedback from native speakers. ...
  7. Become visual. ...
  8. Narrate your life.
Sep 10, 2019

How do you say bye in London? ›

5 ways to say goodbye like a Brit: How to say goodbye in English - YouTube

How do you say hi in Korean? ›

How to Say "Hello" | Learn Korean - YouTube

How do you speak water? ›

How to Pronounce "Water" in British English and American English

What 5 languages make up English? ›

Having emerged from the dialects and vocabulary of Germanic peoples—Angles, Saxons, and Jutes—who settled in Britain in the 5th century CE, English today is a constantly changing language that has been influenced by a plethora of different cultures and languages, such as Latin, French, Dutch, and Afrikaans.

What are some foreign expressions? ›

Foreign expressions have become an integral part of the English language. Many of these expressions are commonly used in newspaper headlines.
  • De Facto. De facto is a Latin expression having two meanings. ...
  • Status quo. ...
  • Vis-à-Vis. ...
  • Per se. ...
  • Cul-de-sac. ...
  • Ad hoc. ...
  • Bona fide.
Aug 10, 2019

What are the foreign elements in English? ›

Vocabulary Development: Foreign Elements in English Usage – Latin and Greek Words
  • ad hoc. – improvised, impromptu, for a specific occasion.
  • sine qua non. – a necessary pre-condition.
  • inter alia. – among other things.
  • homo sapiens. – members of the human species.
  • curriculum vitae. ...
  • ex officio. ...
  • bona fide. ...
  • persona non grata.

How do you say I love you in all languages? ›

How To Say “I Love You” In Different Languages
  1. French — Je t'aime.
  2. Spanish — Te quiero.
  3. German — Ich liebe dich.
  4. Croatian — Volim te.
  5. Italian — Ti amo.
  6. Portuguese — Eu te amo.
  7. Swedish — Jag älskar dig.
  8. Romanian — Te iubesc.
Feb 8, 2021

What is the strongest word of love? ›

15 Words That Are Stronger Than 'Love' And Mean Far More
  • Lust – I lust after you. ...
  • Adore – I adore you. ...
  • Treasure – I treasure time with you. ...
  • Intimacy – I love our emotional intimacy. ...
  • Trust – I trust you with my heart. ...
  • Ally – I am your ally in life. ...
  • Value – I value your company. ...
  • Happy – You make me happy.
Jun 14, 2022

What is the longest word in English language? ›

Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is the longest word entered in the most trusted English dictionaries.

What is the hardest language to learn? ›

1. Mandarin Chinese. Interestingly, the hardest language to learn is also the most widely spoken native language in the world. Mandarin Chinese is challenging for a number of reasons.

Which language has most words? ›


What are the rules of English pronunciation? ›

If you have one consonant between two vowels, you usually pronounce the first vowel as a long vowel. If you put a vowel before a double consonant, two hard consonant sounds, or a consonant that sounds like two consonants (such as x), you'll pronounce it as a short vowel.

How do you pronounce words for beginners? ›

How to Pronounce EVERY English Word – The BEST English Dictionary

Which is more difficult grammar or pronunciation? ›

First confidence, then grammar and then pronunciation. Without confidence we cannot speak even our mother tongue. Grammar is the ladder to know any language. In the beginning pronunciation may not be correct but overtime we can speak properly.

Can pronunciation be taught? ›

The answer is yes, of course, it can; it's just that the way many textbooks teach it is one of the least effective. Many books will have you drill pronunciation with repetition of the vocabulary.

What is in a manner of speaking? ›

Definition of in a manner of speaking

used to say that a statement is true or accurate in a certain way even if it is not literally or completely true His retirement was, in a manner of speaking, the beginning of his real career.

What is the most important aspect of pronunciation? ›

Intonation. Intonation plays a key role in pronunciation. In many respects it's not what we say, but how we say it that conveys meaning. However, it's a bit silly to talk about intonation in isolation as it is often affected by stress, tone and rhythm.

Why do authors use foreign words? ›

When our fiction is set in another country or our characters speak other languages, we have the opportunity to use foreign words and phrases to enhance our writing, to establish a real sense of place, to create an atmosphere that is distinctly not American.

How do you quote foreign languages? ›

If you want to present a quotation in both a foreign language and in translation, place the foreign-language quotation in quotation marks if it is less than 40 words long and in a block quotation without quotation marks if it is 40 words or more.

How do you write non English words? ›

Italics for Non-English Words in Fiction
  1. Italics = Inauthentic. ...
  2. Italics Are for Emphasis. ...
  3. Fiction in Translation. ...
  4. Less Is More. ...
  5. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition.
Mar 17, 2020

Which is correct pronounciation or pronunciation? ›

“pronounciation” is incorrect and simply poor spelling. The correct word is pronunciation. The only difference is that “pronounciation” is a misspelling of “pronunciation.”

What is pronunciation explain with example? ›

Pronunciation is defined as how you say a word. An example of pronunciation is the difference in how many people say the word tomato. noun. 13. The act or manner of pronouncing syllables, words, and phrases with regard to the production of sounds and the placing of stress, intonation, etc.

What are the main types of pronunciation? ›

Essential Pronunciation Features

Sounds Consonants & Vowels 2. Speech chunks Chunking & Pausing 3. Stress Word stress & Sentence stress 4. Intonation Pitch level & Direction 5.

What is pronunciation basically? ›

pronunciation, in a most inclusive sense, the form in which the elementary symbols of language, the segmental phonemes or speech sounds, appear and are arranged in patterns of pitch, loudness, and duration.

Why is the pronounced two ways? ›

There are two ways to pronounce "the." One pronunciation sounds like /ðə/ ("thuh," rhymes with "duh") and the other sounds like /ði/ ("thee," rhymes with "free"). The pronunciation of the word "the" depends on the first sound of the word that comes after it.

How do you speak water? ›

How to Pronounce "Water" in British English and American English

What is in a manner of speaking? ›

Definition of in a manner of speaking

used to say that a statement is true or accurate in a certain way even if it is not literally or completely true His retirement was, in a manner of speaking, the beginning of his real career.

How do you teach pronunciation? ›

Word Stress Patterns - Help students improve their pronunciation by focusing on short sentences using standard word stress patterns. Introduce Stress and Intonation - One of the best ways to help students is to focus their attention on the music of English through the use of stress and intonation.

How many types of pronunciation are there in English? ›

There are two basic types of pronunciation respelling: "Phonemic" systems, as commonly found in American dictionaries, consistently use one symbol per English phoneme.

What are the rules of English pronunciation? ›

If you have one consonant between two vowels, you usually pronounce the first vowel as a long vowel. If you put a vowel before a double consonant, two hard consonant sounds, or a consonant that sounds like two consonants (such as x), you'll pronounce it as a short vowel.

What are the three elements of pronunciation? ›

They are: 1. Learning activity 1: stress. 2. Learning activity 2: rhythm.

What are the 3 types of phonetics? ›

Phonetics is divided into three types according to the production (articulatory), transmission (acoustic) and perception (auditive) of sounds.

What are the main aspect of pronunciation? ›

As well as creating correct vowel and consonant sounds using the muscles of our mouth, tongue and lips, there are other important aspects of pronunciation, including: word stress - emphasis on certain syllables in a word. sentence stress - emphasis on certain words in a sentence. linking - joining certain words ...

How do you say schedule in USA? ›

How to Pronounce SCHEDULE (US, UK & Australian pronunciation)


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