Last year I joined a group of non-native English speakers for a LIVE online chat. We were talking about New Year’s celebrations and traditions. I really love learning about different celebrations around the world, don’t you?
Did you know that in the Philippines it is important to have round fruit, like watermelon, on the table for a new year’s celebration? Or that Austrians like to waltz to the tune of the “Blue Danube” after the stroke of midnight?
I really enjoy such conversations, but I have to be honest, at times, it was very difficult for me to understand what the people were trying to say. Even though I am a native English speaker, our internet connection was good, and I was listening carefully, I still had trouble. What was the problem?
As I listened, I looked for a pattern. What was stopping the flow of conversation? Tricky English pronunciation. The main stumbling block was not vocabulary or grammar, as you might guess, it was pronunciation. The people in my group seemed to know what to say, but they didn’t know how to say it. During our talk, I noticed a lot of the mispronounced words had something in common – silent letters. Some common mistakes included words like hour, herbs and heir.
Those tricky silent letters in English!
A lot of people get caught up in memorizing long vocabulary lists, or practicing fancy grammatical structures, and yet I find over and over that good clear pronunciation is often the key for smooth conversations. Honestly, even people with a very high level of English can still feel like a beginner if they don’t pay attention to their pronunciation, especially when talking with a native speaker.
Don’t let this happen to you!
I wonder how many people, even those with a high level of English, struggle with silent letters in conversation. I know that some people even avoid saying certain words in English, because they are not comfortable with the pronunciation. I know this avoidance technique because I caught myself avoiding certain tricky words while speaking in a foreign language as well! But honestly, that is not a real solution, just imagine trying to avoid saying the word herbal, ‘I would like a cup of the tea that is made from a mixture of seed-bearing plants which do not have woody stems and die down to the ground after flowering.’ WHAT?? Who says that? That is totally awkward & weird! Don’t be that person, instead try to remember to simply drop the ‘h’ & ask for a cup of herbal tea.
The silent H
Today, I decided to create this post to help people like you feel more confident speaking English, especially with words that have those tricky silent letters. The truth is that no matter what your level of English may be, tricky words with silent letters, like herbs, psychology or pneumonia, can still pop up!
Here are a summary review from a video I made back in 2016, called February and other tricky words.
As this is my first post about pronunciation, please let me know your thoughts. If this topic interests you, please leave me a comment or question below.
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If you wish to watch the entire video lesson, you can find it here on
my YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/zwFvNvsBj5c