ENGLISCH/941: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (205) - friendly pronunciations (SB)

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

I've been learning English for a while. However, I am increasingly frustrated that I do not seem to be able to pronounce certain words correctly. Whenever I try to say "observer" or "conversational" I usually get stuck by considering the right pronunciation of the "s"-sound. Also, I don't know how to speak the suffix "tude" correctly as in "altitude", "magnitude", "gratitude" and so on. Could you give me some advice?

Peter K. (Munich, Germany)


Dear Mr K.

I know very well how frustrating it is to know a word like it is spelled and when to use it, but when you actually say it, you get stuck. You confuse the various sounds or you're just not super confident using it. Everyone of us knows such words, even native speakers.

And of course, thanks to Murphy, they always get in our way when we want to show ourselves from our best side and a polished pronunciation could really make an impression. On the other hand, it is also quite frustrating and confusing for those who try to understand what you mean. Good pronunciation is essential for a conversation that is as effective as it is friendly. Unfortunately, this is very underestimated nowadays.

Therefore and as for your question about the "s"-sound, I would advise you to listen more frequently to the news from British TV or radio stations. A British speaker will pronounce the "S" in observer very softly, as one would pronounce the phonetic character written like a [z]. This stands for a soft "s" like in "zero", "is" or "runs" or if you take a German example like in "lesen" or "Linsen".

Now in the second word "conversational" the letter "s" is pronounced [s]. This is a harder, sharper "s"-sound as in "famous" or in "see". A German example would be "lassen" or "Liste". In addition, we also have the words "conversation" and "converse" from the same language family, which are also spoken with a sharp [s].

Now, the other problem about the suffix "tude" at the end of words such as altitude", "magnitude", "gratitude", substitute is basically pronounced [tjud] but in conversation some British speakers of English make it sound a bit more like [tschud]. For British ears, this sounds a little more friendly and sympathetic. Americans pronounce it very differently, more like [tud].

So now in great "grati[tschud]" for your letter and hoping to have given you an answer with some magni[tschud] in British pronunciation ... .

Miranda Gobbledygook

13. August 2018

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