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10 of the most difficult English words for French people to pronounce

Asking French people to pronounce freight and threat is comedy gold for native English-speakers. These 10 are PAIN-FUL!

A four part image showing Ohio, a squirrel, an iron, and literature books

Can you guess these four English words that terrorise most French people? Pic: f11photo / Vaclav Matous / Ales Munt / jd8 / Shutterstock

Some English language words remain an Everest to climb for us Frenchies when trying to pronounce them properly. The Connexion has compiled a top 10 list of the most painful words for French people from ‘easiest’ to the most tongue-twisting.  

The number one is a given. Just reading it is stressful enough for us French people.

10. Ohio

This American state is one of the most frequently confused by French people who swallow the -ai sound between -Oh and -io. Most people pronounce it “Oh - ee - oh” and have trouble with the -ai sound.

9. Iron

We do not get this one correct, mainly because most French speakers cannot fathom how to slide pronunciation between two vowels - since the -r is very subtle.

The French language has often harsher -r sounds, which means many would try pronouncing it the English way, but with an -r that is often too strong (such as saying ‘eye-rohn’ or ‘ee-rohn’ instead of ‘eye-un’).

8. Hierarchy

The first English word that differs completely from its French counterpart, since both words are almost identical in spelling (hiérarchie in French). 

However, French hiérarchie includes every bit of the word, making it sound different from the English, which is more like ‘hi-rar-kee’, rather than the French ‘ee-yer-rar-chee’. The French -rar part of the word is much stronger than the English, and many French people cannot master the flow between ‘hi’ and ‘rar’.

7. Colonel

While it is not the hardest to pronounce, it is almost impossible to get a spot-on pronunciation of colonel (‘ker-nul’ in English) on a first try since the French equivalent (it is the same word) pronounces each vowel very clearly.

6. Threshold

The first word with the infamous -th sound that scares us. Ask any French to pronounce that word and Britons will hear it as ‘fresh + hold’.

The struggle is real for French people to make the -f and -th sound different. Deaf and death is another good example of that long standing and everlasting battle.

5. Threatened

The second word with a -th sound that breaks us. Asking French people to pronounce freight and threat is comedy gold for native English-speakers.

4. Throughout

The last word with a -th sound but with a final twist with the silent -gh sound. Listed by every French person who was asked their words for the list’s ten most challenging. 

Pronunciation of almost similarly written words such as thought, though, through or throughout is very very…very difficult for us, especially as they read the same but are all pronounced differently. Thanks, English!

3. Literature 

While almost similar in writing (littérature in French), the pronunciation completely differs from the French which have distinct and clear vowels while the English version has an accumulation of -t that sounds like a car is stalling. 

2. Squirrel

The -squi (like in squeeze) that is pronounced -squeu coupled with -rrel which sounds completely different from the French -rrel (like in the French aquarelle) has French people failing again. 

In English, it’s more like 'skwi-rrul' rather than 'squi-relle'.

1. Worcestershire

The absolute, unrivalled, unparalleled and most painful word for French people. It is absolutely the hardest word to pronounce. BY FAR.

It combines all of the most difficult sounds of the English language, having French people trying their way miserably across the board, attempting to break it down to four or even five syllables. The real spelling is even more magical to us.

"Breaking the word down as French people read it, the -c stands alone which means most people would read it as a -se (as in sector) sound in French, when it should be pronounced as 'ss'.

French people think they can master the -shire believing it to sound as it reads, when it does not. Instead of ‘shy-er’, it is pronounced either ‘sheer’ (with no hard ‘r’ at the end) or 'shuh'.

The difficulty of the word Worcestershire has made its way into an internet joke, with a video called ‘Three of the hardest words to say in the world’.  

The video lists ‘I was wrong’ and ‘I need help’ as the first two ‘words’, suggesting to the viewer that the video is talking about difficult emotions. It then drops the final word: Worcestershire, for a comedic pronunciation that highlights just how impossible non-Britons find it to say.

Even Americans seem to struggle with the word as this video suggests:


♬ original sound - Shabaz Says

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