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I have noticed that most of the time when I go to Starbucks and order a mocha, the cashier doesn't seem to understand unless I repeat it.

I am trying to think why is that the case since it is a very easy word to pronounce. I pronounce it as 'moka' but I am wondering if I should put a light w 'mowka' instead? If that's the case, does this really make such a huge difference between being understood or not?

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    @Mari-LouA I’m not sure exactly what the capitals in your phonetics mean, but if they’re supposed to indicate stress, then I have to say I’ve never heard anyone say either [lɑːˈteɪ] or [ˈdʒiːəʊvɑːni]. It’s always been [ˈlɑːteɪ] and [dʒəˈvɑːni] in my experience. The diphthongs and vowel lengths are of course inevitable. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 17 '14 at 7:38
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    @Keeto You don’t mention what your native language is, so it’s not clear at all exactly what your ‘moka’ means. The standard pronunciation of mocha in English is [ˈməʊkə] in British English and [ˈmoʊkə] in American English. Long /o/ does include a w-ish offglide (the [ʊ]), and a native English speaker would automatically add that in—so if you’re actually pronouncing it something like IPA [ˈmoka] (which is how the Spanish pronounce it, for example), then a native English speaker might find it somewhat difficult to understand. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 17 '14 at 7:42
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    @JanusBahsJacquet - Most Britons I know (including myself) would pronounce it with a short "o", as if it were spelt "mocka" (IPA [ˈmɒkə]). I would consider the [ˈməʊkə] pronunciation you suggested as rather pretentious, affected, or overly American-influenced. – Phil M Jones Sep 17 '14 at 10:43
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    @PhilMJones - In that case, Phil, you make a fair point, and it appears we essentially agree. – Erik Kowal Sep 17 '14 at 11:06
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    Tomato, tomato. – Adsy Sep 17 '14 at 11:24
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According to the online Merriam-Webster, Mocha is a small town and seaport in southwest Yemen that as early as 1773 had already given its name to the style of coffee.

The Arabic pronunciation of the name of the town can be heard here. However, nobody in the English-speaking world says the name that way, and I therefore doubt that your local Starbucks barista would understand what you meant if you used the Arabic pronunciation when ordering your coffee.

What must be remembered is that as soon as the speakers of Language A adopt a word from Language B, there is absolutely no guarantee that they will refrain from mutilating the original word in every possible way, from pronouncing it differently, to pluralizing it differently, to using it to mean something different to what it denoted in Language B.

And that is all perfectly natural and OK — it's one of those evolutionary mechanisms that operate in all languages whose speakers come into contact with outsiders.

Anyway, all this is a preamble to my conclusion, which is that there is no 'proper' way in English to say mocha — or bourgeoisie, or Venezia, or gulag, for that matter. Once a word has been imported from Language B by Language A, the speakers of A own it when they are speaking their own language, and they can do what they like with it. And they do. The different pronunciations of mocha around the world that Kyle has linked to in his answer amply demonstrate that point.

All one can say regarding its 'proper' pronunciation by speakers who have imported it into a language other than the one it came from (in this case, Arabic) is that there is likely to be a period where several different pronunciations of the newly-adopted word coexist, and that a consensus may eventually emerge regarding its usual pronunciation among the speakers of the adoptive language. That consensus too may vary from region to region and dialect to dialect.

Indeed, as far as mocha is concerned, I think Janus B J's comment above pretty much covers the situation as it currently applies to most native speakers of British and American English. I have reproduced the relevant part of that comment here, in case it gets deleted:

The standard pronunciation of mocha in English is [ˈməʊkə] in British English and [ˈmoʊkə] in American English. Long /o/ does include a w-ish offglide (the [ʊ]), and a native English speaker would automatically add that in—so if you’re actually pronouncing it something like IPA [ˈmoka] (which is how the Spanish pronounce it, for example), then a native English speaker might find it somewhat difficult to understand.

But I wouldn't advise anyone to go around 'correcting' other people's pronunciation of the word, because they frankly wouldn't have a leg to stand on if they were challenged.

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    +1 But I have to tell you that the Arabic pronunciation linked was difficult for me to understand, and I am an arabic native – Mina Sep 17 '14 at 8:31
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    haha I am actually Egyptian too but my question was "how to properly pronounce it in America" not the general correct pronunciation. I think I should have made that clearer in my question. But yes, Janus's comment sums it all up. This is actually what I was looking for. I was not really pronouncing the w-ish offglide. – Keeto Sep 17 '14 at 18:07
  • Not sure what you mean by [ˈməʊkə] being British English. /moka/ is the Australian way, and according to this it's the English way as well, schwa notwithstanding youtube.com/watch?v=zZifMmoZJYw ... – Joel Roberts Jan 3 '18 at 5:16
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Please see the link below for recordings of the word.

As we know, pronunciation varies widely from region to region. These samples should give you an idea of its pronunciation in a variety of world Englishes:

Recordings of the word "mocha" on forvo.com

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