Not being an English native speaker, I find there are many words I pronounce differently from how an anglophone would (and differently from the phonetics prescribed in typical dictionaries). However, what confuses me is that my anglophone friends cannot understand me at all, even when there is only a slight change in pronunciation; the only solution has been to spell out the word.

Does mispronunciation of a word really make it that unintelligible?

closed as not constructive by RegDwigнt May 12 '11 at 10:24

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  • Can you give a few examples of such words? – teylyn May 12 '11 at 4:48
  • I often have this problem when I pronounce the numbers 13,14,30 and 40. – Theta30 May 12 '11 at 6:01
  • @Bogdan: don't worry about that -- I sometimes have trouble distinguishing between these numbers even when they are pronounced by native English speakers. I read somewhere that 13, 14, 30 and 40 are distinguished by their accents as well as by the final vowel, and that these accents are different in various parts of the English-speaking world. – Peter Shor May 12 '11 at 10:21
  • Sorry, but in what way is this question per se "subjective and argumentative"? People can answer any question in a subjective and argumentative way, but in principle the question is asking about a matter of phonetic and phonological fact as far as I can see. – Neil Coffey May 12 '11 at 10:41
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    @Neil: in its current form, this is a non-question. "Does mispronunciation [define 'mispronunciation'] of a word [define 'a word'] really make it that [define 'that'] unintelligible?" It's hard to think of a way to make this question more vague. Besides, the OP has essentially answered it himself. Obviously, his friends can't understand him. (Nota bene: unlike us, they actually know him, the mispronunciations, and the words in question.) Now we're somehow supposed to figure out whether his friends are right or wrong. Sorry, I don't see the point and I stand by my close vote. – RegDwigнt May 12 '11 at 21:43

Absolutely. Different (or wrong) pronunciation can make a word unintelligible. The thing with English is that there are so many homophones (e.g. threw/through, your/you're, yore/yaw), and words spelt the same but that mean completely different things (see 21 Reasons Why English Sucks), that accuracy in pronunciation and the emphasis on certain syllables becomes very important for clarity.

I would consider mildly different pronunciation of words to be inherently part of a person's accent. In my experience, some people are better at understanding accents than others. Also, familiarity with your accent would make it easier for your friends to understand you when you pronounce a word differently from how they would. That is, the more you speak to people, over time they will become better at understanding what you mean.

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    Yaw is not a homophone to your, or you're. – Billy ONeal May 12 '11 at 5:28
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    @Billy: That's a matter of dialect. In non-rhotic dialects (eg British English) those words are all homophones. – psmears May 12 '11 at 10:20
  • @Billy ONeal: You might be surprised how many words you pronounce differently are in fact homophones to some speakers. Mind you, I'm constantly surprised at the number of people who think they can pronounce prince and prints differently if they want (so far as I'm aware, it's physically impossible). – FumbleFingers May 12 '11 at 22:11
  • Thanks FunbleFingers - in my Australian accent, Yaw is pronounced in exactly the same way as Your, You're and Yore. – Liv May 13 '11 at 0:27

The answer to your question highly depends on the frequency of your inaccurate pronunciation:

If you just make inaccurate pronunciation once a while, you probably will get your friends confused each time.

But if you make wrong pronunciations all the time, your native speaker friends will just be familiar with those pronunciations.

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