48 most commonly mispronounced English words and one awesome idea how to practise them

A lot of students find English pronunciation tricky and are put off by its inconsistencies, but as a teacher I have always advocated placing a lot of emphasis on this particular area and deliberately incorporating pronunciation practice in the curriculum. English is not a phonetic language, which means it’s not possible to work out the pronunciation just by looking at the written word. That’s why, you can’t say you know a particular vocabulary item, until you’ve learnt how to pronounce it correctly.

Here’s one idea to help your students practise some of the most commonly mispronounced words. Differentiated according to levels, this activity is great material for an awesome whole-class game. Here’s how to execute it:

  • Cut out the cards and put them in a hat/box for the students to pick at random.
  • Divide your students into two teams.
  • Get the teams to take turns at picking a card, nominating a different person to pick each time.
  • The person must read out the question. If he/she pronounces the key word (marked in bold) correctly, they must answer the question and they get to keep the card. One card=one point for the team.
  • If he/she mispronounces the key word, then they must return the card to the hat/box. The teacher offers correct pronunciation and gets all the students to repeat it. The students must pay attention, in case they pick the same card later in the game.
  • The winning team is whoever scores the most points within the allocated time. The suggested time frame for this game is 20 minutes.

Please note that it is British pronunciation that is offered in the phonetic alphabet in brackets and it is only provided as a guide for teachers and self-taught learners. The PDF version of the game, available below, comes without the pronunciation clues.

If you would like to hear these tricky words pronounced in British or American accent, please refer to one of the online dictionaries, for example Cambridge Dictionary,  which offer the audio function.

Have fun playing the game!

Pre-intermediate and Intermediate students

Would you rather own a yacht /jɒt/ or a four-wheel drive?When was the last time you had to wait in a queue /kjuː /?Would you be interested in going on a space voyage /ˈvɔɪ.ɪdʒ/?
Have you ever seen an owl /aʊl/ in real life?What foreign /ˈfɒrən/ languages do you speak?What’s your favourite castle /kɑːsəl/?
When was the last time you had to call in a plumber /ˈplʌmə/?Have you seen the film Tomb Raider /tuːm ˈreɪ.də/ ?Do you prefer dark chocolate or dairy /ˈdeə.ri/ ​chocolate?
How often do you go to the sauna /ˈsɔː.nə/?How often do you use wi- fi /ˈwaɪ.faɪ/?What do you think of gift vouchers /ˈvaʊ.tʃərz/?
Do you always keep your receipts  /rɪˈsiːts/ in case you decide to take something back to the shop?What colour are the cupboards /ˈkʌb.ədz/ in your kitchen?Do you think clothes should be comfortable /ˈkʌm.fə.tə.bəl/ or fashionable?
What’s your favourite dessert /dɪˈzɜːt/?Have you ever been to a desert /ˈdez.ət/?Does your country have many islands /ˈaɪ.ləndz/?
If you could own any vehicle /ˈvɪə.kəl/ on the planet, which one would you choose?How does autumn /ˈɔː.təm/ make you feel?When was the last time you wore a suit /suːt/?​
What’s your favourite vegetable /ˈvedʒ.tə.bəl/?Do you like smoked salmon /ˈsæm.ən/?Have you ever been in debt /det/?

Upper-intermediate and advanced students

Have you ever stayed at a chalet /ˈʃæl.eɪ/?Do you usually plan your itinerary /aɪˈtɪn.ər.ər.i/ in detail?What’s your favourite film genre /ˈʒɑ̃ː.rə/?
Do you consider yourself a conscientious /ˌkɒn.ʃiˈen.ʃəs/ person?Is there a strict hierarchy /ˈhaɪə.rɑː.ki/ of power in your company?Have you ever thumbed /θʌmd / a lift?
Have you been to the Mediterranean /ˌmed.ɪ.tərˈeɪ.ni.ən/?How much do you weigh /weɪ/?On a plane, do you prefer an aisle /aɪl/seat or a window seat?
Do you have a mortgage /ˈmɔː.ɡɪdʒ/?What are the most important qualities of a successful entrepreneur /ˌɒn.trə.prəˈnɜː(r)/?​Do you prefer the yolk /jəʊk/ or the white of an egg?
Do you have a rigorous fitness regime /reɪˈʒiːm/?Would you ever visit a psychic /ˈsaɪ.kɪk/ to learn about your future?Do you know how to play draughts /drɑːfts/?
Are you an heir /eər/ to your parents’ fortune?Does your country ever suffer from long periods of drought /draʊt/?What’s the best thing to do when you have diarrhoea /ˌdaɪ.əˈriː.ə/?
Did you learn how to play the xylophone /ˈzaɪ.lə.fəʊn/ at school?What are some of  your city’s most infamous  /ˈɪn.fə.məs/ locations?Do you feel anxious /ˈæŋk.ʃəs/ about the future?
Are you keen on lamb /læm/?Have you ever stayed at a hotel suite /swiːt/?Do you think gourmet /ˈɡɔː.meɪ/ cuisine is worth its price?