Pronouncing English properly is impossible.

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation, DON’T READ THIS, IT WILL DRIVE YOU MAD!

My dad, now 86 years old, used to force-recite this poem/pronunciation exercise/mental torture to me relentlessly 40 or 50 years ago. It was therefore both a shock of panic and of fond recognition to find that it is still alive and kicking today. I will just give you the first couple of stanzas here, the rest can be found on many places on the internet. If you get the whole thing right (you won’t), try an Irish accent. Or Jamaican.

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.

Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say-said, pay-paid, laid but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
Woven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
Missiles, similes, reviles.

Oh dear, that reminds me. Does anyone have the story of Arthur the rat, who’d never take the trouble to make up his mind? I remember students crying in the office next door, trying to get it right.

Pronounce the big words slowly, or why ‘camel’ is pronounced as ‘Bob’

Even if English is your first language, but particularly if it is not, during your presentation you are likely to stumble over the big words. And sometimes even the little ones. Here’s an embarrassing story about how I got into trouble because of a pronunciation mistake (somebody else’s) combined with stupidity (mine).

It was during a project in our aerospace faculty that involved students from abroad, innovation specialists from one of the main aircraft builders and everybody who was anybody in the faculty. During lunch, one of the Dutch organizers of the social program was talking about how it had been challenging for her to organize a special camel tour for the students, which had taken place the day before. Maybe it’s because on the whole her pronunciation was really good, but it took a long time, a very long time, much too long a time for me to realize that she was mispronouncing a word. It’s just that I wouldn’t put it beyond TUDelft to actually organize a camel tour for real. And she kept saying things that would make perfect sense in a talk about a camel tour. ‘The camels are really nice’, ‘Not all the students have seen a real camel’, ‘Only some of the students had ever been on a camel’, but also the strange and puzzling ‘They are very different from other camels’, and I still didn’t catch on! Finally she said: ‘We could not fit all the students in one camel boat’.


Suddenly the whole thing made sense and because I was shocked at my own stupidity I’m afraid I was a bit loud in my reaction (‘Oh I see, you mean CANAL tour!’). That must have been embarrassing for her, because a lot of people had heard the whole thing (if you’re reading this, I hope you will forgive me). I should have recognised the obvious pronunciation mistake much sooner of course. And in polite conversation, naturally, pronunciation mistakes must be ignored anyway

In a prepared presentation, however, any language issues are the responsibility of the speaker. This means that it is your job to make sure that you are understood and understandable. Words like “regenerative desulfurization”, “peroxidases”, “mesophilic sludge” should be treated with proper respect, and so should your audience. Mispronouncing their jargon may be construed as uninterestedness. ‘If you can’t even be bothered to learn to “speak the speak”, why should we believe that you should be taken seriously?’ If you look up, practise and take your time to pronounce words like “toxicity” slowly a nummer of times, I promise you will get it right during your talk and your audience will be able to understand what you are talking about. You can find the pronunciation of the words above (yes, they are real words, I did not make them up), and many others on The word “canal” is pronounced with the stress on the second syllable, the word “camel” is pronounced as “Bob”.