Pronunciation dictionaries – How to verify the correct pronunciation of English words

↓ Summary     → En español

English is a non-phonetic language. This means that how a word is written in English doesn't tell you how to pronounce that word correctly. The 'g' in 'great' doesn't sound like the 'g' in 'beige', and the 'a' in 'awesome' doesn't sound like the 'a' in 'amber', for instance.

Also, for any of us whose native language is not English, some English words can be tricky. Because of how they are written, those words can make you believe that they have a similar pronunciation to a word in your native language, when in reality its pronunciation is very different. You can see some examples of this in Spanish here.


Verify the correct pronunciation of words in English using pronunciation dictionaries


If you checked the examples in Spanish, the moral of the story is: In general, don't try to guess the pronunciation of a word in English based just on its writing. The results can be catastrophic.

If you need to know how to correctly pronounce a word in English, look up the word in a trustworthy resource that can give you the correct pronunciation, like your preferred online dictionaries, or any offline dictionary you may have installed on your computer.

If you learn the IPA you will be able to read the pronunciation of words in English when you look them up in a dictionary, which is usually more reliable than relying only on audio files. Every quality English dictionary includes the IPA transcription of each word, or should at least use another system of phonetic transcriptions.

Now, sometimes it will happen that a word which pronunciation you need to know doesn't appear in your dictionaries. Technical terms, proper names or derivative words like verb conjugations (walking, thinking, etc.) are usually not included in normal dictionaries to save space.

For words like that you can try searching for their pronunciations in the following sites:

Lingorado - On this website you can consult the phonetic transcription in IPA of almost any word in English. Just write the words you want to look up in the text box, click on Show transcription, and the respective transcriptions will appear. If a word is not in the database it will appear again in red.

Next time you want to verify the pronunciation of a proper name like "Oswald" or "Janet", or the pronunciation of derivative words like "sameness" or "destroying", search the word here if it didn't appear in your normal dictionaries.


Easy Pronunciation - This website is pretty similar to Lingorado. You can use it to consult the IPA of one or several words in English at once. Nowadays I'm using this site to learn French pronunciation. I will add more information about this site in the future.


Howjsay.com - According to the slogan of the site, this is the world's biggest pronunciation dictionary. Input a word in English and the system will search and play a recording with the correct pronunciation of the word.

Place your mouse cursor on the word (it will appear in pink) for it to play again. You can replay the word as many times as you want by taking the mouse off it and placing it on the pink word again.

Howjsay would be kind of like an audio complement of Lingorado, I think. If the word you are looking for doesn't appear on Lingorado, search it here.


Forvo - This is a multi-lingual pronunciations dictionary, where regular users like you and me can submit recordings where they pronounce words in their native languages. Votes by other users determine if a pronunciation uploaded by someone is good or bad.

This is another resource that you can count on if the previous dictionaries didn't help you with the word you were looking for. And you can even use it to search for pronunciations in other languages.


How to pronounce - This website uses a very interesting concept: Instead of owning a database with pronunciations and/or transcriptions, HowToPronounce searches for your word in YouTube videos that have been manually transcribed in English.

If the system finds a video with a transcription that includes your word, it will play the respective video from the beginning of the sentence where your word is pronounced, and will show you the sentence written under the video too.

You can replay that section of the video to listen to your word as many times as you want, and you can also check out other videos that use your word if you click on the green button on the right (the one that has a triangle and a bar).

What an awesome idea for a pronunciation dictionary, I think. One very interesting option to complement the previous resources.


What to do when dictionaries fail you


If you tried to find your English word in all the previous dictionaries, and none of them could give you the correct pronunciation, try the following:

One option is to register in RhinoSpike.com, a site where you can submit short texts in any language you want (like English, for instance), and a native that masters the language will submit an audio where him or her says out loud the text you uploaded. This, given that you also upload audios saying out loud texts in your native language uploaded by other users.

If you submit to RhinoSpike a portion of the text where you found the word you don't know how to pronounce, it's probable that a native will make you the favor of reciting that portion of text out loud, so you finally know how your word is pronounced.

Another option would be to ask the pronunciation of the word in one of the following forums:
Remember to use these forums only as a last resource. Don't register and ask a question unless you've searched your word in your normal dictionaries and the previously mentioned pronunciation dictionaries.

If you decide to register in one of these forums make sure that you read any established rules, and make your question following those rules. Remember to provide some context for the word you don't know (like the sentence or paragraph where you found it), and ask if they could please provide you with the IPA transcription of the word or expression, if possible.

And then... cross your fingers, and keep the hope that an expert will answer your doubt.

If after a long time nobody answers (except to tell you "lol, faggot"), forget about that word for now. Don't try to guess the pronunciation of that weird word. Just accept that you don't know how to pronounce it right now, and move on. You will either learn it in the future, or you will never really need it.


Summary


English is non-phonetic. How a word in English is written DOESN'T tell you how to pronounce it. Don't try to guess the pronunciation of a word in English you don't understand. If you don't know the pronunciation, look it up in a dictionary.

If the pronunciation is not in your normal dictionary, search it in a pronunciation dictionary like Lingorado and/or Howjsay. If you can't find it there, ask how to pronounce it in a forum like WordReference.

If you don't get an answer, forget the word for now. You might learn it in the future, or maybe you will never need it because of how rare it is.


Last updated: July 8 of 2015

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