How to pronounce interpret

This week’s seminar speaker (German, but currently working in the US) made several interesting pronunciation mistakes. Most notably, he kept pronouncing the verb interpret so incorrectly that I did not even recognize it immediately.

To understand what went wrong, we best look at the phonetic spelling. The are actually several pronunciations of interpret that are considered to be correct. The OED gives [ɪnˈtɜː(r)prət], where the r in parentheses is included only in American English. However, other sources (e.g., Longman) in particular include [ɪnˈtɜːprɪt], which will play an important role in the context of the aforementioned seminar speaker.

The phonetic spelling [ɪnˈtɜːprɪt] reveals several important details regarding the pronunciation of interpret. First, the stress (indicated by ‘) is on the second syllable. Second, the first e in interpret is pronounced as a long sound (ɜː), whereas the second e is pronounced as a short sound (ɪ). In strong contrast, the seminar speaker consistently pronounced interpret as [‘ɪntəprɪ:t], stressing the first syllable, pronouncing the first e short and the second e long. These three mistakes combined make it very hard to understand the word, so people had to rely on context. A possible origin of this mispronunciation is that the prefix inter- is pronounced very differently in words such as international [ˌɪntəˈnæʃnəl]. However, pronunciation rules in English are not entirely systematic, so that you should not extrapolate from one word to another.

As always, let me strongly suggest to follow the principle that your English is never too good to look up pronunciations in a dictionary. Doing so very often leads to interesting discoveries, even for native speakers.

 

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Can you really count to five?

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I’m quite sure that even people who are not very confident about their English in general would not hesitate to claim that they can of course count to five. However, if you take pronunciation into consideration, this is not be true for many of them. (This post was inspired by an announcement I recently heard on a train in which five was pronounced incorrectly.)

Let’s stick to tradition and start at the beginning.

1 – one

Most people get this one right but there are in fact two possible pronunciations: [wʌn] and [wɒn] (used by 70% and 30% of British English speakers, respectively, see the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary). To hear the different o sounds, click here and here.

2 – two

The pronunciation of two is straight-forward, namely [tuː], identical to the word too.

3 – three

This is where it’s getting tricky. The th is a major challenge for many nonnative speakers, as explained in detail in this post. Listen to the correct pronunciation [θriː] here.

4 – four

After the difficult number three, four is quite easy in comparison. The pronunciation is [fɔː(r)] (the r is for American English), identical to that of the strong form of for.

5 – five

Congratulations if you have made it so far, but there is one more obstacle to overcome. Unbeknown to virtually all German-speaking people, the v in five is not pronounced like the letter f at the beginning but like the v in seven. Hence, the correct pronunciation of five is [faɪv]. In fact, v in English is never pronounced as f, but there is a single word for which f is pronounced as v. If you want to know which word, read this post.

How to pronounce expertise

During a recent talk I heard someone (a nonnative speaker) pronounce the noun expertise in a way I had not heard before, namely as [ˌekspɜːˈtaiz], similar perhaps to exercise (listen here). While at first I thought this was simply a pronunciation mistake, it turns out that the verb to expertise (yes, there is a verb, and it means “to study or investigate as an expert”, see here) is in fact pronounced [ˌekspɜːˈtaiz]. However, the standard pronunciation of the noun expertise is [ˌekspɜːˈtiːz]. You can listen to the correct pronunciation here.

 

English derailed by Deutsche Bahn

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As a regular commuter, Deutsche Bahn has caused me quite some headaches in the past. However, they also provide valuable input for this blog. Today, I want to share some of my recent observations regarding their special version of the English language. While it is quite common for passengers to make fun of the staff, you may want to double-check that you are not making some of these mistakes yourself!

Welcome an board

Very often, things get off to a bad start when new passengers are welcome with the phrase “Welcome an board”.

Improper pronunciation of places

Quite a few towns in Germany have an English translation of their name. Examples include Munich, Nuremberg, Cologne, and Berlin. However, the staff of DB tries very hard to avoid using these internationally known names in their English broadcasts, and instead uses the German names that are typically very hard to understand for foreigners. Hence, you often hear sentences such as “The next stop will be Köln.” or even worse “We will now arrive Nüremberg” (yes, they do pronounce the English word Nuremberg with an umlaut!).

Improper use of arrive

There is a widespread misunderstanding at DB that arrive is the direct translation of the German word erreichen. Therefore, the staff construct very strange sentences such as “We will now arrive München” (Wir erreichen jetzt München) instead of “We will now arrive in Munich”. I have even heard the expression “We will arrive the next stop”…

Track vs. platform

DB staff typically translate “Gleis 5” as “Track 5” instead of the more common “Platform 5” used, for example, in the UK. This may cause confusion at the train station.

Opposite and opposide

A very interesting mistake that could also affect others is the incorrect pronunciation of the word opposite, which is often pronounced as if it were spelled opposide (on the other side); the correct pronunciation is given here.

Good bye

Finally, especially in Bavaria, it is very common to hear a friendly good bye with bye pronounced in Bavarian at the end of your journey.

Coffee English

Coffee is not just an important part of my life (I just had my first espresso of the day, prepared using freshly ground beans and a manual espresso machine), but plays a key role for our society. A very readable history of coffee can be found here. In this post, I want to discuss some vocabulary and pronunciation to get you ready for your next visit to the coffee shop, or a discussion with coffee buffs. Due to the enormous richness of the topic, I’m sure that I will not cover everything.

Types of coffee

While I have moved on to espresso, many people are still perfectly happy with drip coffee (also drip brew or filtered coffee), which is prepared by letting hot water trickle through a filter with ground coffee beans. Surprisingly, despite the recent boom of high-quality coffee shops, instant coffee made from hot water and a powder obtained by drying brewed coffee beans is still very popular. Two slightly more sophisticated varieties are the French press and the moka. A moka is similar but not identical to an espresso. It is made with lower water pressure and hence has no crema (as opposed to cream and creme) and has a less oily and thinner appearance. Finally, there is of course an almost endless variety of espresso-based drinks such as the latte and the macchiato. Note that these drinks are made with so-called frothed milk and have milk froth on top (rather than milk foam). All of these varieties can also prepared by using decaffeinated beans. For example, you may order a decaf cappuccino.

Types of coffee makers

The generic term for a device that makes coffee is coffee maker or coffee machine. Among the most popular choices are the electric drip coffee maker, the moka pot, the French press, and George Clooney’s favourite the single-serve coffee maker that uses coffee packs, pods or capsules. The key piece of equipment for coffee shops and enthusiasts is however the espresso machine in combination with a coffee grinder. While I personally prefer a manual machine, there are also semi-automatic machines (which adjust the water volume) and super-automatic machines (which also grind automatically). In contrast to the super-automatic case, manual and semi-automatic machines require you to grind the right amount of coffee, put the coffee grind into the portafilter and tamp it into a puck using a tamper.

Pronunciation pitfalls

First, the word espresso is sometimes mispronounced as expresso (see also this post), that is, [ekˈspresəʊ] instead of [eˈspresəʊ]. More amusingly, the substance that makes so many people drink and crave coffee is called caffeine and is pronounced [ˈkæfiːn] (listen here). German native speakers often confuse caffeine with the German term Coffein, which they pronounce essentially identical to the English word coffin (listen here). Clearly, this may raise some eyebrows among English native speakers. In fact, I believe this potential confusion is the reason why the word caffeine is used in English in the first place.

OK, I think it is time for another espresso…

English for gourmets

Fine dining has become a hobby for many people, so it makes sense to acquire the necessary vocabulary. Because the English-speaking countries were for a long time not exactly known for their exquisite food, many of the expressions are in fact of French origin.

An amuse-bouche or amuse-gueule (listen here) (known as Gruß aus der Küche in German) is an appetizer served for free to get the customer in the mood for food.

Confusingly, an entrée (listen here) can either be the main dish of a meal (in American English, Hauptspeise in German) or a dish before the main dish (in British English, Vorspeise in German). Remember that when you are looking at a menu (not card, for my German-speaking readers) in the US trying to find the main courses!

Finally, the dessert (Nachtisch or Nachspeise) is pronounced as [dɪˈzɜː(r)t] (listen here), in contrast to those really dry regions  called deserts and pronounced [ˈdezə(r)t] (listen here).

How to pronounce Python

A python is not just a rather dangerous looking animal. It also gave the name to a very powerful and popular programming language — Python. Having heard different people pronounce Python in different ways, I decided to look up its pronunciation. This is what I found.

In British English, Python is pronounced as [ˈpaɪθən], whereas in American English it is pronounced as [ˈpaɪθɑːn]. Clearly, the o is pronounced very differently, and explains what I had been hearing. You can listen to both variants here.

If English is not your native language, make sure you pronounce the th correctly (at least when speaking English), as explained previously.