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.

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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.

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 refugee

Given the recent political developments in Europe, the word refugee is now used much more often by non-native speakers. Because most of them are not aware of the correct pronunciation, let me mention it here.

The most obvious mistake is to stress the word on the first syllable. Instead, refugee is stressed on the last syllable, as apparent from the phonetic spelling (‘ indicates stress)

[ˌrefjuˈdʒiː]

You can also clearly hear the stress on the last syllable here. (In the case of German speakers, putting the stress on the first syllable may be a classified as a pronunciation false friend related to the German word Flüchtling.)

Minor but also quite common mistakes are the pronunciation of the letter g as [] instead of [dʃ] (compare China and John), and the short pronunciation of the -ee ending (the : in i: indicates a long pronunciation).

How to pronounce corporate

In today’s business-driven world, many people are using the word corporate, even in non-English speaking countries. Whether you are talking about corporate design, corporate identity or something else, let me inform you about the correct pronunciation of corporate.

According to the OED, the correct pronunciation is either [ˈkɔːpərət] (British English) or [ˈkɔːrpərət] (American English). You can listen to both variants here. A fairly common alternative pronunciation is [ˈkɔː(r)pərɪt], with the ending pronounced like the word it. Finally, a common incorrect variant often used by nonnative speakers is [ˈkɔː(r)pərt], that is, with the “-rate” part of corporate pronounced just like the word rate.

Holy mispronunciation, Alfred!

A while ago, while watching Downton Abbey, I noticed that the name Alfred can be tricky to pronounce for non-native speakers. In particular, I remembered where I had heard it being pronounced differently — on TV. I’m not afraid to admit that I used to quite enjoy watching the TV series Batman while growing up. In the dubbed German version on Austrian television, Alfred was pronounced as [‘ɔːlfred] (with the first syllable pronounced like the word all). The proper English pronunciation is [‘ælfrid] (less common is [‘ælfrəd]), according to the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. You can hear the English pronunciation here, and the non-English pronunciation here (around the 40s mark; if you understand German, you will wonder why this series was ever on TV). Finally, the strange German pronunciation of Alfred also creeps up whenever people talk about Alfred Hitchcock, as in this example (he got it right the first time, but not the second time).

When a pair is not a couple

In particular German native speakers seem to have trouble correctly using the words pair and couple when referring to two people (married, or otherwise romantically involved), most likely because both words translate to the German Paar. In fact, the difference between pair and couple is quite subtle. From the Oxford English Dictionary, we have

pair: two people who are doing something together or who have a particular relationship (for example, a pair of students working on a project together)

couple: two people who are seen together, especially if they are married or in a romantic or sexual relationship

While both words can refer to two people who have something to do with each other, only couple is commonly used to describe a romantic relationship. Hence, in the following examples, couple is to be preferred over pair:

The two have been a pair couple since high school.

Married pairs couples fight more frequently.

We only have pairs couples among our friends.

We have been going to pair’s couple‘s therapy for quite some time.