In a world where so much of our communication relies on reading and writing, learning how to pronounce words that are new to you can easily slip through the cracks…and then, often suddenly, you need them. You might see the word Skadarlija many times in emails and Serbia guides, but what will you do — or rather, what will you say, when you ask someone in person for restaurant recommendations in that area of Belgrade? And while the Irish town of Dún Laoghaire thoughtfully provides a pronunciation guide on the “About” page of their website, called “What’s Up With the Name?” it includes this key fact: “Locals know instantly what the struggling tourists are trying to say but curiosity will keep them waiting to see what unique sounds tumble forth.”
Language learning and regular conversations with locals are crucial ways for the globally mobile to address this challenge, but what about those who support them from a distance? In any given day, you might need to know how to pronounce words ranging from Medan, the provincial capital of North Sumatra in Indonesia, to guayabera, the men’s short sleeved shirt that is popular in tropical climates. At lunchtime, you might even ponder the pronunciation of words like pho, chipotle, charcuterie, and gyro.
I found the pronunciation dictionary Forvo while researching how to pronounce Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. It’s quickly become one of my favorite pronunciation resources. There are crowdsourced audio “definitions,” and the national origins of the speakers are identified. Not everyone uses the same pronunciation of Qatar, the country that occupies the Qatar Peninsula in the Persian Gulf, or Nguyen, a common surname in Vietnam and Thailand.
I’m looking forward to bringing out Forvo this week, when my family celebrates American Thanksgiving and has our traditional debate about the pronunciation of one of our favorite pies, pecan. Even it’s not a holiday in your part of the world, I hope you find fun opportunities to explore what “unique sounds tumble forth” around you!