Hardest sound to pronounce

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by HBZ55, Aug 10, 2009.

  1. HBZ55 Senior Member

    Arabic - Tunisia
    What is the hardest sound you have ever tried to pronounce in a language you're learning? I only speak three languages which are Arabic, English and French and I didn't find any sound particularly difficult, but I struggled a bit with some vowels in French and the overall intonation of English.
    Some people told me that they find the [q] sound very difficult to successfully imitate, and others told me the 3ayn letter is the most difficult, but I want to know the opinion of a larger group of people that have studied more than just a few languages.
  2. sakvaka

    sakvaka Senior Member

    The Swedish /ɧ/ and /ɕ/ have been the most difficult sounds for me, but I think they can be replaced with easier /ʃ/ and /tʃ/ without any confusion.

    But I've always managed to avoid "difficult pronunciations" when selecting languages to study :).
  3. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    When living in Paris, my first and last problem was the "r" sound, for example simply in "quatre". I knew how to pronounce it, but they never wanted to understand me, whatever I tried.

    I can pronounce Swedish, German, English, Irish, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese awfully bad, but they never blame me. In France it's different.
  4. wanpi Senior Member

    spanish - spain
    To me, the most difficult pronunciation as a spaniard is the double "e" in some words like "sheet". As the spanish only have 5 vowel sounds, and the english have 13.
    So, my problem is that I pronounce "Sheet" and "Shit" just the same...
  5. Tagarela Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
    Português - Brasil

    For me, as a Czech learner, it is ř. But I also have some problems with rolled /r/.

    Wanpi, I guess that you're not alone with the sheet - shit pronunciation :rolleyes:
  6. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    The vowel sound in the French word "feuille" is difficult for me as an English speaker. Some of the consonant combinations in German are very tricky for me, such as "Letzte".
  7. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    A lot of people have trouble with the retroflex "l", in IPA, this is "ɭ", and to give it its proper name, it is the "voiced retroflex lateral approximant". It is found in most Indian languages, I believe. I have personally studied the Tamil, Gujarati and Devanagari scripts and there is certainly a letter for that sound in all of these scripts. I know it to be used widely in Tamil and Gujarati and whilst it is used just as widely in many languages which use the Devanagari script, such as Marathi and Sanskrit, I am reliably informed that it is quite rare in Hindi, perhaps the most well-known of all languages to use Devanagari. Anyway, in these scripts, the corresponding letter is:

    Tamil: ள
    Gujarati: ળ
    Devanagari: ळ

    I, personally, have never had that much trouble with it, but speaking to friends who were born in England and learnt English as a child, but have decided to learn Gujarati or Marathi, in this case, as a second language, I have heard that they have trouble with this letter. "My teacher spent a whole lesson trying to teach me how to pronounce it and I still don't get it", was one "horror story". Even more problematic, for me, however, is the Tamil letter ழ. Technically, or so I'm informed, the sound isn't quite represented properly by the IPA, but the usual compromise, it seems, is "ɻ". I'm still not quite clear on how exactly this is properly pronounced, but it seems to me that it is pronounced even further back than the retroflex "l". It is, at least, an "l" of some description, although I did once read that it is pronounced "like an "r", but without the rounding" and in certain situations, it is close to an "r". Anyway, it is a very common sound in Tamil and I believe also in Malayalam. It is, I believe, possible to modify the Gujarati and Devanagari scripts to accommodate this sound in a transliteration, by using the modifying "dot" below the retroflex "l"s seen above, i.e.

    Gujarati: ળ઼
    Devanagari: ऴ

    However, these are not, to my knowledge, native sounds.
  8. enoo Senior Member

    French - France
    Well ... the English "th" sounds still give me some trouble. A year ago, I discovered I could actually pronounce them the right way, but it requires me to pay attention to it while talking.
    Otherwise, I pronouce it the way I did for years, something like "zis is an important fing" for example (bad habits, heh... :eek:)

    The Finnish and Spanish (rolled?)"r" are very difficult to me too.
    The Finnish h when it is before a consonnant (e.g. kahvi, tähti) although I'm sure this one must not be that difficult, but well ...

    Eww, strange, I mean, it sounds difficult not to understand that word, even pronounced with a "r" that's not correct. Especially since in colloquial speech, a lot of people drop the end of the word and say "quat' " (/kat/).
  9. Frank78

    Frank78 Senior Member

    Shouldn´t be that tricky.

    It´s let + sta (as in stay just without the y)

    I can´t pronounce a thrilling R. Although I´ve tried a lot. A friend of mine who speaks Russian and Polish told me that the tounge position is similar to the TH in English. Nevertheless I failed.
  10. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    What shouldn't be hard rarely has much to do with what is hard for a particular person. :) I knew a German-speaking native who couldn't get the word "unfathomable" out without a lot of stumbling, despite her brilliant command of multiple languages.
  11. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    Some Chinese consonants are very difficult to pronounce.
  12. Kanes Senior Member

    From the languages I know I think mine has the hardest consonants, Bulgarian. From experience I think those are the hardest for foreigners to pronounce:

    щ - sht
    ж - zh
    ц - tz
  13. Benedicta New Member

    The sound that has always been a little bit difficult to me is the "ll" in Spanish, like in "paella" or "calle" (street).
  14. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Like many people who havn't learned it in childhood, I am still at war with the fronted "r" [r]. I know how to pronounce it and most of the time I manage. But in some cases I still have problems, especially if trilling is phonemic, like Italian or Spanish "rr", or in certain combinations, like "tr".
  15. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    This is a classical problem for native speakers of Romance languages as they don't distinguish between [ɪ] and [iː] (though most have at least 7 and not 5 vowels, like Spanish).

    I remember a French speaking Swiss immigration officer asking a tourist "Verr do you leave?" "Pardon?" "I said 'Verr do you leaeaeave'!" "Pardon???" :D
  16. RaLo18 Senior Member

    I actually was never aware of the existence of such difference between shit and sheet.:confused:

    Anyway, I've never had difficulties pronouncing a sound, but learning the difference between Arabic ث, ظ and ذ was pretty complicated for me.
  17. sakvaka

    sakvaka Senior Member

    Did you possibly mean [i] and [i: ]? I assume that the main problem for them is the length of the vowel, not the height.
    Usually the vowel's actual "hue" doesn't even matter very much (well, in Finnish it doesn't :D).
  18. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    No, I really meant [ɪ] vs. [iː]. The words shit and sheet differ in both, length and quality (I take it that you mean quality when you say "hue"), i.e. shit [ʃɪt] vs. sheet [ʃi:t]; but quality is more important. If you say [ʃɪ:t] (as you sometimes do in the exclamation shit!) no-one would understand sheet; and if one says [ʃit] it might sound a bit outlandish but one would still understand sheet - unless it is said by a Frenchman, Italian or Spaniard because polyglot people might anticipate that mistake.

    This was actually the mistake the immigration officer made: he first said [liv] instead of [lɪv] and as he wanted to express himself more clearly he said [li:v]. This, of course, made things worse.
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2009
  19. jazyk Senior Member

    Brno, Česká republika
    Brazílie, portugalština
    He probably said [lif]. :)
  20. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Modern French does not have final obstruent devoicing any more. Words like définitif come form an older stage of the language.
  21. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    Same here for English: sheet/shit; sneakers/snickers; green/grin...

    In French, not to "swallow" the end of the nazal vowels. Hard to explain, bot I think people whose native language dosn't have them and who learned French, would understand.
  22. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    No, I don't.:) German doesn't have nasalized vowels still Germans don't swallow them in French but they confuse differnt nasalized vowels, e.g. Germans pronounce vin like vent.
  23. bb3ca201 Senior Member

    Toronto sa Chanada
    English/Scottish Gaelic, Canada
    Totally aside...that's hilarious. Be careful not to give the wrong message :D
  24. Erick404 Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro
    Portuguese - Brazil
    As a Portuguese speaker, I also have a difficult time with the many English vowels that sound the same to me.
    The other day I was quite surprised when I read something in the Wikipedia that mentioned the different vowels in "bad" and "bed". I thought they were homophones, and even now I can barely notice a difference, let alone pronounce them with distinct vowels.

    But I think the phoneme that troubles me most is the German R, [ʁ]. I think I pronounce it as a voiced version of [x], which is not as it was supposed to be.
  25. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    That is perfect! (To be pedantic, [ʁ] is the voiced version of [χ] and not of [x] but I suppose that is what you meant).
  26. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    Hello Erick404, you should listen more to British English. The bad-bed difference in USA English is really imperceptible.
  27. Suggar Senior Member

    I simply 'hate' the word être. In English I used to find difficult to pronounce words such as rhythm or shrink but it's because in Spanish we don't have those consonantal clusters. In Spanish some people find it difficult to pronounce the 'ñ', 'rr' but I think it depends on their native tongue.:)
  28. Erick404 Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro
    Portuguese - Brazil
    Well, I meant [x], the ach-laut phoneme, not [χ]. [χ] and [ʁ] should be "produced" with the tongue further back in the mouth, shouldn't they?

    Well, then I'm not as bad (or bed? :D) as I thought concerning these vowels.
  29. Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Hauts-de-Seine, France
    English (Ireland)
    What? I can very easily hear the difference in AE.

    In Hiberno-English there is also a clear difference between the two.
  30. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    The ach-Laut is[χ]. [x] occurs after /o/ and /u/ as in doch or Buch.

    PS: In addition, the /r/ phoneme has so many variations in German, I don't think many German would even notice, if you said [ɣ] (i.e. voiced [x]) instead of [ʁ] (i.e. voiced [χ]). I am almost sure I am floating between [ɣ], [ʁ] and [R] in my own pronunciation too.
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2009
  31. MoisesYU Member

    A lot of people says that some Chinese consonants like sh, ch, zh and r is really different. I have to say that it is true. Like me, I'm a native Chinese, but in the accent of my living region, we never distinguish those sound, like the difference between s and sh, c and ch, z and zh, and we always pronounce r like y, it's interesting.

    But for me, some diffcult foreign sounds are:
    1. rr or r from Spanish. In Chinese we have never sounded this pronunce. It's strange and anormal for us. So when we started to learn Spanish, we costed a lot in this pronunce.
    2. "L" in mongolian. I think it is not the same like all "L" in all language. It just like a "S" sound, but not the same. I really don't know how to describe this sound. I really spend a lot of work to imitate it.
  32. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    I bet most Chinese feel the same way;), especially the r- thing (how many people really pronoune it as the textbook describes when they speak Mandarin, I wonder?)

    I fancy one of the most traumatic experiences for a foreign learner of Mandarin is when he finds out that people in real life don't really pronounce many of the cosonants as the textbook dictates, which he's spent so many hours to master...:D
    This sound (IPA: [ɬ]) exists in the Taishanese 台山 dialect, do you happen to know anyone who speaks this dialect?
  33. MoisesYU Member

    Thanks you so much. I think it's useful for me!!
    I have found [ɬ] in wikipedia, I hope I can make it.
  34. French diphthongs!!!!!!! Maybe that whole r-thing, especially in the middle of a word
  35. MYRNIST Member

    Not so much one sound, but distinguishing between ш (sh) and щ (shch) in Russian is impossible for me. I flat out cannot hear or replicate any difference between the two in speech.
  36. Awwal12

    Awwal12 Senior Member

    Moscow, the RF
    But for me it is so natural. :) "Ш" is hard (velarized), when "щ" is soft (palatalized). Learning Russian, you must always hear difference between hard and soft consonants, because there is not only phonetical, but also phonematical importance here. I advice you to place these two sounds in end of words (where following vowels don't interfere at all) and try to hear any difference (in the pair "лещ" and "утешь", for example). Or just ask any Russian to pronounce isolated sounds "ш" and "щ" very loud. :) Position of the tip of the tonque is slightly different.

    P.S.: As for me, Arabian emphatic consonants were the largest problem, especially when there are no following vowels after them. Even 'ain consonant was much more easy to learn. ;)
    P.P.S.: Komi "ӧ" vowel (don't mix it with labialized "ö" phoneme in German languages or in Finnish) also was quite difficult, especially taking into account that all other phonemes of the language, including hard and soft pairs of consonants, are very simple for Russians. I haven't even found any appropriate sign for Komi "ӧ" in the IFA.
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2009
  37. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    According to Wikipedia it is the mid central vowel, i.e. [ə]. Is it rounded or un-rounded? ([ə] can stand for both.)
  38. Awwal12

    Awwal12 Senior Member

    Moscow, the RF
    Thanks, berndf. It really sounds very similar to "ӧ" in stressed positions. The problem is that Russian Wiki has no audiosample for this IFA sound, and none of Russian sources describes "ӧ" as [ə].
  39. HUMBERT0

    HUMBERT0 Senior Member

    Which one? In Spanish “ll” is pronounced like: /ʝ/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /ʎ/, /ʤ/. In Argentina they use /ʃ/, /ʒ/. Personally, I love how it sounds when used with /ʒ/ sound. :D
  40. SDLX Master

    SDLX Master Senior Member

    Lima, Peru
    Spanish - Peru
    I could never click to nasal languages; hence, French goes out the window for me.
  41. Hyper Squirrel Member

    New York
    English - American
    I always get caught with être, as one person above mentioned. It's so hard to cut off early and not pronounce the second e! I also have a deal of trouble with œ when it's placed with another vowel, like in 'sœur'. I don't have as much trouble with pronouncing the letter 'e', but I still have a tough time. I was once told to say it like I was getting stabbed in the stomach and grunting in pain-- that actually helps a little.
  42. Dean Turpin

    Dean Turpin Member

    Brighton, UK
    I never learnt to roll Rs as a child and it's caused me immense frustration, especially during a Spanish module at Uni.

    However, two years ago I learnt a little Croatian in preparation for a holiday, and it was the unusual HR combination that started to make it work for me: e.g., Hrvastki. Many people have told me it's to do with tongue position, but I think the real key is to encourage the expulsion of air at the same time, something accomplished rollers have never told me.

    Maybe try a long H with before attempting the roll: hhhherrr.
  43. Rallino Moderatoúrkos

    For me the most difficult sound is the Portuguese: ão.

    I just can't produce the "u" right after a nasal!

    For Turkish learners, from what I see, the most difficult sound is the letter: ı which is equal to the Russian: ы.
  44. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Here's a previous thread with a related topic, Hardest language to pronounce.

    Try to start with "au", then make it nasal... :)
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2010
  45. vaftrudner

    vaftrudner Member

    I'm really interested in languages and have studied phonetics in detail, and ever since I've rarely had trouble learning how to make a sound (qaf took me a day to learn). But 3ayn... It is a beast. It took me three months before I could make it properly, and I worked really hard. I'm just glad it's over :D
  46. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
  47. Δημήτρης

    Δημήτρης Senior Member

    Κύπρος - Cyprus
    Cypriot Greek
    *I pronounce [ɕ] and [ʨ] as [ʃ] and [ʧ] respectively, because honestly, I can't hear the difference.
    *[h] as [x] for the same reason.
    *I can't pronounce nasal vowels after [ʁ] in French.

    And sometimes, I won't force myself to pronounce any vowel other that [a], [e], [o] and , if I know the person I'm talking to will understand that by [a] I meant [æ] for example. What's the linguistic term for "being lazy"? :D
  48. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
  49. Δημήτρης

    Δημήτρης Senior Member

    Κύπρος - Cyprus
    Cypriot Greek
  50. portumania Banned

    TR cypriot
    or suppose -ão is -aum (não -> naum)
    but it is a silent e, as if it does not exist at all. in English words e.g. take you pronounce it?
    The problem is not your accent, the problem is French people demand you to be able to speak their language perfectly. They just pretend they cannot understand you.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 4, 2016

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