Today we will practice some tricky English word pronunciation. If you listen carefully to the lesson, you will learn one of the key reasons learning English speaking through our listen and learn system is easier than traditional approaches.
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Emails Beachcomber Fizz
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How about we tackle some English pronunciation today? This is one of the things that people find really difficult when they learn English speaking and we get a lot of questions about pronunciation. And it’s in part the mechanics of making the sound.
There are certain sounds in English, which some people find difficult because those sounds don’t occur in their own language. So an example of that would be the letter ‘h’ at the beginning of a word, which in English is usually pronounced. Like in my name, Hilary – or in house, have, horse, handle. But if you’re French, you don’t often make a ‘h’ sound, so it takes concentration and focus to learn this.
English people don't have very good diction. In France you have to pronounce very particularly and clearly, and learning French at an early age helped me enormously.
⭐ Vivien Leigh, Actress
There are difficulties with pronunciation where there are a lot of consonants together in a word – a consonant, C-O-N-S-O-N-A-N-T is a letter which is not a vowel. And a vowel, V-O-W-E-L, is a letter of the alphabet and in English these are a, e, i, o, u. So words in English that don’t have many vowels can be hard to pronounce – words like ‘strength’, ‘stretch’ or ‘rhythm’ have lots of consonants and few vowels. Again, it depends what language you’re coming from – if you speak German, then lots of consonants together in a word is not such a problem as it happens in your language too.
But one of the things which drives nearly all English language learners slightly crazy is the fact that in English, words that are spelt almost identically, almost the same, are pronounced differently. So let’s tackle an example of this today.
How about today, we take just four words – nouns which all look the same, the spelling is the same, but they have three different pronunciations? This is the kind of thing that people get frustrated with, when they learn English speaking – it’s just so illogical.
Yet for English native speakers, they may never have even noticed that these four words are pronounced differently. If you learn through listening, your pronunciation is correct automatically. It doesn’t require thought!
So today’s words are comb, tomb, bomb and womb. And the spelling of these words? Comb, C-O-M-B, tomb, T-O-M-B, bomb, B-O-M-B and womb W-O-M-B. So you can see why I’ve grouped them together – they all have a -O-M-B spelling, with a silent B.
So I’ll give you a vocabulary explanation for each one, partly because you may not know all of these words, but also because listening to me explain each word means that you’ll hear it a number of times. And therefore your pronunciation will move towards being correct in an automatic way. Here goes.
So the first one, comb, C-O-M-B. So a comb is what you use to make your hair tidy. If you’ve had a shower and washed your hair, you probably use a comb after your towel perhaps, to straighten out, to tidy your hair.
If you have long hair, then a comb may be essential to the process of de-knotting. Knots, K-N-O-T or tangles T-A-N-G-L-E are what are there if the comb gets stuck in your hair. You might keep your comb in your bathroom, or in your bag, or by the mirror. And there are other uses of the word ‘comb’.
A photograph of a man having his hair cut. Used to help explain the difficult to pronounce word comb.
If you think of a chicken or a hen and the male version of this bird, the cock, cockerel or in the US rooster – then the bit on the top of the head is called ‘a comb’. A ‘comb-over’ is when you have a man who is losing his hair, going bald, but who uses a comb to position longer hair, over the bald part of his head!
Fortunately, the ‘comb-over’ has fallen out of favour. Men who are going bald tend to just keep their hair very short – which is much more attractive! You can also use the word ‘comb’ as a verb ‘to comb’ as in ‘I comb my hair’, but ‘to comb’ can also mean to search an area very carefully. If you ‘comb through’ something, it means you examine every part of it. And if you hear the term ‘beachcomber’, then that means someone who ‘combs’ a beach, looking for items which have been washed up by the sea, left behind by the waves.
What about ‘tomb’, T-O-M-B? Well, this is a bit sombre, a bit sad, but a tomb is where you put someone’s body, after they’ve died. Usually tombs are underground – and they may contain several bodies. So a cemetery or a graveyard will be full of tombs.
It’s much more common actually in the UK to do cremation, burning of the body after someone as died. But you can hear that the word ‘tomb’ is pronounced differently from ‘comb’. If we think of the pyramids in ancient Egypt then the pyramids contain tombs.
And then bomb, B-O-M-B. So again a different pronunciation of that O-M-B spelling – and be careful here – people often sound that final B and say ‘bomB’, which is incorrect. It’s a silent B. You probably know the word ‘bomb’ – it means an explosive device.
Something which is used in war, but which is also used by terrorists. Bombs are intended to hurt people – not good things. So ‘a bomb’ is the actual device, the thing that does the damage. And there’s also a verb ‘to bomb’ – and the act of doing this is known as ‘a bombing’. There are also more positive uses of the word ‘bomb’ – in the UK, we buy bathbombs – B-A-T-H-B-O-M-B.
There’s a word with a lot of consonants. So a bathbomb is something which you put into your bath to make the water and you smell nice. And they’re called ‘bathbombs’ because they react when you put them in the water. They may fizz or turn a different colour. Bathbombs are much more fun than real bombs. Sometimes you come across puddings, desserts on a menu which are also called bombs – an ice cream bomb perhaps.
And then finally ‘womb’, W-O-M-B. So you’ll notice a tiny bit of consistency here – ‘womb’ at least rhymes with ‘tomb’ – and with another word ‘catacomb’. So English is not entirely mad. So what is a ‘womb’, W-O-M-B? Well, it’s an organ of the body and just under 50% of the population have a womb, but we’ve all been in one!
So if you’re a woman and you have a baby – the womb is where the baby grows, inside your body! That’s why I say we’ve all been in one! So it’s an organ of the body and the medical term is ‘a uterus’. But in English, we might also use the word ‘womb’ as a metaphor, when we’re talking about a space that we’ve made particularly comforting, dark, familiar, protective. My bedroom is like a womb perhaps – we might say ‘womb-like’ as an adjective.
So ‘comb’, ‘tomb’, ‘bomb’, ‘womb’. This is Adept English, helping you with the crazy, inconsistent, illogical English language. Helping you to learn to speak English better and improve your spoken English! If you would like more of this kind of help with your learning, then you can buy our course, Course One: Activate Your Listening.
This course contains the same kind of vocabulary explanation as I’ve done in this podcast. It’s a good way to make your understanding of English automatic – and because I give you the explanation in English, your mind stays thinking in English, not translating, so your learning is more effective. This course also includes English speaking practice as well.
Have a look at our courses page on adeptenglish.com – you can buy the course and start straight away.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.