Today’s podcast covers a tricky problem for most new English language learners, and that’s the correct pronunciation of place names. The UK has a long history behind its place names and as a result UK place names can be difficult to pronounce.
If you have to deal with UK addresses, or want to pronounce a football, cricket team's name correctly, or maybe ask someone for directions or the correct London Underground station name for a place in London then you will need to practice your English place name pronunciation.
The English seem to have gone out of their way to make some place names difficult to pronounce. We have silent letters, we change a letter into another letter (just for the pronunciation!) we have Celtic names, old English “folk” names. The whole thing is a minefield to learn to pronounce correctly if you were to just read and write these names down.
I never found accents difficult, after learning languages.
⭐ Vivien Leigh
Fortunately for you we are Adept English and we deal with these problems by listening and learning the correct ways to pronounce names. You just need to listen and your brain will automatically remember how to pronounce the names correctly. So listen to this podcast a few times and you will soon be familiar with some of the most common difficult to announce English place names.
hobbits Fulham bilbo
Hi there and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. I’m currently busy writing a pronunciation course for people learning English, which will be available later this year on the adeptenglish.com website. This course is based on the same principles as our existing courses and our podcasts – where you learn correct pronunciation by hearing the difficult words pronounced correctly, in different contexts, lots of times. If you hear them enough times, you’ll just say them correctly! We also look at patterns in pronunciation, because this gives you a ‘helping hand’.
There’ll be more news about our pronunciation course in the next few weeks – but I thought that I might do a podcast today on pronunciation, because it’s something that people ask about a lot. How about today, in this podcast, I provide you with some really useful place name pronunciation audio? So by that I mean, let’s have a practice at some difficult to pronounce English place names, but which follow patterns – or at least some of them do! You can’t buy our pronunciation course yet, but don’t forget that our other two courses, the Most Common 500 English Words and our Activate Your Listening Course are available to buy on our website. You can download them and start learning straight away.
So place name pronunciation audio – let’s run through just a few of the place names in the UK, whose pronunciation may give you trouble! Obviously there are hundreds of towns and villages in the UK, all with different names and some of which may be difficult to pronounce. So in this podcast, I wanted to stick with names that are common, ones that you’ll come across a lot. So I’ve used county names as the basis for my list today. You may not be aware of what a county is, but using county names means these names are very common – they come up a lot. So a county, that’s C-O-U-N-T-Y – is an area of land. It’s what the UK is divided up into. If you’re familiar with UK addresses, then the county is what you put before the postcode. So examples of counties in the UK might be Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Cornwall, Cumbria. I guess it’s a bit like the departments in France, or the States in America – except much smaller of course!
A photograph of a man holding a baby you cannot tell the gender of the baby. Used to help explain English grammar she, he and they.
Now you may never have visited the UK and you may never intend to visit the UK. But these place names are well-known – and they come up in other contexts, so you may well meet them anyway – so hearing place name pronunciation audio is useful to you. I’ll group together pronunciations which are similar. Now it’s not my sport, or my area of expertise, but there are 18 English counties that play First Class Cricket: so that if you like cricket and you follow English cricket, you may know some of them. Kent, Sussex, Middlesex, Hampshire, Surrey, Essex, Somerset, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Durham. And did I forget – Yorkshire?
OK, so there are a group of cities and counties whose names come from the Latin language – ‘castra’ in Latin meaning a camp. So these are places where the Romans would have had camps. So these place names end in -C-E-S-T-E-R, but you don’t pronounce the CE bit. So examples?
Worcester W-O-R-C-E-S-T-E-R, Worcester is a city and Worcestershire (or ‘Wustershire’) is the county which surrounds it, named after the city. (Wuster sauce is something you might find on the table in the pub to sprinkle on your food)
What about Gloucester, G-L-O-U-C-E-S-T-E-R? Gloucester is a city and Gloucestershire is the county (So again you may know this – Gloucestershire, in association with cricket? Or Gloucester Rd is a station on the London Underground)
Leicester is another one, L-E-I-C-E-S-T-E-R, Leicester is the city and Leicestershire is the county (think Leicester City Football Club and Leicester Square in London)
So they’re all ending in -C-E-S-T-E-R.
What about county names that have an E, that’s pronounced like an A? So this is another pattern that you see in county names and it may be helpful for you to hear in this place name pronunciation audio so place names which have a letter E which is pronounced like an A.
So an example of this would be Derby, the city, spelt D-E-R-B-Y and Derbyshire, the county. Think about Derby Country Football Club and cricket – Derbyshire is a team. Also you might talk about ‘a local derby’. That means a match between two teams which are local to one another, near each other. So when Manchester United play Man City or when Chelsea play Fulham – that’s ‘a derby’.
Berkshire – B-E-R-K-S-H-I-R-E. is a county name. It’s the county where Windsor Castle is – where the queen lives. But note the spelling – it’s pronounced Berkshire, but spelt B-E-R-K.
Hertford that’s spelt H-E-R-T-F-O-R-D and Hertfordshire is the same. So these are all place names spelt with an E, but sounds like an A.
What about these, with a silent ‘L’? Pronunciation problems come from having silent letters, so it’s written, but it’s not said. So Suffolk spelt S-U-F-F-O-L-K.
Or Norfolk spelt N-O-R-F-O-L-K. If you’ve ever come across the word ‘folk’, F-O-L-K in English, meaning ‘people’, it’s the same ending for the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.
And what about Lincoln? L-I-N-C-O-L-N, Lincoln is the city and Lincolnshire is the county – so all of these have a silent ‘L’.
Now I haven’t really covered Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, because they’re difficult and a whole pronunciation topic in their own right. Their place names come from their own Celtic languages – so these names are hard, even for us English people sometimes. Just to give you a sample though, here are some Welsh county names.
Clwyd spelt C-L-W-Y-D
Dyfed spelt D-Y-F-E-D
And Gwynedd spelt G-W-Y-N-E-D-D.
Welsh is a just whole other language, and Welsh place names are a difficult matter, so that’s just a quick flavour, a taste of Welsh pronunciation.
Back to the English counties then. What about Warwickshire? Warwick is W-A-R-W-I-C-K. So there is a town, Warwick and it’s in Warwickshire. So it looks like war W-A-R, wick W-I-C-K and then shire on the end. And Warwickshre – it’s got a silent W in the middle. That’s what’s difficult about that one.
You’ll notice that lots of the English county names end in shire – S-H-I-R-E, like Yorkshire, Lancashire, Shropshire, Oxfordshire, Nottinghamshire, Cheshire, Cambridgeshire – and more. If you like the books and the film of Lord of the Rings by J R Tolkien, then the hobbits, like Bilbo Baggins and Frodo come from ‘the shires’. So there’s a suggestion in the name ‘shire’ that it’s a gentle country place, like where the hobbits live – though of course nowadays many of the English shires have big cities in them as well as countryside.
So there you have it. Difficult place name pronunciation audio for you to practise with.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.