English Words That Are Hard for Non-Natives to Say

This little critter's name may roll of your tongue, but it's difficult for many cultures to say. Steve Jurvetson [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

When I was growing up, my immigrant parents did an amazing job of learning English, but there were a few words and sounds they just couldn't master. I remember going to the deli counter with my mom as she ordered "one pound of salami, sliced tin" — leaving the butcher looking baffled until one of us kids said "thin," with an overemphasis on the "th" sound my mom couldn't say.

And even today, my dad gets frustrated with those bushy-tailed critters in the backyard that commandeer his bird feeders and eat his tomatoes. He just can't pronounce their name.

He's not alone. On a recent Reddit thread, users weighed in with the English words they found toughest to pronounce. More than 5,500 people posted, sharing words and offbeat pronunciations, personal stories and impossible tongue twisters.

"Squirrel" was a popular submission and seems to particularly cause problems for native German speakers. One user says: "I'd counter from a foreign perspective that 'Squirrel' messes with German exchange students like you wouldn't believe. To be fair though I can't pronounce their word for it either."

(Try it. "Eichhörnchen.")

Carlos Gussenhoven, a phonologist at Radboud University in Netherlands, told Life's Little Mysteries that "squirrel" is a shibboleth, a word notorious for the way its pronunciation identifies its speaker as a foreigner.

Although many non-native English speakers may have trouble with the word, Germans seem to have earned the worst rap with videos gently poking fun at their pronunciation attempts.

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DiLonardo, Mary Jo. "English Words That Are Hard for Non-Natives to Say." ThoughtCo, Oct. 25, 2021, thoughtco.com/english-words-that-are-hard-for-non-natives-to-say-4863983. DiLonardo, Mary Jo. (2021, October 25). English Words That Are Hard for Non-Natives to Say. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/english-words-that-are-hard-for-non-natives-to-say-4863983 DiLonardo, Mary Jo. "English Words That Are Hard for Non-Natives to Say." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/english-words-that-are-hard-for-non-natives-to-say-4863983 (accessed March 23, 2023).