English names are notoriously difficult to pronounce when you can only read them.  For example, how many syllables are there in Loughborough or Leominster (these are towns in England)?  Two!  I know it’s strange, it’s strange to me too.  I come from the US, where our cities have normal-sounding names (that’s just a little joke!).

So what can you do?  Here is one of those times when you just need to know the international phonetic alphabet (IPA).  Do you remember it?  Here’s a very nice interactive page from the British Council.  We need this because as we saw with Loughborough or Leominster, it just doesn’t make sense that these letters can all be pronounced in two syllables.  We need some way of communicating the pronunciation.

I found these town names on this Wikipedia page of names in English with counter-intuitive pronunciations.  You’ll notice that all of the names are also written with the IPA so that you can easily pronounce them correctly.  What’s that?  You’re not an expert in IPA reading?  Then I have found exactly the tool for you.

AT&T Labs have developed an IPA to speech program.  You can enter the IPA characters and the program will pronounce “exactly” what you put in (I’m sure it’s not perfect, but I think it is a good start).  The one problem is that you need to put the IPA inside a little HTML code.  Here’s how you do it.

  • Copy the following code: <phoneme alphabet=”ipa” ph=”kæt”> </phoneme>
  • Paste the code into the box on the AT&T Labs page
  • Now copy the IPA you want read (this is the first bit of funny letters from the Wikipedia page, the second set of letters won’t work) and paste it inside the quotation marks where you see kæt in the original, like this: <phoneme alphabet=”ipa” ph=”ˈlʌfbrə”> </phoneme>
  • Choose the speaker you would like to hear
  • Click the “Speak” button!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work perfectly (sometimes the voice will read the punctuation), but “Crystal US English” is pretty reliable.

If you want to type other words into the speech generator, you can use an IPA typewriter here.

Have fun!

I’d like to thank “Pablo” for his post on Yahoo! answers which told me how to use the AT&T Labs tool.

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