“DO YOU PARLEZ-VOUS ENGLISH?”
Are you a shouter or a pointer? Do you like to repeat what you’ve found in the phrase book over and over again, at increasing volume? Or do rely on pointing enthusiastically at pictures on menus? Or are you the kind of person how likes to be sure of how to pronounce those tricky words?
There are so many aspects to travel which make it worthwhile, but speaking another language can make even the most seasoned of travellers a bit nervous. Especially if what’s written down doesn’t look like any English word you’ve ever seen!
We asked British holiday makers about how they approach chatting with the locals, and over two thirds surveyed by Al Fresco Holidays said they give the lingo a go when they’re on holiday, but far fewer feel confident that what they’re saying is correct.
This can often be down to unfamiliar sounds that simply don’t exist in English, or even something known as ‘negative prestige’, where people worry that pronouncing a word correctly makes them sound a bit posh or like they’re showing off.
With around half of attempts resulting in corrections of some sort when speaking a foreign language, we took a look at some of the more puzzling pronunciations around four common words from the continent.
“Being aware that you are not speaking English and the rules have changed is the first step to pronouncing foreign words well.” Sergio Afonso, founder of Absolute Translation
As our closest European neighbours, it’s not surprising the British have more of a handle on French than many other European languages. For the most part, our au revoirs and merci beaucoups are on form and we’re experts when it comes to ordering Merlot (the t is silent, unless you’ve enjoyed a couple of bottles and then the whole word becomes tricky to say!), but the biggest challenge comes in the form of the humble croissant. Similar to Merlot, this delicious pastry doesn’t need the T pronouncing and should sound something closer to ‘krwah-sah’ in order to be closer to the proper French pronunciation.
Commonly mispronounced: Au revoir [oh-re-vwahr]
60% of holidaymakers get this word wrong with pronunciations including [ar-rev-wah] and [ov-wah].
If you are thinking of putting these French tips into practice, be sure to check out our holidays in France
Proving to be the hardest of the three languages we surveyed, We seem to have a really hard time with hablando Español This could be down to the many differences in sounds used between English and Spanish, and we automatically go for the familiar when we see them written down. Cerveza is pronounced closer to ‘thehr-beh-thah’, which looks nothing like how its spelt as c’s, z’s and s’s in some Spanish spellings are said as a ‘th’ sound.
Commonly mispronounced: Gracias [grahth-yahs]
More than half of us get this word wrong, reading it phonetically in English as [grass-ias]
So many Italian words are familiar to us in everyday British life, mainly due to all the delicious food and drink we’ve adopted from Italian cuisine – I think we all know how Al Fresco Holidays feels about pizza! Despite this, most of us are pronouncing many of the most popular incorrectly. Bruschetta, found on many a starter menu, is pronounced with a hard ‘k’ sound rather than the soft ‘sh’ sound which 85% of holiday makers use. English-speakers faired a little better with gnocchi, with over half correctly pronouncing it [nyoh-kee] - surprising as it contains both a double ‘c’ and a ‘ch’, both generally read in English as a ‘tchi’ sound as in ‘chime’.
Commonly mispronounced: Ciabatta [tchah-bah-tah]
Only a quarter of holidaymakers get this one right, with most people incorrectly asking for [chee-ah-baht-ah]
If you want to sound less like a confused Brit abroad when on holiday, we’ve got a few tips on improving your pronunciation and getting a better grasp on some of the most widely spoken languages in Europe and elsewhere.
Learn to read While many languages use the same alphabet, the way they are spoken can differ greatly. Luckily for English-speakers abroad, most other languages follow clearer rules about how letters should sound. Just learn the basics of pronunciation before you travel and you’ll have a much easier time.
Watch video guides Mastering some of the more unfamiliar sounds in other languages is about teaching your mouth and tongue to adopt new positions. This can be difficult to get your head around, so watch a few YouTube tutorials of people explaining how to shape the sounds rather than just trying to read them.
Listen to native speakers Powering through with bad pronunciation isn’t a great idea, so listen to people speaking around you and try to get an ear for the sounds of the language. Being immersed in a language is the fastest way to lean, so use it with the locals at every opportunity to improve your knowledge.
“If you want to avoid making a faux-pas in restaurants, finding the closest English sound will do the trick. You don't need to master the Spanish "ll" sound - say "pie-ey-ya", and your pronunciation will already be better than 44% of the population.” Katie Harris, language expert from joyoflanguages.com