British vs. American pronunciation


I’m shocked. We have been taught that British pronunciation was the right one for English. American’s, well, it shoud have been sort of a barbaric involution of the original thing – only good for people who don’t know how to appreciate some decent tea.

Now, look at what is Dragon Dictate doing with my voice when dictating a simple sentence.

ORIGINAL: “Hello my friends, I’m very happy to talk to you using just my pure, bare voice.”
BRITISH SETTINGS: “Hello my friends, I am very happy to talk to you using just my pure, beer voice.”

And then,

AMERICAN SETTINGS: “Hello many times come playing very happy to talk to you using just make to come down those.”

Obviously, nobody with a grain of salt in his mind could possible consider my pronunciation perfectly Oxfordian. (Let admit it: my English pronunciation plainly sucks).

And so? Does it mean that I speak exactly as a Liverpool’s harbor worker, and that is the pronunciation they try to teach us at school?


Caro Paolo,

Having spent ten years of my life teaching English in Italy, I could make you a list of the English vowel sounds that Italians find most difficult to reproduce. “Air” would be among them (of course, the sound also appears in “bear/bare”). “Law” usually comes out as “low”. “Stir” and “steer” can cause problems. In other words, what you might call “long diphthongs” are often problematic. But I wouldn’t worry about it. I’d be surprised if a native speaker – English, Welsh, Scots, Irish, Aussie, American or anything else – could get a computer to understand them perfectly. I have enough trouble with humans. My sister-in-law is from the North-East of England (famous for its impenetrable accent) and I once overheard someone saying to her that they couldn’t understand a word her brother said. She replied that neither could she …

Calorosi saluti,

PS: the expression “sale in zucca” will not be understood by most Anglophones. When we take something with a grain of salt, it means we are sceptical about it. To translate “sale in zucca” you need another expression (can’t think of anything idiomatic just now) – but “brains” will do for the moment.

“Ounce of nouse”?

That will certainly do the job, but I was trying to think of something less modern, more proverbial. If I remember correctly, the expression “sale in zucca” goes back at least to the Decamerone. But my wits are running on clockwork these days.

Best, Martin.

Maybe it thought you were speaking “drunkanese”


Yesterday I was asking for a list of beers, and they gave me the smaller cup. I was saying “list” as you normally say “least” - with the long ‘i’. Let’s wait for my evening at the restaurant…

Thank you very much - something was sounding in my zucca, telling me that it was not the correct expression. When speaking English, I risk to gain a lot of false friends to me.

This mistake is indeed suspect :slight_smile:


There is a classic book, known to most teachers of EFL (or ESOL, as they now prefer to call it) entitled “Ship and Sheep”. It deals with what are called “minimal pairs” – words that differ only by their vowel sound. There are (unfortunately for non-natives) quite a lot of them, and they cause all sorts of problems – as you discovered with list and least. I remember a friend of mine was invigilating a written exam when one of the girls who was taking it stood up, marched straight up to him and said confidently “I need to take a sh*t.” Slightly amazed, he waved vaguely towards the door, whereupon she walked to the table nearby and picked up a clean piece of paper – what Italians tend to call “a sheet” because they think that that is the translation for “foglio”. But it works both ways. Someone I knew (an English person) went into a café in the morning and asked for “un cappuccino e due cornuti”. The bar being full of middle-aged men, the barman waved his hand towards them and replied “Signorina, a Lei la scelta!”

Buon divertimento,

This scene could have worked really well in a movie of the late Monicelli :slight_smile:


Tristemente la mia “cultura cinematografica” e’ molto carente. Vado al cinema una volta ogni morte di Papa. Ma ho un ricordo abbastanza forte di Nino Manfredi che finge di essere svizzero, ma si tradisce quando l’Italia segna durante una partita di calcio. So cosa vuol dire essere “straniero”!


Just wanted to add that I also have problems with Dragon Dictate or any of the other voice dictation software programs out there and I am a Brit, so I have no excuses :slight_smile:

The problem in my case comes from two things, I was born in an area of England called the Midlands (West Bromwich to be precise) and as most of the other brits on here will tell you, we tend to speak a little differently to other parts of the country, to be honest though, this is the same all over England and you’ll find wild variations in accents between areas that are seemingly close together.

Anyways, when I was at college, one of my professors came over to me and told me that if I wanted to get anywhere in life, I needed to change the way I speak. At the time I was really peeved with him for it. Then after uni I went to America and at the start noone could understand me, then when I slowed down my speech and changed the pronunciation slightly, they could understand but thought I was either from Liverpool, Ireland or Australia :slight_smile:

I spent a few years in America before coming to Europe and here as I work with a lot of non-native speakers, I had to adjust my speech again in order to be understood and I’ve been speaking this way now for around 15 years so now for me it’s became my natural speech and when I go home, my parents and family think I talk funny.

The problem for programs like Dragon Dictate is that it doesn’t know what to do with my messed up pronunciation and method of talking, sometimes it puts up stuff thats just so funny I can’t stop laughing at it.

So basically, I’m in the same boat when it comes to these programs, every couple of years I give them a try but think I will have to hold off until they finally make the Enterprise computer.

I had noticed when installing Dragon on a computer that there is the feature to “correct” and learn, etc.

I wonder if extensive training for the software would improve its ability

I tried that with Dragon just recently, spent a day with it and it was working great and all I was doing is going through the various training exercises, trying to improve it. Then the next day when I commented to my wife how well it was working and tried to demo it for her, it had about 50% accuracy :frowning:

Played with the exercises again that day but for some reason it was bad, I had the same computer, mic, location etc. Tried it again the next day and it still wasn’t very good, so then I just sort of gave up. Maybe I should try it again?

Either that, or get a translator who would speak into the computer for me :wink:

Slightly OT:Dragon Dictate for the Mac seems to be a work-in-progress. That’s not to say it’s bad, and recently with various upgrades and a change of ownership to Nuance, it appears to have got a lot better. All things considered, speech recognition on the desktop has to be a pretty clever technology, so any success seems to me to be worth admiring.

Dragon for Mac appears to be following a similar path to Dragon for Windows, whose accuracy and ease of use has increased beyond recognition from the days of versions 4 or 5. The snag is, it doesn’t appear that the accomplishments of the latest update of the Windows version can be immediately and automatically transferable to the Mac version, presumably for technical reasons, so the Mac version always seems to be a little behind.

I also believe there’s a skill in dictation that needs to be learnt, whether the dictatee is human or computer. All of which is a long way of saying that it’s probably worth persisting with it.