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You Say Tomato, I say Tomahto: Get Pronunciations Correct

dictionariesAs a broadcaster or voiceover artist, one of the quickest ways to lose credibility with your listeners, producers, or anyone who hires you to do voiceover work is to mispronounce a word.  This is especially true of names of cities, streets, products, and people.

Here’s a true story Dave Cupp, a friend and instructor at the University of North Carolina journalism school, shared with me:

“When I was running a TV newsroom in Charlottesville, Virginia, a newly-hired not-from-Virginia reporter actually produced a news story in which he referred to Appomattox as “Uh-PAH-mah-tocks.”  Viewers by the thousands must have wondered why on earth we had hired someone who didn’t know how to pronounce the name of the place where the Civil War ended.

The take-away?  Whether you’re naming a nearby city or one located on the other side of the world, Job Number One is to know how to pronounce it.”

I totally agree with Dave.  I have had to correct more than one client here in the D.C. area who pronounced this street name, Grosvenor, incorrectly.  It is pronounced “Grove-ner” and not “Grows-ven-or.”  Broadcasters new to the city always get it wrong!

So how do you avoid these mistakes?  For reporters or anchors, I suggest you start a practice list of difficult words as soon as you move to a new market.  Ask someone local to pronounce a difficult word for you and add that to your list.

The same applies if you get a script to read for a voiceover assignment.  Don’t guess!  Ask!  Trying to wing it will sound much worse than asking before you read.

For names in the news, the Associated Press Pronouncers are always a good source.  The Voice of America also offers VOA Pro*nounce where you can hear native speakers saying 7000 newsmaker words and names.

For medical terms, go to the Merck website, where you will hear  pronouncers for lots of medical terms.

There are also many on-line dictionaries that now have audio pronunciations of words.  Check this one out:  http://dictionary.reference.com

Tell me where you go to find pronunciations?  Leave a comment below, and we’ll share our sources.





{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Lisa Rice February 4, 2014, 4:43 pm

    Great article and advice, Ann. One of my favorites is http://www.howjsay.com. The Dictionary.com and Merriam Webster apps for iPhone both include voice pronunciations and help out quite often.

  • Peter Katt February 5, 2014, 10:33 am

    For names of people in the public eye, companies, etc. I search at the NPR web site http://www.npr.org/search/ using the “Heard On Air” option — that often finds news stories with audio and a transcript and I can listen to that for what I hope is an authoritative pronunciation of the name.

  • Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. February 5, 2014, 10:54 am

    Great tip, Peter. Thanks for sharing it with my readers!

  • Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. February 5, 2014, 10:55 am

    Thanks for sharing the sites you find helpful. I often use Merriam Webster, too, on my iPad. It’s a good one!

  • Rebecca aka LoveThatRebecca February 7, 2014, 6:26 pm

    Ann – Found a new and fabulous one this week: http://www.pronouncenames.com. It is RICH with just the kinda think you’re talkin’ about!! Here’s another that came in helpful for a Christian audiobook I recorded: http://www.betterdaysarecoming.com/bible/pronunciation.html#top

  • Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. February 8, 2014, 11:55 am

    Thanks so much, Rebecca! These are great additions to the arsenal of sites that can help with pronunciations!

  • Larry Wayne February 11, 2014, 12:14 pm

    Ann and everybody!

    These are all EXCELLENT resources! I’ve just bookmarked several I had not heard of. One of my international clients frequently has me use names of cities and countries that I could not find on a map if I tried, but these will make me sound like I have been there before!

    Another one I often use is http://www.forvo.com

    larry wayne

  • Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. February 11, 2014, 5:52 pm

    Thanks so much, Larry! I’m so glad you found this post helpful. And you’ve made a great addition to the list with http://www.forvo.com I’m going too check it out!

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