Preply’s Top 6 Words That Confuse International Students

Preply helps international students break down language barriers and discusses the top 6 words that confuse non-native speakers

As if the challenges of starting university in another country weren’t enough, international students often also have to navigate the difficulties of learning a new language. Despite the fact that some 870 million people worldwide speak English, it’s not an easy language to learn.

It lacks the gendered articles present in French and German (which both influence English heavily) which is easier. However, other problems make it difficult to learn. Most commonly, non-native speakers get confused over pronunciations of similarly spelt words, silent letters and a lack of logic.

Here, Preply helps you get over the language barrier with 6 words and terms that confuse international students the most.

1) Cough, Bough, Through and Though

Pronounced Coff, bow, throo, thoe

Native speakers of English rote learn these at an early age, so they do not tend to think about it. Yet for non-native speaking international students looking for an English tutor from London to teach them, the problem can take a while to overcome. There is no simple way to remember how different -ough words are pronounced or a logical pattern.

2) Hyperbole

Pronounced Hayper-bull-ee

If you struggle pronouncing this word when talking to your English tutor from London, don’t despair. Most native speakers get it wrong as it’s uncommon. It means exaggeration – a word that many people prefer in common English usage. It’s confusing because the two parts that make up the word (hyper and bole) appear elsewhere pronounced exactly as written.

3) Infamous

Pronounced in-fummus

Two things about this word confuse non-native speakers. Firstly, the pronunciation. It’s not simply “famous” (fay-muss) with “in” placed in front of it. The two vowel sounds are de-emphasised making it “infumuss”. The second is the meaning. In many cases, putting “in” before a word makes it the opposite – edible food is inedible when rotten. This is not always the case as infamous shows. It means being famous for something bad.

4) Queue

Pronounced kyoo

Silent letters are the most obvious and prevalent sign of French influence. Like French, it’s not always clear which letters are silent and which must be pronounced. Typically, a single letter, 2-3 at most, are silent. However, with ‘queue’ 80% of the word is not pronounced – the only letter that matters is ‘q’. An English tutor from London will ensure you understand all these confusions.

5) Subtle

Pronounced suttel

As you learn the language with an English tutor from London, you will start to pick up on those silent letters. French influence combinations like eau (pronounced oh) are among the first to become apparent. Archaic Germanic terms like -gh and rgh create soft ‘uh’ sounds. It’s rare that such a hard consonant like “b” is the silent letter. There are other examples, but subtle is the only example where the ‘b’ does not appear at the end of the word.

6) Quay

Pronounced key

If it isn’t confusing enough when a word isn’t pronounced the way it is spelt, some words are spelt different from words with the same pronunciation. If you hire an English tutor from London, you’ll come up against this word. A key is a device that goes into a lock to open it, like a door. Pronounced the same way, a quay is a wharf, a structure to tie boats to when in dock. It’s Old Norse which French also influenced. Some sources suggest it is a Norman version of a Celtic word.

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