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Professional Captioners Reveal The Mispronounced Words Of 2016

Babbel commissioned leading U.S and U.K. organizations of captioning professionals to identify the words in 2016 that proved the most challenging for newscasters to pronounce correctly.

2016 was an eventful year, and no one knows better than newscasters who had to talk about new trends and events at a moment’s notice. This year, more than ever, we’ve seen international trends make their way into pop culture; as a result, interesting foreign words have come up in our daily conversations. From political happenings over the past few months to this summer’s Pokémon GO craze, newscasters had to be on top of their annunciation to correctly pronounce all of these new, and sometimes unfamiliar, words.

If there’s anyone who’d know if the newscaster didn’t properly enunciate their æ or ʌ sounds, it’s the people behind the scenes whose profession it is to subtitle live television (How cool is that job?!).

We wanted to find out which words from 2016 were giving U.S. and U.K. newscasters the hardest time on live television. To do this, we teamed up with the U.S. Captioning Company and the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters to ask their professional subtitling members which words have been most consistently mispronounced in 2016. After all, even professionals get tongue-tied.

Did any of these words give you trouble this year?

In the U.S. (as produced by the members of the U.S. Captioning Company )

  • Bowie (/’boʊ-iː/; boh-ee) – surname of David Bowie, English musician and singer who died in January 2016
  • Breitbart (/’breɪt-bɑːrt/; breyt-bart) – polarizing American conservative news outlet
  • Cisgender (/’sɪz-dʒɛn-dɜːr/; sizz-gen-dehr) – noting or relating to a person whose self-identity aligns with the gender of their biological sex; not transgender
  • Marion Cotillard (/’koʊ-ti:-ja:r/; koh-tee-yar) – French actress, singer-songwriter and musician, who starred in 2016’s Assassin’s Creed
  • Rattata (/’ræt-æ-tæ/; RAT-ah-tah) – A Pokémon; a fictional cartoon character, commonly encountered in augmented reality mobile game Pokémon GO
  • Roald Dahl (/roʊld/ /dɑːl/; rohld daal) – deceased English author, whose birth centenary was in September 2016

In the U.K. (as produced by the members of the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters)

  • Chaos (/’keɪ-ɒs/ kay-oss) – complete disorder; utter randomness
  • President-Elect Donald Drumpf’s “Anyhoo" – a corruption of ‘anyhow’
  • Hyperbole (/haɪ-ˈpɝː-bə-li/ or hi-per-boh-lee) – exaggeration; inflated, unsubstantiated claims
  • Pokémon (/’poʊ-keɪ-mɒn/; poh-kay-mon) – Meaning “Pocket Monsters" in Japanese, this cartoon franchise centers on fictional creatures called "Pokémon." Pokémon regained popularity when its first augmented reality mobile game, Pokémon GO, was released in summer 2016
  • Redacted (/rɛd-‘æk-tɛd/; redd-ak-ted) – censored or obscured

Both of the lists above point to important pop culture moments of 2016 in each country. What is perhaps more interesting, however, is how many words were both on the U.S. and U.K. lists of mispronounced words (shown below). This demonstrates that, although an ocean separates the two countries, our shared English language means we have similar difficulties pronouncing the same foreign words. What words in the following list do you recognize from 2016?

Words both U.S./U.K. had trouble pronouncing

  • Hygge (/’hjuː-gə/; HUE-gah) – concept, originating in Denmark, of creating cozy and convivial atmospheres that promote well-being
  • Narcos (nark-ohs) – from the Spanish "narcotraficante" (drug trafficker), slang name given to South and Central American drug traffickers in the late 20th century; 2016 Netflix television series about the life of Pablo Escobar
  • Nomophobia (/’noʊ-moʊ-‘foʊ-biː-ə/; noh-moh-pho-bee-ah) – fear of being without one’s mobile phone
  • Quinoa (/kiː-‘noʊ-ə/ or /kiː-‘nuː-ə/; kee-NOH-ah or kee-NOO-ah) – Andean grain crop known primarily for its edible seeds
  • Xenophobia (zen-oh-phoh-bee-ah) – fear of foreigners; Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year 2016
  • Zika (zee-kuh) – flavivirus transferrable by bites from mosquitos, by sexual contact, and from mother to child, which became an epidemic in 2016

We asked our Director of Didactics, Miriam Plieninger, about her thoughts on these commonly mispronounced words:

“What’s interesting about this list is how international trends can influence pop culture to the point where foreign words become incorporated in our daily speech. Even though many of these words originate from a different culture, we can surprise ourselves with the capacity to adapt our language with new words and sounds. It’s really important for us at Babbel to encourage people not to fear mispronouncing words, as this is simply part of the learning process that will help you become more confident in speaking a new language."

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