Saturday 6 October 2018

OET pronunciation

The Occupational English Test (OET) is an international English language test that assesses the language proficiency of health care professionals who seek to register and practise in an English-speaking environment. The test is recognised by several authorities in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the UK, Namibia and Singapore.  

On the OET’s website we read that this test “provides a valid and reliable assessment of all four language skills — listening, reading, writing and speaking — with an emphasis on communication in healthcare professional settings”.

We also find that a 2013 study by Cambridge English Language Assessment highlighted that success at OET is a good indicator of workplace readiness in terms of language proficiency:

“OET test takers found that the relevance to their professional contexts of test topics and content […] made them feel confident about their ability to communicate effectively with patients, carers, and colleagues”.  

Because having good communication skills is a vital part of any health care professional’s job, and since the OET is a test “with an emphasis on communication”, one wonders why the exam’s official Facebook page has this post on the pronunciation of “difficult” medical words:

Surely, OET educators and trainers should know that their students need to master the pronunciation(s) of a great number of medical terms: teaching learners to avoid using a technical term because it is hard to pronounce is not going to help them at all. Words like seizure are going to crop up very often in conversations in clinical settings, so students must know how to pronounce it and also, must be able to recognise it in running speech.

Seizure is one of a list of 100 words I give at the very beginning of my two medical English pronunciation books, L’inglese medico-scientifico: pronuncia e comprensione all’ascolto (EdiSES, 2014) and Health Care Professionals Speaking (EdiSES, 2015), as a way to exemplify the pronunciation of the sound ʒ:

Phonetically speaking, I really don’t see why seizure would be a “difficult” word. Clearly, spasm (GB ˈspazəm, ˈspazm̩; GA ˈspæzəm, ˈspæzm̩) cannot be considered to be any easier to pronounce. Quite the contrary. It contains the tricky consonant cluster sp- at the beginning and the problematic sequence -zəm/-zm̩ at the end. For some non-natives these clusters can be quite hard to say. Think of Spanish speakers, for example, who, because their language has no onset clusters with initial /s/ and no coda clusters with final /m/, might come up with pronunciations like *eˈspazn/*eˈspazn̩/*eˈspazən: utterly incomprehensible for English native speakers!

If you are a medical professional and you need to speak English at work, it is essential that you acquire a knowledge of phonetics and phonology. This might avoid you putting your patients at risk and ultimately getting you into trouble clearly something that Dr Alessandro Teppa should have been aware of before starting practising medicine in Britain.

For more on the topic of this post, see this article of mine or this other post I wrote in 2016. 

Wednesday 18 April 2018


The phonetician Jack Windsor Lewis has written to ask the following:

“… I’ve been exposed to quite a bit of medical terminology and found the need to guess at various pronunciations. Just one is irritatingly difficult to decide on: how is ‘bisoprolol’ to be pronounced? Could you please put me out of that misery?”

Here is my answer:

My Oxford Dictionary of Nursing (2014, 6th edition; OUP) offers ‘by-soh-proh-lol’ (p. 61), IPA ˌbaɪsəʊˈprəʊlɒl. This seems to be the pronunciation preferred by health care professionals in Britain. In AmE, however, other variants are used, among which you find bɪˈsoʊproʊlɑːl, bɪˈsoʊproʊlɔːl and bɪˈsoʊproʊloʊl, or — less commonly — ˌbɪsoʊˈproʊlɑːl, ˌbɪsoʊˈproʊlɔːl and ˌbɪsoʊˈproʊloʊl. Have a look at these videos here.

The pronunciation of bisoprolol is comparable to that of metaprolol/metoprolol, that you can read about in this blog of mine here

Friday 8 December 2017

English Phonetics and Pronunciation Practice

Last September saw the publication of English Phonetics and Pronunciation Practice (EPPP),
Routledge. The book is authored by Paul Carley, of the universities of Bedfordshire and Leicester, Inger Mees, Associate Professor in the Department of Management, Society and Communication at the Copenhagen Business School, and Beverley Collins (1938-2014), who held lectureships at the universities of Lancaster and Leiden and was Visiting Professor at Ghent University.

EPPP is an excellent resource book for both teachers and students, effectively bridging the gap between courses in English phonetics and those in English pronunciation.
My endorsement, included inside the front cover of the book, together with the words offered by such eminent scholars as John Wells, Jane Setter, Petr Rösel and Geoff Lindsey, is as follows:

“I’m absolutely delighted to welcome this excellently written book. The coverage and organisation are exceptionally good. The authors are to be congratulated on producing a groundbreaking textbook combining English phonetic theory with copious amounts of material for practice. Anyone studying or teaching English or wishing to understand or speak the language with clarity and accuracy should read this book.”

EPPP provides an up-to-date description of the pronunciation of a twenty-first-century model of educated British English, ‘General British’ (GB). Also, it demonstrates the use of each English phoneme with a selection of high-frequency words, both alone and in context in sentences, idiomatic phrases and dialogues.

The book is supported by a fantastic companion website featuring 2,615 audio files, including full recordings of the examples given in the theory sections, full recordings of the practice material by a male speaker from Wokingham, Berkshire (15 hours) and a female speaker from Petersfield, Hampshire (another 15 hours), and transcriptions of all the practice material. The 30 hours of practice material recordings are in two versions: one for self-study with only minimal pauses, and one for the language lab with pauses of different lengths depending on whether it’s a word, phrase, sentence, etc.

English Phonetics and Pronunciation Practice truly is the masterpiece that the English phonetics world had been waiting for!

Monday 27 February 2017

Luke Nicholson's online British English pronunciation course

Luke Nicholson (picture left) is an experienced accent coach qualified by the International Phonetic Association and a member of both the Voice and Speech Trainers Association and the DialectCoaches Agency. Besides holding an IPA certificate, he has a BA in German Studies and Italian Studies from the University of Birmingham and an MA in Acting – Distinction in Voice and in Articulation. He has taught English pronunciation to people from over 65 different countries, including Bahrain, Ethiopia, Holland, Iran, Italy, Malaysia, Russia, Serbia, Thailand, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

He recently launched an online British English pronunciation course which includes in-depth information on the vowel and consonant sounds of English as well as the main features of connected speech, stress, rhythm, intonation and voice quality. You can take a look at the contents page here. The course is just excellent and a wonderful resource for anyone with an intermediate/advanced level of English who’s interested in improving their pronunciation as well as their listening skills.

The course starts with six introductory lessons. After completing them, you’re immediately directed to the language guides section of the course, where you can choose your native language and study the sounds that will make the biggest differences to your accent.

What is so helpful about this course is that it also contains numerous relevant links to native speakers to listen to, as well as suggestions of TV shows and films to watch. Additionally, the learner has clear guidance about how to practise, how to know if they’re making a sound accurately, and how to incorporate new sounds into everyday speech. Here’s one of the videos from the course about the schwa vowel.

Luke is also the author of two carefully planned and extremely useful freely available sound charts: the consonants chart and the vowels chart of Standard Southern British English (= General British). These are clickable charts which enable you to listen to recordings of the sounds of English as spoken by the author himself. At the bottom of the charts one finds questions about phonetic symbols and the realization of certain sounds to which detailed answers are provided which the reader will find extremely useful. Another highly recommendable resource for students (and teachers!) of British English pronunciation.

Congratulations, Luke!  

Monday 21 November 2016

(Un)scientific English

The book you can see to the right is called Scientific English and was brought out by Zanichelli in 2007. It is essentially a guide containing tips and resources for those Italians who want to know more about how to write scientific papers in English. It deals with abstracts, journals, keywords and phrases commonly used in medical English, as well as with oral presentations.

The book also claims to provide some guidelines on the pronunciation of 'technical terms', though the section devoted to this subject is reduced to a mere 10 lines. Have a look at the bottom of page 153, under "Pronuncia" ('pronunciation'):

('The purpose of this manual is to provide the reader with information concerning the correct use of Standard English in a scientific context. For this reason, we do not give any indication as to how words are pronounced. Rather, we focus our attention only on the written language since we believe that if you mispronounce a word during a presentation, your native-speaker English audience will in all probability forgive you for doing that [my highlighting]. There are, though, two aspects of English pronunciation which you must bear in mind: 1) z is pronounced [zi:] in AmE but [zed] in BrE; and 2) in telephone numbers, 0 is pronounced like the letter o in BrE but zero or o in AmE.')

This is just absurd! How could the author have possibly written this?!

I’ve been teaching English phonetics to health care professionals both at the University of Tor Vergata and the Nursing Board of Rome (OPI) for several years now and I know how vital it is for my students to be able to master pronunciation in English. My experience with doctors and nurses has also led me to write two books on the importance of English pronunciation in medical science. Please see my L’inglese medico-scientifico: pronuncia e comprensione all’ascolto (EdiSES, 2014) and my Health Care Professionals Speaking (EdiSES, 2015). For further info, also check this link.

An excellent example which illustrates the fallacy of the author's argument and highlights the crucial role English pronunciation plays in the science sector, is provided by Professor John Wells in his book Sounds Interesting (CUP, 2014; pp. 86-87):

"Much would be accomplished if medical school staffs emphasized orthoepy more" (Bradford N. Craver, Wayne University; Science, New Series, Vol. 96, No. 2490, Sept. 18, 1942, p. 273).

Monday 27 June 2016

ˈbreksɪt ~ ˈbreɡzɪt

Some days before the UK’s EU referendum, Cambridge Dictionaries Online published an article on their blog About Words entitled European Union – in or out? The language of the UK’s referendum. The article, written by lexicographer Liz Walter, is essentially aimed at teachers and students of EFL who want to improve their knowledge of the language or use classroom material that is ‘original’. 

The passage Cambridge offer online is extremely useful for foreign learners of English, and I thought it might be a good idea if readers could be provided with a (mainly) phonemic transcription of it as well.

So what you’ll find below is the full text of the article linked to above completely transcribed in IPA, representing the way I would pronounce it myself in General British (GB) and using the symbols found in the new edition of Alan Cruttenden’s Gimson’s Pronunciation of English (2014, Routledge).

A note of caution: although all of the pronunciations represented below can be regarded as belonging to GB, they are not always recommendable to the EFL teacher as these may sometimes have distinct disadvantages for the student to copy.

jɔːrəpiːən juːniən - ɪn ɔːr aʊt? ðə laŋɡwɪʤ əv ðə juːkeɪz refərendəm

ɒn ʤuːn ðə twentiθɜːd, brɪtn̩ wl̩ dəsaɪd weðər ɔː nɒt tə rəmeɪn pɑːt ə ðə jɜːrəpiːən juːnjən (iːjuː). aɪm mɔː ðn̩ hapi tə bɔː frenz wɪð maɪ əʊn vjuːz ɒn ðə sʌbʤekt, bəʔ ðə pɜːpəs ə ðɪs pəʊst ɪs sɪmpli tə haɪlaɪʔ ðə laŋɡwɪʤ əv ðə dəbeɪt.

ðə prəsaɪs kwesʧn̩ wɪl bi ɑːnʦrɪŋ ɪz: 'ʃʊd ðə junaɪtɪd kɪŋdəm rəmeɪn ə membrə ði jɔːrəpiːən juːnjən ɔː liːv ði jɔːrəpiːən juːnjən?', ən ni ɑːnʦə wl̩ bi disaɪdɪd ɪn ə refrendəm (ə naʃnəl əlekʃn̩ ɪm wɪʧ iːʧ pɜːsn̩ haz wʌm vəʊt). ɔːl sɪtɪzənz əv brɪʔn̩, ɑːlənd ən ðə kɒmənwelθ (kʌntriz ðəp bəlɒŋ tə ðə brɪtɪʃ empɑːr ɪn ðə pɑːst ən stɪl hav ə kləʊs rəleɪʃn̩ʃɪp wɪð ðə juːkeɪ), kʌrənli lɪvɪŋ ɪn ðə juːkeɪ kəm vəʊt. ɪn ədɪʃn̩, juːkeɪ naʃnl̩z lɪvɪŋ əbrɔːd kən vəʊt ɪf ðeɪv bɪn ɒn ði əlektrl̩ reʤɪstə (əfɪʃəl lɪst əv piːpəl əntaɪtl̩ tə vəʊt) ɪn nə lɑːs fɪftiːn jɪːz.  

səʊ wɒt ə ði ɪʃuːz kənektəd wɪ ðɪs dəsɪʒn̩? fɜːsli, ði iːjuː ɒpəreɪʦ əz ə sɪŋɡl̩ mɑːkɪt. sentrl̩ tə ðɪs aɪdɪːr ɪz ðə friː muːvmənt əv ɡʊʣ m̩ wɜːkəz bətwiːn iːjuː kʌntriz. ðɪs miːnz ðəʔ wɜːkəz frm̩ kʌntriz wɪθ haɪ reɪʦ əv ʌnɪmplɔɪmənt kən muːv tə kʌntriz wɪð mɔː ʤɒbz. kɒnʦəkwəntli, ðə kwesʧən əv ɪməɡreɪʃn̩ ɪz wʌn ðət ɪz ɒftən dɪskʌst. ɪn ðə juːkeɪ, ðə haz bɪn pətɪkjələ dibeɪt əʊvə welfɛː peɪmənʦ (mʌni frm̩ ðə ɡʌvəmənt) tu ɪməɡrənʦ.  

ənʌðə bɪɡ ɪʃuː ɪs sɒvrənti (ðə raɪt əv ə kʌntri tə disaɪd ɪʦ əʊn lɔːz). meni piːpl̩ hu feɪvə breksɪt (ə kɒmən, ɪmfɔːml̩ wɜːd fə brɪʔn̩z eɡzɪt frm̩ ði iːjuː), seɪ ðeɪ dəʊn wɒnt ɑː kʌntri kəntrɒʊl frm̩ brʌsl̩z. breksɪtəz ɔːsəʊ friːkwənʔli menʧən ðə bjɜːrɒkrəsi (əfɪʃl̩ ruːlz), mɔːr ɪmfɔːmli kɔːld red teɪp, ðəʔ ðeɪ bəliːv ði iːjuː brɪŋz. ðeɪ ɔːlsəʊ seɪ wi ʃəd hav fʊl kəntrɒʊl əv ɑː bɔːdəz (dəsaɪd huː kŋ̩ kʌm ɪntə ðə kʌntri).

ðəʊz ɪm feɪvrəv steɪŋ ɪn kleɪm ðəʔ ði iːjuː əz brɔːt əs meni ɡʊd lɔːz, ɪspeʃli kənsɜːnɪŋ ɪmplɔɪmənʔ standəʣ n̩ ði ɪmvɑːrəmmənt. ðeɪ seɪ ðəʔ jɔːrəps ɑː meɪn treɪdɪŋ pɑːʔnə, ən ðət ɪf wi left jɜːrəp, wi wəd luːz ə lɒt əv ɑːr ɪnfluənʦ. wi wəd haftə nɪɡəʊʃieɪt ə njuː treɪdɪŋ rəleɪʃn̩ʃɪp, əm maɪt iːvən end ʌp ɪn ə treɪd wɔː wɪð jɜːrəp. ðɪs kəd əfek bəʊθ ɪmpɔːʦ ən ekspɔːʦ əm wi maɪt haftə peɪ ə tarɪf (taks) ɒm bəʊθ. ðeɪ ɔːsəʊ kleɪm ðəʔ ði iːjuː həz help tə meɪnteɪn piːs ɪn jɔːrəp. bəʊθ saɪʣ ɑːɡjuː əʊvə ði ɪmpakt ɒn (kɒnʦɪkwənʦɪz fɔː) ʤɒbz.   

ðərə meni ʌðə kɒmpleks ɪʃuːz kənektɪd wɪð ðə juːkeɪz membəʃɪp əv ði iːjuː. ɪn θiːəri, ðə juːkeɪ pɑːləmənt dʌzn̩ haftu əksep ði aʊʔkʌm (rəzʌlt) əv ðə refərendəm, bəʔ ðɛːr ʌnlaɪkli tə ɡəʊ əɡens ðə wɪl ə ðə piːpl̩. pɒʊlz ə kʌrənli ʃɜːɪŋ ə fɛːli iːvn̩ splɪt (ðə seɪm nʌmbər əv piːpəl ɒn iːʧ saɪd), səʊ wəl haftə weɪt əntɪl ʤuːn ðə twentifɔːθ tə nəʊ ɑː fjuːʧə.

Thursday 28 April 2016


On page 13 of his latest book Sounds Interesting (2014, CUP), John Wells writes:

"When my cardiologist started me on a drug called amiodarone, he pronounced it ˌæmiˈɒdərəʊn, and that's what my GP said, too. But shortly afterwards I went for a blood test. The phlebotomist called it ˌæmiˈəʊdərəʊn.
So should it be ɒ or əʊ? A short o or a long one? Who cares? The spelling's the same, which is what matters for the pharmacist who has to dispense it."

Look at this panel: 

How do you say, for example, diltiazem? I'm pretty sure both native speakers and non-native speakers of English will find it difficult to answer this question. As you can see from this link, Wikipedia has dɪlˈtaɪəzɛm (= dɪlˈtaɪəzem), as do Forvo and Merriam-Webster Online. But my Dictionary of Nursing (Adams et al (2007), A & C Black) and my Dictionary of Medical Terms (Bateman et al (2004), A & C Black) say we should pronounce it as dɪlˈtaɪəzəm. In the Oxford Dictionary of Nursing (Martin (2014), OUP), on the other hand, the only pronunciation provided is dil-ti-ă-zem (= ˈdɪltiəzem).

What about betaxolol? Is it GB bɪˈtæksəlɒl, bəˈtæksəlɒl, beˈtæksəlɒl or indeed bɪˈtæksəʊlɒl, bəˈtæksəʊlɒl, beˈtæksəʊlɒl? Who knows exactly?! And are the variants ˌbiːtəksˈəʊlɒl/ˌbeɪtəksˈəʊlɒl even possible in GB?  (Cf. metaprolol/metoprolol which can be both GB ˌmetəˈprəʊlɒl and məˈtæprə(ʊ)lɒl/məˈtəʊprə(ʊ)lɒl/mɪˈtæprə(ʊ)lɒl/mɪˈtəʊprə(ʊ)lɒl.)

John Wells points out in his book that,

"[a]s with so many learned, scientific or technical words, the spelling is fixed while the pronunciation fluctuates. (...) That's because instead of hearing other speakers and imitating what they say, we often create a pronunciation for ourselves on the basis of the spelling, using the reading rules of English, which are notorious for their uncertainty."  

Italian-speaking members of the clinical professions intending to work in the health care sector with English-speaking patients can find information on the pronunciation of medical terms (including medications) in my two books L'inglese medico-scientifico: pronuncia e comprensione all'ascolto (2014, EdiSES) and Health Care Professionals Speaking (2015, EdiSES).