Have you ever realized that you have been mispronouncing a word wrong your entire life? Avoid that embarrassment by learning how to pronounce these eight famous place names.
1. Dubai, UAE
Dubai is one of the most popular destinations in the Middle East, particularly for those looking for a slice of the high life. With its gleaming malls and glamorous private beaches, it can be easy to forget that Dubai is also filled with a wealth of Arabic tradition and culture. In this city of contrasts, you can spend your morning wandering a chaotic souq (marketplace) and your evening looking over the city from the top of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa.
How most people pronounce it: DOO-bye
How it’s actually pronounced: Du-BAY
Whilst Du-BAY is closer to the Arabic pronunciation, you don’t need to worry too much about this one. English is the most widely spoken language in Dubai, and the English pronunciation will not get you singled out as an ignorant tourist.
2. Phuket, Thailand
Thailand’s largest and most infamous island, Phuket is one of the country’s top beach destinations. Despite its reputation as a nonstop party, there is actually something for everyone in Phuket: Karon and Kata offer a laid-back surfer vibe, Bang Tao has the luxury tropical resorts, and Patong Beach has the wild nightlife. Whatever your tastes, you will find a beach in Phuket that you will never want to leave.
How most people pronounce it: Foo-kit or Fuh-ket
How it’s actually pronounced: Poo-get
Unfortunately for some, the correct pronunciation does lend itself less to crude jokes. (…Or does it?)
3. Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland’s capital is smaller and quieter than most major European cities, but it makes up for this with a big dose of charm, creativity, and fun. Although most tourists visit Iceland for its natural beauty, Reykjavik’s lively arts and cultural scene, as well as its nightlife — which could rival a much bigger city — make it an unmissable stop for many before heading out into the tundra to see the Northern Lights.
How most people pronounce it: RAKE-ja-vik
How it’s actually pronounced: REY-kya-veek
You may not see much of a difference between these two pronunciations, but the main thing to remember is that the “J” is pronounced as a “Y” sound in Icelandic.
4. Versailles, France
Located in the suburbs of Paris, Versailles is a big attraction for visitors to the French capital because of its iconic opulence and grandeur. The palace was commissioned by France’s most extravagant king, Louis XIV, using all the best artists and craftsmen of the country at the time. The result is an over-the-top collection of baroque paintings, gilded ceilings, and mirrored hallways, not to mention the impeccably manicured gardens outside. Versailles isn’t just a palace: it’s a palace city.
How most people pronounce it: Ver-SAYLZ
How it’s actually pronounced: Ver-SYE
Interestingly, Versailles, Kentucky is pronounced differently as Ver-say-ells. Don’t get those two confused.
6. Worcester, United Kingdom
Worcester is a city in Middle England, filled with history and tradition. From its medieval cathedral to its grand houses and manors, visitors to Worcester are treated to a glimpse into England through the ages through the city’s architecture. History buffs will know it as the location of the last battle of the English Civil War; most others will be more familiar with its most famous invention, Worcestershire Sauce.
How most people pronounce it: WOR-ches-ter or WOR-sess-ter
How it’s actually pronounced: WOOS-ter
While most of the entries on this list can attribute the common mispronunciation to a language barrier, the UK does not have this excuse. There is actually no consensus among grammarians and historians as to why the “-ces” sound was dropped from place names like Leicester, Gloucester, and Worcester, but it is true that you will be immediately identified as a tourist if you get it wrong.
This nation in West Africa is not one of the continent’s most popular tourist hubs, offering neither great beaches or adventurous safaris. It is also a dangerous country to visit, with political unrest and attacks on foreigners being relatively common. This means that, despite reports of unforgettable Sahara experiences for those who have visited, Niger remains mostly off-limits to visitors. Even so, just in case:
How most people pronounce it: NYE-jur
How it’s actually pronounced: nee-ZHAIR
A former French colony, the pronunciation of Niger is different from that of Nigeria, which was an English one. Pronounced correctly, it should rhyme with ‘Pierre’.
8. La Jolla, California
La Jolla in San Diego is known for its hiking, golf, and attractive seaside ambiance. As well as having great beaches and boutique shopping, is it also home to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the University of California San Diego. It is a pleasant, affluent community, with a large student population and a vibrant arts scene.
How most people pronounce it: La JOL-la
How it’s actually pronounced: La HOY-ya
Like many locations in California, the name is Spanish in origin, meaning “The Jewel” (although the Spanish word is actually spelled “joya”). This means it uses the Hispanic pronunciation of the letter “J” as an “H” sound.
So, how many of these were you pronouncing wrong? Of course, most people will understand what you mean even if you use the English mispronunciation, but it is always nice to make an effort not to buthcer the local language. After all, the best kind of tourist is an informed and respectful one.