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How well do Antimoon visitors know the pronunciation of basic English words?

In September 2010, I published Test your English pronunciation, a 10-question quiz which tests your knowledge of the basics of English pronunciation. Today, we’re going to look at the results. How well do Antimoon visitors know basic pronunciation?

(Note: The report includes only visitors who declared that they are not native speakers of English. Repeated attempts were excluded, i.e. only the first attempt was taken into account. There were about 14,000 unique responses from non-native speakers.)

Overall scores

First let’s look at the overall scores:


The mean (average) score was 6.19 out of 10. As you can see from the above chart, only about 3% of visitors got a perfect score. 58% got 6 points or less.

Is that good or bad? To answer this question, I bought some bananas, went to the Wroclaw zoo and ran the test on a group of monkeys. Here are the monkeys’ results:


As the monkeys have no conception of English pronunciation, they were choosing their answers at random. Since each question had only two possible answers, the chance of guessing the correct answer is 50%. So, in a 10-question test, the mean score was 5 points.

As you can see, the Antimoon visitors were better than monkeys, but not by much (mean score of 6.19 versus 5.00).

Which questions were the most difficult?

Let’s now take a look at the individual questions. What percentage of visitors answered each question correctly?


As you see, there was significant variation in difficulty between questions. The easiest questions were answered correctly by 80% of visitors; the hardest ones were answered correctly by only 40% of visitors.

Interestingly, for the most difficult questions (“Does food rhyme with good?” and “Does of have an f sound or a v sound?”), non-natives did worse than monkeys (who of course got 50% correct answers on every question). If our visitors had simply rolled a dice on these questions, they would have gotten them right 50% of the time – instead, they got them right only about 40% of the time.

This shows that, for the food/good and roll/role questions, visitors were not simply making random guesses. The problem wasn’t lack of knowledge – the problem was bad knowledge.

Note: As of Dec 31, 2012, Test Your Pronunciation has been modified, so you can no longer take the test in the form described above.


17 Comments so far ↓

  • Lauro Silva

    Very interesting survey but how to check the visitors informal pronunciation involving intonation and the linkings between words?

  • Elisabete Simões

    It was very important to receive this feedback. I believe nowadays no native speakers are much more worried about the sounds of English than some years ago.
    In fact, when we know the real sound of an specific word, we’ll feel much secure to say that word.
    Thanks a lot!

    • Kamil Oleksiak

      I couldn’t agree more. I refrain from saying a word if I’m not familiar with its pronunciation.

  • zetty

    So give use the answers now :)

    I’d say good doesn’t rhyme with food but roll is pronounced the same as role

  • freak

    How many bananas did monkey eat? Must have cost you a fortune!

  • zwina

    Sorry but you are comparing us to monkeys!

  • Tom

    What you said about the pronunciation of certain words is not totally correct if you compare Broad Scots English with Broad Australian English. I know, as I am an Aussie and also speak Scots fluently.
    All you have to do is compare these two dialects when speaking these words:
    brown, town, book, good, food.
    Also in English, cheese can be pronounced with a z or s.
    In Australia, the vowels oo as in school are pronounced the same as in fool and you will find this is is the case in other dialects.
    In New
    Still you have an interesting site.

    • Tom

      Not sure what you mean about Australian versus Scots.

      I’ve never heard ‘cheese’ pronounced with an ‘s’. If you could provide a link to a sample, that would be interesting.

      Yes, ‘school’ and ‘fool’ are pronounced with the same vowel, which is what the test says.

      • Tom

        When I talk about Australian and Scots, I am talking about two different dialects or accents of English.
        All this description is ok so far but you have to hear the spoken word, rather than the written word to really know the difference.
        What I am saying re school is that in some places in Oz, we use the dipthong ue, rather than oo. However, this does not follow thru to fool where the oo sound is used. Also in Oz, people often say drectly instead of directly. But with indirectly, the vowel i is pronounced and we have indirectly and not indrectly . Crazy huh?

  • Tom

    My previous message timed out.
    Just to clarify my previous remarks concerning the vowels oo as spoken in Australia. In some parts of the country, the oo is pronounced the same as fool, but in others, as in my part of Oz, school is pronounced skuel. Some Aussies pron the a in France similar to how the a in Cat is pronounced, whilst others pron the a how a in Hard is pron.
    In New Zealand, the pron of English is very similar to that of Australian English, but there are a number of differences with some vowels. Most English speakers cant tell the difference between the two dialects but we Aussies and Kiwis can.
    With fish and chips, Aussies say the Kiwis say – Fush and Chups whilst the Kiwis say Aussies say fiesh and chieps and so on.
    We pronounce the vowels, e and i very differently.

  • Lucky

    I really want to go abroad for studying English, but my finance cannot afford for me to do that. Because I think living in a country in which its citizen speak English is the best way for learning English. We must use English all time. If we want everybody understand us we must try our best to learn English. And in this case will force us to learn English quickly. How about your opinion?

  • gaelsano

    @ Tom. Being able to speak a language is no guarantor of linguistic competence or analytic ability.

    Nearly Korean is fluent in Korean (read:all of them) but very few notice basic things. An example is that no word can start with “l”. Only recently imported words being with “l” and at the start of an utterance are pronounced with “n” and the lexicon from the National Language Academy has not a single counter example.

    Also, Scots is not a dialect; it is a language. You can’t compare the phonology of different languages with differences in vocabulary and grammar.

    Litmus test : are the two tongues mutually intelligible?

    Long explanation by example: A good way to remember the difference is to think of Chinese. Among the Chinese languages you have Mandarin and Cantonese and others. Mandarin is a Chinese language with several dialects including Beijing dialect, Southwestern dialect and Standard Chinese. The Cantonese language includes dialects like Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Guangzhou and HK speakers understand each other despite phonology differences as do commoners from Beijing and Chengdu. Yet Chengdu people cannot communicate with HKers unless the HK person knows Standard Chinese in addition to the native tongue.

    The various Chinese languages share a writing system and grammar, but even if you ignore the traditional vs simplified debate, you still have symbols which only exist in Min Nan and not in Wu or Mandarin. Additionally, some languages like Hakka use grammar and syntax that is completely divorced from Mandarin.

  • gaelsano

    Also, as a former ESL teacher I can attest to how infuriating the “bad knowledge” is.

    Give me bright and dedicated adults or fresh slate children, but not the teenagers. They’re impossible to teach when they have teachers explicitly tell them in L! (not L2!) that f/p and z/j and th/s th/d NORTH/GOAT KIT/FLEECE are all interchangeable. The also teach that the diphthong in PRICE is two syllables and epenthetic vowels are taught as part of English phonology. Hence Tigers becomes Tah-ee-guh-juh.

    To make matters worse many teachers never bother learning the standard dialect of their L1 so they when see the beginners’ pronunciation guides they transfer their own mergers to L2. 애 and 에 are not absolute vowels but front vowels that vary in height, 에 is higher than 애. To teach the difference between TRAP and DRESS the books make a parallel with 애 and 에. Those teachers who never learned linguistics, phonics, or even standard Korean will merge 애 and 에 and thus TRAP and DRESS unless they has the rare chance to start learning English firsthand and not through an unqualified Korean or a book written without the input of native speakers.

    The results of the test are about what’d I expect. Moreso than L1 problems or L2 acquisition problems, many learners are saddled with bad information. It works both ways of course. Most American French learners have o/eau le/deux ras/rat les/et vowel pairs merged.

    • gaelsano

      I have a wireless keyboard that cuts out from time to time. Hence the has/had mistake and the “what’d I” instead of “what I’d” and some missing commas.

  • Melissa

    More, please! How about:

    How many of these words rhyme?: through, tough, though, trough.

  • KJ

    Did you really go to the zoo? How many monkeys did your test? The minimum percentage is 1, so it must be at least a 100. That’s pretty much! Also, the distribution is so perfectly symmetric, and the mean so perfectly 5.00 that I need to cast doubts on whether the data are real.

  • Frank

    Cheese can be pronounced with an S sound by natives, especially if speaking quickly and clipping the end of words: “What kind cheese you got there?” If I say this quickly, the cheese will have an S sound and the TH in there will tend towards D, as in German Der. Note that using got and dropping the do is bad grammar, but extremely common in spoken English, including by highly literate, highly educated members of the upper social classes, at least in places like New York City, where everyone is rushed and breaks grammar rules so as to speak more quickly. Correct grammar would be: “What kind of cheese do you have there?” For this version, I would tend to slow down and pronounce cheese with a Z and there beginning TH rather than D.

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