What do you do when you’re not sure how to pronounce an English word? You look it up in a dictionary. But what if you can’t find it in a dictionary because it’s a rare word like azure, a derived form like walked, a proper name like San Rafael, or a technical term like JSON? Until now, there were two options:
- Pronunciation dictionary. This works for 90% of words.
- Forvo. This has the advantage of giving you authentic pronunciations free from possible biases.
I was recently made aware of a third option – a website called YouGlish.com, designed by Dan Barhen. How does it work? There’s a huge mass of content available on YouTube. Some YouTube videos include transcripts. YouGlish lets you search those transcripts. Type a word, press Enter, and you get a video where someone is saying that word. The video will automatically start from the relevant sentence, so there’s no need to look for the right place. If you want more examples of your word being pronounced, simply click the big arrow button to go the next video result. You can also easily replay your sentence. It’s a very nice interface for browsing examples or real-life speech and congratulations are due to Dan for making it work so smoothly.
Forvo and YouGlish are great tools for the linguistically inclined who don’t trust their dictionaries. Dictionaries can be biased, outdated, or mistaken; no dictionary will beat direct access to real-world usage, which is the “source data” dictionaries are (or at least should be) based on.
Unlike dictionaries, these sites often enable you to hear the same word pronounced by dozens of speakers, which allows you to get rough answers to statistical questions like “What percentage of Americans pronounce a syllabic L in words like idly and peddling (making them sound like idally, pedaling)?”, “What percentage of Americans pronounce quarter as though it was spelled corter?”, etc.