The 22 places you're probably pronouncing incorrectly

For novice linguists, the world is full of nasty traps, where a mispronunciation of a basic household item can end up sounding like a vile insult. But you don't even have to dip into foreign languages to get things embarrassingly wrong – and that applies to perhaps more city and country names than you might expect. This little lot, for example, are often bungled…

Reims, France

Reims, France.

Wrong: "Reemz" Right: "Rarnce", but tackled obnoxiously nasally

The hub of the Champagne region is frankly nightmarish for English speakers to say. Aim for something approaching the sound a snorer makes when they're snoring so loud they wake themselves up.


Wrong: "Ny-jer"Right: "Neezh-air"

The African country is a former French colony, so it gets the French approach – not "Nigel" with a different letter at the end.


Wrong: "Sa-MO-a"Right: "SARM-oa"

Most outsiders tend to put the emphasis on the second syllable. But listen to the locals say it, and there's an elongated first a. Pronounce the 'Sam' like you would 'harm', then quickly rattle off the 'oa' with less emphasis, and you're about right.

See: Secret's out on this Pacific paradise


Wrong: "Kirry-barty"Right: "Ki-ri-bass"

The biggest South Pacific curveball, however, comes with Kiribati. Which, defying pretty much all logic, treats the "ti" at the end as an "s" sound.

Louisville, Kentucky

Wrong: "Loo-iss-vill"Right: "Loo-ee-vul"

If you're in Kentucky, the state's largest city takes the French pronunciation on the first syllable – as in King Louis XIV – but the American on the second. So it becomes an awkward hybrid.

St Louis, Missouri

Wrong: "Saint Loo-ee"Right: "Saint Loo-iss"

After Louisville, you'd expect the same rules to apply, but no. St Louis is Louis as in Lewis Hamilton rather than the French kings. Consistency be damned.


Wrong: "Cat-arr" Right: "Cutter", albeit with slightly more emphasis on the first syllable

No, it's not like the gunky stuff you get when you've got a bad cold.


Wrong: "Dom-IN-i-ca"Right: "Dom-in-EE-ca"

The Caribbean island follows Spanish pronunciation rules – so the stress is on the second-to-last syllable.

Córdoba, Spain/Argentina

Wrong: "Cor-DOH-ba"Right: "COR-duh-buh"

That second-to-last syllable rule? Well, it goes out of the window when accents are involved. The Spanish language uses accents to indicate which syllable gets the emphasis when the normal rule is broken.

Bangkok, Thailand

Wrong: "Bang-cock"Right: "Bang-gawhk"

For a start, the Thais don't even know their capital as Bangkok – it's Krung Thep. But even when using the better known name, the pronunciation is different – a quick "bang", then a drawn-out "gawhk" sound with the ending tailing off into nothing like the pathetic caw of a seriously injured seagull.

See: The 20 must-see higlights of Bangkok

Ibiza, Spain

Reims, France.

Wrong: "EYE-bee-tha" Right: "Ee-bee-tha"

There's a fairly extensive list of ways to mangle this Spanish party island, although mercifully few pronounce the z as a z or s any more.

See: Ibiza: Welcome to the pleasure dome

Dunedin, New Zealand

Wrong: "June-din"Right: "Dun-ee-din"

New Zealand's slice of Scottish pastiche may look like it has two syllables, but it has three, and the emphasis comes in the middle. So it's "Dun" as in "done the dishes", a long eeee sound, then din as in a horrible noise.


Wrong: "Packy-stan"Right: "Paw-ki-starn"

The "pa" sound is closer to "paw" than "par" or "pah". And the "stan" is drawn out, as in "barn".

Oaxaca, Mexico

Wrong: "Oh-acks-acka"Right: "Wa-ha-ca"

The Mexican city/ state is a ripe breeding ground for grotesque attempts on the name, largely because it's said nothing like the spelling would suggest to an English-speaker.

See: Where to eat in Oaxaca, a chef's guide

Lesotho, South Africa

Wrong: "Le-soh-thoh"Right: "Le-soo-too"

Double up the o sounds, and the spelling is closer to how you say it.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Wrong: "Wrecker vic" or "Wreck-ee-a-vic"Right: "Ray-kya-vik"

The Icelandic capital's consonant soup leads to some spectacular linguistic butchery. But, properly, it's "ray-kya-vik" with the "ray" being like the drop of golden sun Maria prattled on about in the Sound of Music.

See: Why tourists are flocking to isolated Iceland

Beijing, China

Wrong: "Bayzhh-ing" Right: "Bay-jing"

Sometimes, we can get too clever while trying to pronounce place names – hence making the j in the Chinese capital a more exotic 'zhh' sound. It's trying too hard – a simple "bay-jing" with a normal j as in jump is correct.

Budapest, Hungary

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Budapest, Hungary-april 15, 2014: View of St. Stephen Statue and Matthias Church at Fishermen's Bastion, is one of the most-visited attractions in Budapest, on 15 april 2014

Wrong: "Boo-da-pest"Right: "Boo-da-pesht"

You might not need to zhh up Beijing but you do need to get slurring for the Hungarian capital. Everyone gets the "Buda" bit right – but the second half is more like "pesht" than something you'd spray with poison to get it out of your garden.

See: Six of the best Budapest bathhouses

Tijuana, Mexico

Wrong: "Tee-a-whana"Right: "Ti-whana"

Most people put in an extra syllable for no apparent reason.

Lucerne, Switzerland

Wrong: "Loo-sirn"Right: "Lutz-urn"

English-speakers tend to use the French approach to this Swiss city but it's in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

Zürich, Switzerland

Wrong: "Zoo-rick" Right: "Zurrr-eekh"

Switzerland's largest city is also in the German-speaking area and the umlaut over the u changes the expected "zoo" pronunciation. And the ending has a soft rather than hard treatment.

Wroclaw, Poland

Wrong: "Rock-lor" Right: "Vrots-lav"

Perhaps the biggest pronunciation monster of them all comes from Poland, where the 2016 European Capital of Culture has possibly been chosen purely to trip up foreigners. The Polish pronunciation is along the lines of "vrots-lav", with the v sound at the end getting perilously close to an f.

See: Poland: Europe's best-kept secret

See also: 10 things most travellers are doing wrong