American accent Geography Pronunciation Lesson

March 26, 2018 Rochel deOliveira

We created an American accent geography pronunciation lesson for you.

Practice them and you will sound like a native when you say the names of our cities and states.

American accent how to pronounce US city state names

Names of American cities and states can be tricky for non-natives to pronounce.

Here are a few classics that we see our students having trouble with, over and over.

Raleigh, NC: This city being recently ranked #10 of best places to live in the U.S., you may want to move there soon. So pronounce it correctly: RAW – lee.

Albuquerque, NM: For sure, this name is of Indian origin, with a spelling like that. A U.S. city with one of the highest elevations (over 5000 feet), it was also where the hit TV series “Breaking Bad” was filmed.  Pronounced AEL – b’ – ker – kee.

Tucson, AZ: Looks like TUKK – sun; no…it’s TOO-sahn. And it wins the award for “sunniest” US city: Tucson gets 360 days of sunshine per year!

Phoenix, AZ: Like the mythological bird who rose back to life from the ashes, this city’s name is pronounced FEE – niks.  An odd spelling…you can always spot words of Greek origin a mile away.

Chicago, IL: Several explanations as to the origin. Originally coined “Checagou” by the French explorer Robert de la Salle, we need to use French CH pronunciation. It’s shih – KAH – go. No “chi” in this name.

Illinois: Algonquian Indian roots, again Francophiled when the French came through, thus the silent S: ih – l’ – NOY.

Indianapolis, IN: Home to the largest single-day sporting event in the world (the automobile race Indy 500, held every Memorial Day weekend) the pronunciation of this city’s name often crashes.  The stress is on the “A”:  in – dee – uh – NAE – p’ – lis (not POU – lis).

Missouri: Not “misery”. Pronounce it meh – ZER – ree (The “ZER” rhymes with “her”).

Arkansas: Surprisingly, not “AR” + “Kansas”. It’s AR – kin – saw. French explorers were spending time there, but not in Kansas. Kansas is KAEN – zis.

Greenwich, CT. Pronounced the same as “Greenwich Village” and “Greenwich Mean Time”. No “green” in this name. It’s GREH – nitch. (Although some sources indicate that the old English pronunciation used to be GRIH – nitch.) But never “green witch”.

Vermont: Named by French explorer Samuel de Champlain (originally “Verd Mont”, describing the Green Mountains), you should not say it the French way with the stress on “Verd”. Stress should be: ver – MANT.

Montpelier, VT: Mais oui, but it looks so French. True, the capital of Vermont, Montpelier is named after the French city of Montpellier. But pronounce it à la Super-American:  mant – PEEL – yer. Many of my family members live in Vermont, and I still remember the moment my brother totally cracked up when I pronounced it the French way.

Notre Dame, IN: Another one…probably the most butchered French name of them all!  The way Americans pronounce it, it should be spelled: Noderdame (no – der – DEIM). The university of the same name is pretty hot stuff as far as athletics go, but still!

Omaha, NE: Pronounce it OU – m’ – ha. Known as the “Oracle of Omaha”, investor magnate Warren Buffet was born in Omaha and still resides there now. Fun WB fact: On his first income tax return in 1944, Buffett took a $35 deduction for the use of his bicycle and watch on his newspaper delivery paper route (Wikipedia).

Houston, TX: Most people know the pronunciation is HYOO – stin. Unfortunately, Houston Street in New York City deviates. It’s HAU – stin Street. If you mispronounce it, we smile and assume you are new to New York. 🙂

Staten Island, NY: “Staten” does contain the word “state”, but it’s “STAE – tin”, not “STATE – in”. Rhymes with “Latin”.

New York: Surprising to many, but always on the list. If you, like so many non-natives, mis-stress it, you may end up with your driver taking you to Newark (NEW – werk). It’s New YORK.

Practice the names of the states often using your American accent geography pronunciation lesson. It helps you pronounce other foreign words in American English.

Also keep in mind:

Place names that end in “-ton” (Washington, Hamilton, Southampton ): say “tin”

Place names that end in “land” (Maryland, Staten Island, Ireland): say “lind” (exceptions being Thailand and Disneyland)

Learn more about our 1:1 accent training.