Everyone has, at some point, run into a place name they can’t quite get their tongue around. It doesn’t have to be as mind-bending as a certain Welsh town name, either; with so many languages, origins and phonetic quirks playing into the name of a place, a landmark or a local attraction, even seemingly easy names can be unintuitive to an outsider — the French commune of Y, for example, is pronounced ee.
Fortunately, anyone with a cell phone and a good internet connection can head online and quickly search for the correct pronunciation on special websites like Forvo, ready to deliver audio recordings and phonetic spellings for even the trickiest of words. Forvo, in particular, also lends us another insight — the number of times a word has been searched by confused users.
With this in mind, HawaiianIslands wondered: based on how many times the pronunciation of a popular tourist spot has been listened to online, which are the most mispronounced destinations in the world?
What We Did
We first compiled a seed list of the most popular tourist attractions in every country and U.S. state and every country’s most popular beaches and beach resorts, landmarks, museums and nature spots. We then searched each destination on Forvo, an online pronunciation library, to find out how often it had been searched. We could then rank the most mispronounced tourist destinations and attractions in the world by how often their pronunciation had been searched.
- The Champs Elysées is the most mispronounced tourist destination in the world, counting 223,000 listens on Forvo
- Niagara Falls is the most mispronounced tourist spot in the U.S., having clocked up 31,000 listens on Forvo
- When it comes to U.S. cities, Chicago is the most mispronounced, with 1,800,000 listens on Forvo
- The Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands is the hardest museum to pronounce, with 98,000 listens on Forvo
- Having been listened to 34,000 times on Forvo, the Torres del Paine national park in Chile is the most mispronounced tourist spot in nature
The Champs Elysées Is the Most Mispronounced Tourist Destination in the World
Being known the world over doesn’t automatically mean a top tourist attraction’s name is easy to pronounce. Case in point — the 1.9 km-long Champs Elysées avenue in Paris, France, is one of the world’s most famous streets, receiving some 300,000 visitors everyday… but it’s also the most mispronounced tourist destination in the world, having clocked up 223,000 listens on the online pronunciation library Forvo.
The proper pronunciation — shohnz·eh·lee·zeh — is fairly unintuitive for non-French speakers, with the ‘champs’ half boasting several silent letters and a soft ‘ch’ sound. The area on which the Champs Elysées (French for “Elysian Fields,” a paradise in Greek mythology) stands was all fields before the royal architect André Le Nôtre built the boulevard in the 17th century, originally named the “Grand Cours.”
Counting 128,000 listens on Forvo, the world’s next most mispronounced top tourist attraction is the Casa Batlló in Barcelona, Spain. It’s easy to see why the name of this famous Antoni Gaudí-designed house presents a challenge for lots of people to say correctly out loud — according to user-submitted audio recordings on Forvo, the Catalan pronunciation is close to caza·bad·yo. As the capital of Catalonia, you’ll find Catalan spoken in Barcelona alongside Spanish.
Chile’s Torres Del Paine National Park Is the Hardest Destination in Nature to Pronounce
From waterfalls and cave systems to national parks, nature’s most sublime spots are often popular with tourists. But which of the world’s most popular tourist attractions in nature is the most difficult to pronounce? Our data reveals that it’s the Torres del Paine national park in Chile, having been listened to more times (34,000) than any other nature-based attraction on Forvo. Chilean speakers will pronounce this park toor·ez·day·pine, with a challenging rolled ‘r’ at the end of the first syllable.
The rolled ‘r’ isn’t really present in English as much as it is in languages like Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Polish, but it’s not impossible for a native English speaker to pick up. According to the BBC, language experts suggest that blowing a raspberry (also known as a Bronx cheer) while humming is one way you can train your mouth to make the sound.
Niagara Falls next, instinctively you might say ‘Ny-ah-gara,’ but according to Forvo (where the pronunciation has been listened to 31,000 times), it’s nahy-ag-ruh, with the emphasis being placed on the ‘uh’ sound. The word “Niagara” is believed to have its roots in the language of the Iroquoian-speaking Native American tribes that lived in the region. The name is thought to have several possible origins, but the most widely accepted one is that “Niagara” could be derived from the Iroquoian word “Onguiaahra,” which means “the strait” or “thunder of water,” which appeared on maps as early as 1641 and is quite a fitting name as the falls produce a tremendous roar.
Peregian Beach in Australia Is the Most Mispronounced Beach Name
Sun, sea and sand — it’s what many people look forward to when they book their vacation. But what happens when you have no idea how to properly pronounce the name of the beach you’re planning to visit?
According to the number of listens on Forvo, Australia is home to the most tongue-twisting beach names, with six of its beaches and resorts making the top 20. Our data reveals that Peregian Beach racked up 4,000 listens, making it the hardest to pronounce of any beach or resort across the world — followed by Strandbad Wannsee in Germany (2,800 listens) and Bucerias in Mexico (2,600 listens).
Puh-ree-jee-uhn Beach is both a beach and a small coastal town located on the Sunshine Coast, whose name derives from the Kabi Kabi word for emu. It’s a good example of the unique way that Australians pronounce their vowels, from the drawn-out to the unstressed.
Bondi Beach also makes the list, receiving 1,400 listens. The famous white-sand beach in Sydney is popular for surfing, walking and even whale watching. But despite its name being known the world over, many people need some help getting the pronunciation right. It’s not “bon-dee” or “bon-day.” It’s bon-dai (or bon-dye). The name comes from the Aboriginal word that means “water breaking over rocks” or “noise of water breaking over rocks.”
French Landmarks Prove to Be the Hardest to Pronounce
Landmarks all over the world can be challenging to pronounce for non-native speakers due to the intricacies of the language of the country they’re in. But which landmark names do tourists struggle with the most?
Dominating the results with six landmarks in total, France features on this list more than any other country. Likely because many of the names have silent letters, liaisons and complex vowel sounds that differ from what learners may be accustomed to in their native languages. For example, the famous cathedral Notre Dame is pronounced as noh-truh-dahm with silent letters at the end of each word. And La Tour Eiffel (which places eighth with 69,000 Forvo listens) requires careful attention to the subtle “r” and “f” sounds in tuhr ey-fehl.
However, it is the popular Parisian street, the Champs-Élysées, which is the most mispronounced landmark of all (223,000 Forvo listens). With elisions and nasal sounds, this becomes shohnz·eh·lee·zeh.
Another example of those nasal sounds would be France’s second-hardest-to-pronounce landmark, Montmartre (89,000 listens). Montmartre is known for its rich and colorful artistic heritage. Characterized by steep, winding, cobbled streets, the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur sits at the highest point. And from here, visitors can see views right over Paris.
Deriving from ‘Mons Martis,’ which is Latin for “Mount of Mars,” the place name survived into Merovingian times, gallicized as Montmartre. The ’n’ is nasalized, and the ’t’ in ‘mont’ is silent. The ‘mar’ syllable is emphasized, the ‘r’s are rolled and the ‘e’ at the end is silent. It becomes mon-mar-tre.
The Netherland’s Rijksmuseum Is the World’s Most Mispronounced Museum
Visiting a museum is a great way to delve into the rich history of a new place and learn more about its local culture. Another way to immerse yourself in new experiences is through language. But pronouncing the name of a new place, however well-known, can be daunting if it’s unfamiliar to you.
One YouGov survey conducted in 2018 found that almost half (48%) of people in Britain who travel overseas do not learn the basics of a country’s language before holidaying there. Luckily, we analyzed Forvo listen numbers to reveal the most mispronounced museums around the world.
Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum (rikes-myoo-zee-uhm) is the hardest to pronounce, judging by its 98,000 Forvo listens. In Dutch, ‘J’ is pronounced with an English ‘y’ sound, as in year. One TripAdvisor reviewer shared a handy tip to remember its correct pronunciation: “Rijks rhymes with bikes.”
The Netherlands places another two times in our top 20 list. The pronunciation of the Kröller-Müller museum in Otterlo has been listened to 6,000 times on Forvo, and the pronunciation of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam has been listened to 5,300 times.
Niagara Falls’ Pronunciation Has Been Listened to Online More Than Any Other American Tourist Attraction
The United States boasts a wide range of tourism spots and is the third most popular country in the world for international travelers. The Statue of Liberty greets visitors to New York, the Hollywood sign towers above Los Angeles, and there are 63 national parks throughout the country. But whether you’ve traveled across the globe or across states, different dialects and regional origins can make pronouncing new words quite difficult. And if you’ve only ever read the name of a place before, you might struggle to pronounce it right on the first try.
We analyzed Forvo listen numbers to reveal the most mispronounced tourist spots in the States, and coming up top is one of its greatest treasures — Niagara Falls. Pronounced nahy-ag-ruh, this scenic natural wonder has been totted up 31,000 listens. It is one of seven tourist spots in New York to make our list, including The Empire State Building (22,000 listens), Brooklyn Bridge (7,100 listens) and Central Park (6,600 listens).
Escape From Alcatraz might be a popular Clint Eastwood movie that has been around since 1979, but apparently, its location namesake is still hard for some to pronounce. Alcatraz racks up 20,000 listens on Forvo. Despite the spelling, the correct way to sound out this word is to swap the ‘ca’ for a ‘kuh’ sound and you get; al-kuh-traz. Also in California, the pronunciation of Yosemite National Park has been listened to 9,700 times. A tricky one to wrap your eyes and ears around, the correct way to say it is yow-seh-muh-tee and not ‘yose-might’ as in hose.
Chicago Is the Most Mispronounced U.S. City
If you’ve lived in America all your life, you may find it surprising that Chicago is the most mispronounced city in the country, having clocked up 1,800,000 listens on Forvo. You can’t go wrong with pronouncing Chicago’s name — thought to be derived from a word meaning “stinky onions” for the local flora — as shuh·kaa·gow, but you might catch older and Irish-American Chicagoans saying “chi-CAW-go” instead.
The next most mispronounced U.S. city is Atlanta (uht·lan·tuh), which has been listened to 722,000 times on Forvo. Known as Marthasville until 1845, Atlanta is the feminized form of the word Atlantic, so named because the city stands at the end of the historic Western & Atlantic railroad line.
Other hard-to-pronounce U.S. cities include those with tricky multi-syllabic names like Philadelphia (fi·luh·del·fee·uh — 100k listens) and foreign-origin names that prove somewhat unintuitive to pronounce for an English speaker, like Des Moines (de·moyn — 92,000 listens).
Don’t Let Pronunciation Woes Spoil Your Fun
It’s no big deal if you’ve tripped up on a place name or two; it happens to the best of us. In fact, one of the best things about traveling to a new place is soaking up the culture and learning how the locals do, including how they pronounce the name of a popular tourist hotspot or whether it carries another name entirely. For example, Mount Everest might be the world’s most famous mountain — but did you know that locals on either side of the Tibet-Nepal border know it as either Chomolungma or Sagarmatha?
Aside from the welcome benefit of making a new friend, you might even find that chatting with a friendly local can give you a greater insight into your destination, like tips and tricks to avoid the crowds or how to get there an easier (or more scenic) way. If you’re still a bit nervous about how to properly pronounce the name of a local tourist spot, Forvo is a great resource to hear it spoken aloud.
What We Did
To discover which tourist spots are the most mispronounced around the world and in the United States, we measured the number of listens that each tourist spot has received on Forvo.com, the world’s largest pronunciation dictionary.
We first gathered a seed list of the 90 most popular tourist attractions per country and U.S. state and the 90 most popular beaches & beach resorts, landmarks, museums and nature spots per country before matching each tourist spot’s name with Forvo.com’s database and its number of listens for their pronunciations.
Each tourist spot’s name was manually sense-checked to ensure a correct match between its title and the wording of its pronunciation. Certain tourist spots with more generic titles that translate into words commonly used with other meanings were omitted from the final rankings.
Data for this research is correct as of June 2023.