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I know learning grammar and vocab is so painful, but that's not the hardest part to me. What makes me feel most difficult is the English name for people and streets.

They are complicated, no spelling pattern, and some of them are not easy to pronounce.

So, I would want to know how native English speaker learns people and street names and naturally remember them?

Is there any way I can learn them?

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La Jolla California, is an example; unless you know the 'J' is soft like an 'H', many would pronounce it with the hard J. If you don't speak French, or are not Catholic and know Pius 1X is a pope, you might not pronounce Pius IX as something like Pea Neuf in Montreal. I doubt there's anyway to get how something is pronounced unless a native tells you.

I was skiing at Mont Tremblant when an American fellow asked me how to find the Grand Pricks. The Grand Prix is a pretty famous auto race, but he did not know that!

  • I typed "La Jolla" several times before I realized that this was the place pronounced "La Hoya" (not La Joe-La). And when I moved to Atlanta, my friend's mom told me to exit the highway at "Ponts Duh Lee-on", which is how everyone in Atlanta pronounces it, but it is spelled "Ponce de Leon". Also, Houston is pronounced "House-tin". Being a native speaker did not help; I had to learn the local pronunciations. – Davo Mar 3 '17 at 20:31
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    @Davo - Wait, are you saying Houston is pronounced that way in Atlanta, or what? Houston, TX is normally pronounced HYOO-stən, I thought, but Houston Street in NYC is HOUSE-tin. – stangdon Mar 3 '17 at 20:44
  • The US has towns name Covington; I've heard it pronounced three different ways in three different states. And then there's a favorite of mine, Wilkes-Barre PA – it's pronounced as if it's spelled "Wilksberry". Yes, regional variations abound. – J.R. Mar 3 '17 at 21:02
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    Don't even get me started with Schuylkill. – fixer1234 Mar 3 '17 at 23:36
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    @CynicallyNaive: And Mass has some weird pronunciations (Woburn, Haverhill) even when the same UK place names are pronounced the way they're spelled. – Peter Shor Apr 4 '17 at 21:05
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You cannot learn names 'naturally', but you can learn them if you put effort into remembering them, such as repeating them over and over in your head. Even native speakers do this, not because they find them hard to say, but because they are naturally forgetful!

Because of this, they will be understanding about any issues you have with names, so don't worry about asking for help. It's one of the best ways to improve on any aspect of a language. I would recommend explaining that you are not a native speaker, and find names particularly difficult. You could even ask people to say their names slowly, and perhaps repeat them a couple of times.

Again: don't be afraid that this will annoy people. In fact, they'll be touched that you're making an effort. Not many people appreciate how much people like it when you take an interest in their names. Names are the primary way that people identify themselves, and anything that shows you're trying to get them right, is worth doing. This also applies to street names: it's important to people because it's where they live.

If you have have any close native English friends, you could always ask them instead when you see them later. If not, you'll probably acquire more friends there anyway, over time.

Eventually, as you practise name pronunciation more and more, it will get easier, just like the grammar and vocabulary did.

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We native speakers don't always get these names right, either! (You'll see this below.)

Aside from the very salient answers already given, I'm inclined to suggest that you choose one geographical area. Of course the English language is used natively in a diverse set of nations across the globe, so I'm afraid you'll drive yourself crazy trying to learn so many diverse people's names or place names at once!

For example, you might live or might like to live in London, in British Columbia, in Southeast Texas, in Lagos, or in Western Australia; or you might have contact with people from one of those places. So you could focus on the names from those places, only learning the others as needed.

For example, major US cities' names come from the following origins:

  • English place names: New York, Boston, Birmingham
  • French place names: New Orleans
  • Greek: Philadelphia
  • Spanish: Los Angeles, San Francisco, El Paso (less prominent: Las Cruces, Boca Raton)
  • Native languages: Chicago (a wild onion), Seattle (from a chief's name)
  • Egyptian place name: Memphis
  • Contemporary people's names: Nashville, Raleigh, Washington, Pittsburgh, Houston, Dallas, Denver
  • Saints' names: Saint Louis, Saint Paul
  • Geographical features: Little Rock, Salt Lake City
  • Latin: Cincinnati
  • Hybrid native/Greek: Minneapolis

Also note that New York City, formerly Nieuw Amsterdam, has many Dutch (Netherlands) place names, adapted to English inconsistently. For example the name of the Van Wyck Expressway is somewhat controversial.

Any other large English-speaking country might have its own mix. And the problem is, each of those source languages is going to have its own phonology. Sometimes we get it wrong--before I recently traveled to Abuja, I was pronouncing the name of Nigeria's capital with the accent on the wrong syllable. And I'm still not sure if one form of Lagos or the other is favored!

So I strongly suggest you focus on the part of the English-speaking world most of interest to you and learn the rest only as needed.

  • Forvo is extremely helpful for hearing recordings of native speakers, keyed to their geographical location. – CynicallyNaive Apr 4 '17 at 7:24

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