One of the perils of reading aloud is that sometimes you don’t know what you’re saying. Literally.
I’ve always been a good sight reader thanks presumably to being a voracious reader growing up. I read a LOT. I was reading books aimed at children older than I was, or young adults. This meant that frequently I came into contact with words I didn’t know. Over time, with enough context, I’d figure out the word’s meaning (or get out a dictionary) but I didn’t always know how to say it. I didn’t learn phonetics until my English A Level, so unless I heard the word spoken by someone else my invented pronunciation became embedded in my memory. Even today, some still emerge in my speech (to confused blinking by whomever I’m speaking to) or in my voiceover recordings.
Shouldn’t I check pronunciations? After all it’s my job to talk and inform – especially when narrating explainers, corporate videos or elearning. Well, yes of course and I do. But what if a word’s pronunciation has become so normal to you, or perhaps you’ve been placing emphasis in the wrong place all this time, you’d never question that it might be wrong? Why would you check it?
One of a voiceover artist’s skills is to sound like they know what they’re talking about. Credibility goes out of the window if you flub a pronunciation, no matter how confidently. So while good friends might not want to cause embarrassment by correcting you, as a VO, it’s pretty vital.
Salvation comes in the form of the internet. YouTube works for company names and brands, ForVO is a godsend for place names and occasionally people’s names and HowJSay saves the day almost every time for anything else. And who is the HowJSay guy? He must have spent WEEKS effectively recording dictionaries a word at a time, including medical dictionaries. Never mind Toast, this man is the ultimate Voiceover.
So while it was only relatively recently that I found out I’d been pronouncing “magnanimous” incorrectly for most of my life, I also still shudder when a script comes in for a British Voiceover which includes the word “aluminum”. US pronunciations are a whole other headache.