Foreign Countries You're Probably Saying Wrong
Even if you're extremely well-traveled, there are probably some country names you've struggled to pronounce.
If you want to show off your globetrotting savviness — while saving yourself from side eye — learn from this guide how to say some of the most difficult-to-pronounce countries in the world.
From Sri Lanka to Iran, Kyrgyzstan to Qatar, we've got you covered. How many of these nations have you been pronouncing correctly — and getting wrong all this time?
Not many people make it to this small, landlocked country, one of the least-visited in all of Europe. And when they do, they often pronounce it as “mold-doh-vah.”
The proper way to pronounce this country (which incidentally boasts an excellent wine scene) is with the “o” pronounced as an “a” and the last “a” as an “uh” — confusing!
The proper pronunciation is “mahl-doh-vuh.”
*Source: Forvo, the largest pronunciation dictionary in the world, based on pronunciations by speakers of the native language.
Have you been referring to this South Asian country as “pak-uh-stan” or “pak-ee-stan”? You’re not alone.
You’re also not right.
The proper pronunciation is “pock-kee-stahn.”
Planning a trip to this teardrop-shaped island in the Indian Ocean filled with ancient ruins, spectacular wildlife and some of the best food on the planet? Sounds amazing.
Just don’t boast to your friends about your upcoming travels to “shree-lahnk-ah.”
The proper pronunciation is “sree-lahnk-ah.”
There’s a lot of beauty to see in Iran, from glorious palaces and mosques to natural marvels like Mount Damavand, the highest mountain in the Middle East. But when you say the name of the country, there’s no “eye” involved.
The proper pronunciation is “ee-rahn.”
As with Iran, there’s no “eye” in Iraq. And it's "rock," not "rack." (Handy tip: Remember that this country is filled with rocks in its vast desert).
The proper pronunciation is “ee-rock.”
The most common blunder people make when talking about this Middle Eastern country is adding an entire extra syllable to its name. If you say “kah-za-ka-stahn” or “ka-zak-ah-stan,” you’re putting in too much work.
The proper pronunciation is “ka-zak-stahn.”
This Central Asian nation is a natural wonder, home to shimmering lakes, towering peaks and wide open pastures. And because of the way the country is spelled, it’d be natural to think it’s called “kur-giz-stahn.”
But that “z” is deceptive, as it’s entirely silent.
The proper pronunciation is “keer-gihs-taan.”
Qatar is likely mispronounced just as often as it’s visited, which is to say very: It’s a major international airline hub for cross-continental flights, with an airport that’s consistently rated among the best in the world.
Whether you’re passing through or going for a visit, don’t say “ka-tahr.”
The proper pronunciation is “cut-ter.”
Belarus, another landlocked Eastern European country, has been called “one of Europe’s ‘It’ destinations” by Lonely Planet.
Alas, that doesn’t make it any easier to say.
The correct pronunciation is not, as it would seem, “beh-lare-us.” Just be grateful you don’t have to call it by its former Russian name: Byelorussia.
The proper pronunciation is "bell-ah-rooz."
Blame “The Simpsons” for the common butchering of Uruguay’s name. In a 1995 episode of the show, Homer Simpson spun the globe and said, “Look at this country, you are gay,” while pointing to Uruguay.
Interestingly, Uruguay is quite progressive on gay rights. Homosexuality has been legal for nearly a century, and it was the first country in South America to pass a national civil union law in 2008.
The proper pronunciation is "yuhr-uh-gw’eye" (alternatively, many Spanish speakers drop the "y").
No shocker here: As with Uruguay, Paraguay is commonly mispronounced. The countries also often get confused for one another, even though Paraguay is landlocked and Uruguay is on the coast. (And, of course, they tout distinct cultural identities.)
Helpfully, though, they should be pronounced in a similar fashion.
The proper pronunciation is "pare-uh-gw’eye."
Folks often misspell and say this country as if it were the same as Columbia University in New York City.
In reality, this South American nation — known for its wild jungles and Caribbean coastline — has no “u” in its name. Say “Co-lum-bee-ah,” and locals will give you a look.
The proper pronunciation is "co-lohm-bee-uh."
Antigua is one of two picturesque islands that make up the West Indies independent Commonwealth nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
Indigenous people actually call the island Waladli, but you should stick with calling it by its more common name (and pronouncing it correctly!).
The proper pronunciation is "an-tee-guh."
Rookie travelers may refer to this famous tropical nation as “thigh-land,” but the “h” is actually silent. It’s also worth noting that the popular coastal city of Phuket is pronounced “poo-ket” (not “f**k it”), the idyllic Phi Phi islands are pronounced “pee pee,” and the capital city of Bangkok is “bahng-gawk.”
Now go enjoy your pad Thai and some Thai young coconuts — both of which are also pronounced with no “h.”
The proper pronunciation is “tye-land.”
Did you know the Maldives consists of 26 ring-shaped atolls and more than 1,000 coral islands? Or that it's located in the Indian Ocean? Or that you should not pronounce it as “mal-dives”?
Now you do!
The proper pronunciation is "mawl-deeves" ("mohl-deeves" is also acceptable).
Political unrest has made this landlocked West African country difficult to visit. But those who do manage to make it there enjoy its desert landscapes and extraordinary wildlife.
To say Niger correctly, remember that it's similar to the French name “Pierre.”
The proper pronunciation is “nee-zher.”
You’ll find plenty of seashells on the shores of this African country composed of naturally blessed islands in the Indian Ocean. But “sea-shells” is not how you say its name.
The proper pronunciation is “sey-shells.” (Or, with a French accent — French is one of the country's official languages — "Sey-shell-uh.")
U.S. President Donald Trump butchered the name of this country when he referred to it as “Nambia” in front of African leaders.
Namibia is not pronounced like Zambia. To avoid an embarrassing mistake like Trump made, remember that it has four syllables to sound out.
The proper pronunciation is “nuh-mib-ee-ah.”
Lots of people not only pronounce “Namibia” like “Zambia,” but “Zambia” like “Namibia.”
To be clear: Though the two countries are located near each other in Southern Africa, they are totally separate from one another, with distinct cultural and natural features.
And their names are pronounced in totally different ways too.
The proper pronunciation is “zam-be-a.”
One of Europe’s wealthiest nations — thanks to a robust financial scene or money-laundering corruption, depending on who you believe — can be challenging to properly pronounce.
Indeed, there's much debate about this one, to the point that it's hard to determine a clear correct way to say it. But you'll be safe if you enunciate with a hard "c."
The proper pronunciation is "lick-tuhn-stine."
You're forgiven if you've never even heard of Kiribati. This nation composed of 32 atolls and reef islands is brimming with natural beauty and fascinating history (the capital of Tarawa is where one of the bloodiest battles of World War II took place). But it's also little-visited, thanks to its far-flung location in the Pacific.
And you're definitely forgiven if you had no clue locals there pronounce "ti" as "s."
Believe it or not, the correct pronunciation is "ki-ri-bas."
Want to know how to properly pronounce foreign foods? We've got you covered!