Our Audio Pronunciations... And the Voices Behind Them

We're extremely proud to announce that the Visual Thesaurus now offers accurate, high-quality audio pronunciations for every single word in our database — all 150,000 of them! This was a mammoth undertaking, and the results are unequaled by any online resource, both in terms of quality and quantity. Want to know how to pronounce the names of delicacies like zabaglione or blancmange? How about head-scratchers like phthisis or caoutchouc? In the Visual Thesaurus application, just click on the speaker icon next to the word or phrase you've selected. Or you can right-click on any word shown in the map and select "Pronounce Word" from the pull-down menu. The default setting is for American English, but if you prefer to hear British English pronunciations, you can easily change your audio preference in the application's Advanced Settings.

Let's take a step behind the curtain to see who was responsible for creating these pronunciations. The ensemble cast may surprise you.

As you might imagine, achieving our goal of recording 150,000 American English pronunciations was no easy task. To give you a sense of the sheer scope of the project, it would take 55 hours — almost two and a half days — just to listen to all of the audio pronunciations back to back. And that doesn't begin to account for the amount of time needed to prepare and review each word's pronunciation. Since this was such a team effort, we wanted to recognize the hard work of our intrepid pronouncers. In the biographies below, you'll notice that the members of our recording team all have backgrounds in theatrical performance, particularly opera. This is not a coincidence: opera singers make perfect candidates for recording audio pronunciations. First of all, they have the vocal training and the stamina to handle hour upon hour of recording time. But what also makes them cut out for this grueling work is that they're old hands at reading the International Phonetic Alphabet. Opera singers learn to read IPA transcriptions so that they can sing arias and other songs in many different foreign languages. Using IPA, the gold standard of phonetic representation, means we can ensure a high level of accuracy and consistency for the pronunciations we provide with the Visual Thesaurus.

So, to all of our word pronouncers: bravo — or brava, as the case may be!

Dramatic soprano Alison Bolshoi made her debut at La Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona. She recently joined the roster of The San Francisco Opera to cover Senta in Der fliegende Holländer. In April she appeared as Marschalin in Der Rosenkavalier with the Huntsville Symphony under Carlos Miguel Prieto and during the summer will portray Leonora in La forza del destino at the Cesky Krumlov Festival near Prague. Recently she sang Leonore in a concert-performance of Fidelio with One World Symphony, NY and took part in the Alfredo Silipigni Memorial Concert with the New Jersey State Opera.
Alison is the recipient of many grants and awards, including from the Liederkranz International Competition, the American Wagner Association, the Gerda Lissner Foundation, and the Wagner Society of New York. Her background includes a degree in Theatre/Film and several years work as both a Shakespearean actress and musical theatre performer. She studies voice with Metropolitan Opera artist Barbara Conrad and coaches with Thomas Lausmann of NY City Opera. She resides with her family in Montclair, New Jersey.

Marc Deaton is one of the most distinctive dramatic tenors of the younger generation. In addition to portraying the great Wagner and Strauss roles such as Tristan, Siegfried, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos, and the Kaiser in Die Frau ohne Schatten, he also dazzles as Samson in Samson et Dalila and in Italian roles such as Otello, Radamès, Calaf and Canio. He has also won great praise as the Tambourmajor in Berg's Wozzeck, Peter Quint in Britten's The Turn of the Screw, Student Arkenholz in Reimann's Die Gespenstersonate, and other works. His concert repertoire is just as broad, ranging from classical to modern and comprising virtually all the great tenor parts in such works as the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, Schönberg's Gurrelieder, Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde and Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings and orchestral songs by Wagner, Strauss, Mahler, Britten and Berg.
Marc made his debut as Tristan in Sofia, Bulgaria, with the Bulgarian Festival Orchestra in 2005. These performances have been issued as a complete recording of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde by Titanic Records. The hour-long documentary Being Tristan: A Tenor's Journey, which has aired on PBS, portrays the many facets of Marc's career during the period leading up to and during his performances of Tristan in Bulgaria.

After earning a degree in Musical Theatre from the Royal Academy of Music in London, Megan Holzer went on to perform in such roles as Erma and Hope in Anything Goes, Laurey in Oklahoma!, Irene Molloy in Hello, Dolly!, and Sally Smith in Me and My Girl. She made her Off-Broadway debut in the hysterical corporate cabaret The Water Coolers at Dillon's Reprise Room. Currently, Megan performs the role of an English and Theatre teacher everyday for 8th graders at Grover Cleveland Middle School in Caldwell, NJ. Although she rarely receives a standing ovation, this role has been the most rewarding.

Soprano Susan Marie Pierson is an internationally acclaimed singer who has specialized in the operas of Wagner and Strauss with over 9 separate productions of Wagner's Ring Cycle as Brünnhilde and over 50 performances of Strauss' Elektra as Elektra. She has also performed in musical theater and as an actress in stage plays.
Susan made her debut as Christine in Mourning becomes Electra for Seattle Opera, and as Isolde in Tristan und Isolde with the complete opera performed in concert and recorded by Titanic Records. Career highlights include the role of Amelia in a National PBS Telecast of Un Ballo in Maschera with Luciano Pavarotti and being the only opera singer to date nominated for the prestigious Dora Mava Moore Award (Canadian Tony Award) for her portrayal of Elektra. She has performed with the Innsbruck Symphony, Orchestre National de Paris, Phoenix Symphony, North Carolina Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic, Springfield Symphony and Canton Symphony.
Susan is a native of Oregon, received degrees from the Eastman School of Music and Boston University School for the Arts, and lives in New York.

Special contribution by George Spelvin.

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Comments from our users:

Monday May 5th 2008, 5:22 PM
Comment by: Amanda B. (Houston, TX)
Wow... that's wacky. :) Wasn't it extremely expensive to hire a ton of acclaimed actors when the reading of the words doesn't exactly necessitate the use of acting skill?
Monday May 5th 2008, 5:45 PM
Comment by: Magda Pecsenye
Amanda, we really needed people who could read and pronounce IPA. And who know how to control their voices. And who can do as many takes as they need to to do it right. So it wasn't their acting skills that we paid for, but their IPA, pronunciation skills, and professionalism.

Also, we really liked Marc's hair.
Tuesday May 6th 2008, 2:57 AM
Comment by: Yolanthe S.
How nice to find out more about the voices behind the fantastic pronunciations on Visual Thesaurus.As a pronunciation coach in International English here in The Netherlands (Often pronounced by Dutch people as 'de Nedderlends' (the 'th' is a major stumbling block for them) I have been a fan of your site since I discovered it in 1999. It is my major resource and I use it often to check my own pronunciation. Thank you.
And yes, Marc's hair is fabulous and so is his voice!
Tuesday May 6th 2008, 6:15 PM
Comment by: Carlos P.
Thank you all for your time... And skills.
Thursday May 8th 2008, 10:49 AM
Comment by: Aleta L.
The audio pronounciations are great, clearly important since you all thought it deserved such "talented" people. Thanks. IN the future in response to Amanda B.'s comment - I speak very well and you could certainly get me at a discount. :-)
Monday June 30th 2008, 5:50 PM
Comment by: Olga N. (Vancouver Canada)
I am so glad that I have subscribed to Visual Thesaurus. It makes my work easier and more pleasurable. I am English second language person and this tool helps me a lot in my everyday work. I will recommend it to anyone I know. So much, for so little money.
Tuesday September 23rd 2008, 6:41 AM
Comment by: Max A. (Red Hill South Australia)
I live in a country that has its own way of saying things. Not the American way; nor the English way. Yet my ear hears the American way, I suspect, when I'm working the spelling bee.
Did the different American/British pronunciations of the same words get considered?
And I have difficulty thinking of an example to make my point.
Of course, you might well have thought of this and decided upon an International sound.
Tuesday March 10th 2009, 9:59 AM
Comment by: anna S. (South Africa)Top 10 Commenter
I shared the Spelling Bee with my 7th and 8th grade classes today -- to their utter delight. Love the user experience. Well done. Thanks!
Monday October 5th 2009, 4:48 PM
Comment by: (Liberty Hill, TX)
It would be great to get a link to a pronunciation sample word for each.
Friday October 16th 2009, 9:16 AM
Comment by: Barbara K. (Dover, NH)
I'm excited to have recently found the VT SpellingBee and I welcome the time I have to spend trying my luck. Thanks so much for adding some fun to my day.
Tuesday September 4th 2012, 7:45 PM
Comment by: Word Warrior (Pacific Grove, CA)
I have suggested corrections to over 100 word mispronunciations. The above statement that the database offers "accurate, high-quality audio pronunciations for every single word in our database" isn't quite right. Sorry but am still waiting for the corrected pronunciations from the Support Section.
Friday February 8th 2013, 6:48 AM
Comment by: The Dormouse Awakes (Austin, TX)
I must agree with Word Warrior. It is true that the Spelling Bee is a rich resource, and can be an addictive entertainment, and its also true that a large part of its attraction is due to the general clarity of its audio pronunciations.

However, the rare but unchanging mispronunciations are annoying. For example, I have alerted VT to a misspoken 'huisache' on three different occasions over the last three years, yet its incorrect pronunciation still persists.
Monday February 11th 2013, 2:51 PM
Comment by: (Liberty Hill, TX)
Add to that a misspoken 'disafforest'

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