Knowing how to correctly pronounce initialisms and other abbreviations is an important nuance of speaking English as an American. We love to use abbreviations in both professional and social settings. Industries and even specific companies have their own extensive jargon used internally so regularly that it becomes its own language. Plus, using this kind of short-hand slang for text messaging has become the new native language of teenagers across the United States. Today’s ProTip is not to try and decode all of the thousands of abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms, but rather to give an easy rule for how to recognize differences and how to pronounce them correctly.

Most of my clients who speak English as a second language, already know what an acronym is and use them in every day dialogue, but few of my clients are as familiar with identifying initialisms. My clients are unsure of the differences and when to say the abbreviation and when to spell the letters individually. An acronym is a capitalized abbreviation made from the first letters of a group of words that can be pronounced as a single word on its own, for example NATO, ASAP and IKEA. When a series of capitalized initials are pronounced individually, such as MBA, FBI and USA, these are called initialisms. The important distinction between the two is that because acronyms are words on their own, they do not need an article like the, a or an preceding them in a sentence while initialisms need an article.

Here is an acronym example, Johnson please send me the report from NATO ASAP. I’m on my way to IKEA for lunch. Their meatballs are delicious. NATO, ASAP and IKEA are all pronounced as words. Here is an initialism example, He received an MBA last year while working for the FBI in the USA. MBA, FBI and USA are all spelled out. So now when you see an article in front of an abbreviation you will know to say the letters individually.

Recognizing acronyms and initialisms is one thing, but pronouncing them correctly is another. Remember, your level of pronunciation is the first thing native English speakers notice when you speak. The pronunciation rule for initialisms is simply to stress the last letter. So when you are pronouncing the preceding examples the stressed letter is in bold and underlined: MBA, FBI, and USA.

Little subtleties in your pronunciation patterns make all the difference in how your English fluency is perceived by Americans. Knowing how to recognize when to spell out abbreviations and how to stress the final letter will help you avoid embarrassment and speak more like an American today.

Learn more about personalized speech coaching at Your path to better pronunciation starts here.

Thank you,

Eric Maki

Director of Atlas Speech Coaching