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I've recently transferred colleges, so I don't know many people here. I'm fine with introducing myself and I'm generally quite outgoing. However, an issue that I have encountered is that I cannot pronounce most people's names correctly. This is compounded by the fact that they are generally either softly spoken, or the environment is loud. I've never encountered most of these names in my life, as I'm from a different background and I really don't want to come across as ignorant or offensive. Everyone else has no issues with each other's names, as they've known each other longer and are all of similar or the same ethnicities whereas I've only been there four weeks at best.

Are there any general techniques I can use to get somebodies name and how to pronounce it without appearing rude after having to ask multiple people to repeat themselves?

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Obviously, your best opportunity is to ask when you first meet the person. Introduce yourself by saying something like

Hi, I'm [Name]. It's good to meet you.

You can use your first name or your full name; if you use one convention, the other person will probably mirror that level of formality. So if you want their full name, you should give your full name.

Immediately afterward, check your pronunciation. For instance, if the name is "Heinrich", you could say

"Heinrich" - is that how you pronounce it? I'm [cultural background], and I'm not good with [non-cultural background] names. Nice to meet you, Heinrich.

You win some sympathy points here. Everyone has names or words they can't pronounce. By explaining that these sort of names aren't your strong suit, you make it understandable if you have any mess-ups with their names in the future. Additionally, by repeating the name (clearly!), you can make sure you've heard correctly. If the person is truly soft-spoken, perhaps what they said wasn't totally clear.

Repetition is key. Repeat the name in this conversation - unless it's going to be too awkward - to sear it into your head. If you don't use a skill - in this case, pronouncing a name - then your ability might deteriorate. Make sure that doesn't happen early on.

At the end of the conversation, you could say

It was nice talking, Heinrich!

as a final pronunciation check.

Most of this idea comes from times when I've spoken to someone from India or Pakistan; I'm usually quite bad with Indian names. "Aditya" in particular took me a while to get. Be careful of multiple names that sound or look alike but aren't. I called someone named "Adil" by the name "Adel" for two months, because I already knew someone with the latter name.

  • I'm not sure about mentioning country, I'm worried that'll come across even more poorly as we're technically all from the same city (London) – Gladiator Kittens Nov 2 '17 at 17:50
  • @S.Horgan Ah, I see. I think mentioning your background might be better, then; I've edited my answer. – HDE 226868 Nov 2 '17 at 17:53
  • FANTASTIC answer IMHO – Mister Positive Nov 2 '17 at 21:00
  • May I add, when you are checking you've pronounced it correctly you could even embellish your pronunciation a bit and do it several times, '"Heinrich" - is it? HEINrich, HeinRICH, HEeeeeeinrich' this invites the person to repeat it and correct you (if needed) in a welcoming way. (I'm sure this is a trope somewhere, Finding Dory has it for sure, I just can't find a good example.) – RyanfaeScotland Nov 3 '17 at 1:04
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Here's something I've tried and have been happy with.

"Hi, it's ... Heinrich, right?" This usually gets a nod, unless I'm light-years off base. "Heinrich. Am I saying it right?" Given with a smile.

Here's what makes this work:

  • The smile. It shows your good intentions.

  • Don't wrap it up in a huge awkward speech. "I am unfamiliar with your cultural background, ya ya ya ya" Just be friendly and out with it!

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