6 English Words that Chinese Speakers mispronounce

Knoxville Chinese English

Which English words are most difficult for Chinese Speakers to pronounce?

Recently, Confidence Learning Services featured some of the most commonly mispronounced English words, when spoken by Spanish-speakers. Of course, Spanish-speakers are not the only ones learning English, so we decided to do another round of mispronounced words, this time focusing on words that Chinese-Speakers mispronounce.

Since there are millions of Chinese-speakers who have studied English, this topic is important for many people. English is a very difficult language to pronounce, and perhaps one of the most difficult languages for Chinese-speakers to learn (but also one of the most popular). Through our advanced English Pronunciation courses, tips and videos on Accent Reduction, we have helped many Chinese-speakers communicate more clearly in English. Our courses are personalized for each client (meaning we plan our lessons based on an in-depth, one-on-one evaluation with you), but there are some aspects of English pronunciation that are difficult for almost all Chinese-speakers.

“Standard Chinese” has around 6 vowels, while English has around 12. This difference makes differentiating between English vowels very difficult for Chinese-speakers. Also, common English sounds, like voiced fricatives and affricates (“v” “th” “z” “j”) do not exist in Chinese.  These result in some common pronunciation difficulties, so let’s take a closer look at the Top 11 English words that Chinese-speakers mispronounce when trying to learn English.

6. Very/Wary

The problem here is the /v/ sound, which is a voiced fricative. Most Chinese speakers struggle to get the correct position (top teeth touching bottom lip) and maintaining friction and voicing long enough to make a true /v/ sound, which makes “very” sound like “wary.” But the words have two very different meanings.

5. Seen/Sing

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Word-final nasal sounds (like /n/ and /ŋ/) are much shorter in Chinese than in English. As a result, English-speakers may not be able to identify which sound is being produced, if any at all, at the end of the word.

4. Ship/Sheep

We mentioned this pair previously as difficult for Spanish-speakers, but it is also difficult for Chinese-speakers for the same reason, because of the differences between Chinese vowels and English vowels. Chinese-speakers tend to replace the relaxed “i” /I/ with a tense “e” /i/, making it “sheep”. Chinese-speakers often make vowel sounds tense, or “long,” and confuse pairs of “short” and “long” English vowel sounds like “ship” and “sheep” both in comprehension and speaking.

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Just imagine how this works for “sheet” and …

3. Usually

Perhaps because this word features several difficult sounds – the “L” /l/ sound, which is sometimes pronounced by Chinese-speakers to sound more like an “R,” the voiced fricative /ʒ/ sound represented by the “s” in this word, and the various vowel sounds in the word.

2. Sink/Think

In English, our letters “th” represent a sound made with the tongue between the teeth. However, this sound is very difficult for Chinese-speakers to pronounce, so it is often replaced with an “s” sound. But if you say “I sink” instead of “I think” your listeners will definitely have a different picture in their minds!

1. Dark/Dock

This is a common mispronunciation for many Chinese-speakers learning English.That’s because r-vowels (ar, er, ir, or, ur) are typically pronounced without the strong “r” sound that Americans use. This pronunciation can be even more difficult for Chinese-speakers who have studied British pronunciation, in which these sounds are not produced.

Knoxville Chinese English

Are you guilty of any of these? Have you heard any of these before? Chinese-speakers can learn to speak English fluently, and master the American Accent, by starting with a free consultation or assessment! Contact us at 1-865-226-9477 to schedule your free session with a language instructor today.

by Laura Brewer