Is Chinese Your First Language? Common Pronunciation Problems You Might Face
When working to improve your English as a native Chinese speaker, one of the most challenging aspects is becoming comfortable using English pronunciation.
Words and sentences in most spoken Chinese dialects are approached differently than in English, requiring speakers to learn a new set of pronunciation rules in order to properly communicate using connecting sounds, intonation, and stress. Even if you have spoken English for decades, pronunciation can still be difficult, and you will likely benefit from trying to improve your American English accent.
When working to improve your English accent, it’s important to focus on using correct English pronunciation in order to avoid forming a habit of pronouncing words and sentences incorrectly. By overviewing the top three pronunciation problems native Chinese speakers face when learning English, you can evaluate your own English pronunciation and see how well you speak with an American accent.
To improve your American English accent, learn about linking!
Chinese speakers who have learned English often fail to link words. They tend to separate words through the use of pauses or the insertion of additional sounds at the ends of words. This makes their speech sound very “disconnected” or “choppy.”
To see if you’re linking correctly: Read the following two sentences aloud, and record them.
All of her barns fell down.
Oliver Barnes fell down.
Now listen to the sentences you just recorded. They should sound exactly the same! We reduce and link the words “All of her” to sound like one word, just like the name “Oliver”.
To improve your american English accent linking skills, you have to be aware of the main ways in which English speakers link words together. The three main categories of linking are “Consonant to Consonant”(C->C) “Consonant to Vowel”(C->V) and “Vowel to Vowel”(V->V).
Try printing off a paragraph and circling all of the (C->C) links between words, underlining all of the (C->V) links, and highlighting all of the (V->V) links. Then read the paragraph and focus on the links you’ve just identified. Remember, not all words are linked together! Natural pauses occur between phrases, and are often (but not always!) marked by periods, commas, semicolons, or other punctuation.
Improve your American English accent by pronouncing the “th” sounds /ð/ /θ/
The fact that the English letter combination can be pronounced two ways, voiced (with vibration in the throat and vocal chords) and unvoiced (with no vocal chord vibration) doesn’t help that it is an already difficult sound.
Both of these sounds involve the tongue coming out between the teeth and making a continuous sound that can be held out for several seconds if necessary. The air should not be completely stopped, but there should be constant friction between the tongue and the teeth. Chinese speakers often substitute /t/, /d/, or /f/ for these sounds.
To see if you’re pronouncing the English “th” sound correctly, it’s best to look at yourself in the mirror as you pronounce words like “that” “other” “three” and “thing”. If you can see the tongue coming out between the teeth, you know you are probably pronouncing those sounds correctly. Additionally, you should feel some friction, vibration, or tingling in the tongue as you say these sounds.
It’s not enough to say these sounds correctly in front of a mirror by yourself. If you really want to improve your American English accent, correct pronunciation must be used in your regular speech. Try saying the sentence, “Get those other three things, please.” Focus on using correct pronunciation as you pronounce this sentence. Then, you can focus on pronouncing this sound clearly in your regular speech.
Pronounce /r/, /w/, and /l/ clearly and distinctly to improve your American English accent
If you want to improve your American English accent, it’s important to differentiate between these sounds. Chinese speakers often pronounce word-initial /r/ and /w/. This can lead to confusion between words like “right” and “white.” Chinese speakers may also substitute /l/ for /r/, particularly in consonant clusters.
To see if you’re pronouncing /r/, /w/, and /l/ clearly and distinctly, record yourself pronouncing these sets of words:
Listen to the recording you just made. Did each word sound distinct, or did two or more words sound the same?
In order to pronounce /r/, the tongue must be raised very high in the back of the mouth, almost like swallowing. The tip of the tongue is relaxed and not working or touching anything to produce the /r/ sound.
In pronouncing the /l/ sound, the tip of the tongue must touch the tooth ridge.
In pronouncing the /w/ sound, the lips do all of the work by tightly rounding before the next sound.
If you work on these three aspects of English pronunciation daily for 2-3 weeks, you should notice a significant improvement in your American English accent.
Due to the varying pronunciation problems that exist when learning English as a Chinese speaker, and the small differences that differentiate letters, working with an online Accent coach is one of the easiest ways to ensure you learn English pronunciation correctly. Participating in an online educational setting, native Chinese speakers can work one-on-one with a certified instructor to receive a personalized accent assessment and pinpoint specific pronunciation areas that need improvement.