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

knoxville chinese english

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.

7 Errors that English Speakers make Spanish

English Spanish Errors

Are you making these common Spanish errors?

There’s a lot more to Spanish than saying “Hola” and “Gracias por la cerveza” with perfect pronunciation. Just like Spanish speakers make some regular pronunciation mistakes in English, at Confidence Learning Services we also see English speakers make some regular mistakes in Spanish, both when it comes to pronunciation and usage of particular words. Here’s a set of seven words that seem similar, or are even derived from the same word root, but have different meaning and are often used incorrectly by Native English Speakers.

Spanish Error #1: “El Cuento” is actually “A story / tale”

Don’t mix this word up with the word for “account” or “bill” – when using this word as a noun, it usually means a story or a tale. Some examples:

Ricardo lee un cuento de pirata. Los cuentos son casi tan antiguos como la vida misma.

Ricardo reads a pirate story. Stories are almost as old as life itself.

English Spanish Errors

Spanish Error #2: Contar (una historia) is actually “To tell a story/to recount something”

Be especially careful with this word and “cantar” which is “to sing.” English is not always as particular about vowel usage, so sometimes we can get a little lazy with our vowels in English and it will not affect our meaning. Spanish, however, places a lot of emphasis on vowel usage, so it’s important to get it right. If you say you’re going to “cantar” and then proceed to tell a story, everyone will be very confused.

This verb gets even more confusing thanks to its stem-changing nature.

Contar (Present Indicative)

Yo Cuento Nosotros Contamos
Cuentas Vosotros Contáis
Él/Ella/Ud. Cuenta Ellos/Ustedes Cuentan

That’s right, “yo cuento” has a different meaning than “el cuento”, and “él cuenta” has a different meaning than “la cuenta” (coming up).

Let’s look at some examples.

Su padre les cuenta un cuento antes de dormir.

Los testigos cuentan los hechos a la policia.

Te cuento todo.

Their father tells them a story before they sleep. 

The witnesses relate the facts to the police.

I’ll tell you everything. 

Spanish Error #3: “Contar” (el dinero) is actually “to count”

English speakers learning Spanish may struggle with the multiple meanings of this already difficult verb, although many English words also have multiple meanings. While the same word can mean “to tell a story”, it can also mean “to count,” and this time the meaning is entirely dependent on context. The verb conjugations remain entirely the same.

La niña sabe contar hasta veinte.

Contamos el dinero cuando vamos de compras.

The girl knows how to count to twenty.

We count money when we go shopping. 

Last, we can use the phrase “contar con” to mean “to count on.”

Cuentan con la tecnología.

They count on technology.

Spanish Error #4: “La cuenta” (bancaria) is actually “An account”

English Spanish Errors

This word is used to represent an account, like a bank account or a customer account.

La compañía acaba de adquirir dos cuentas nuevas.

El saldo en la cuenta del banco está $4000.

The company just acquired two new accounts. 

The balance in the bank account is $4000.

Spanish Error #5: “La Cuenta” (cálculo) is actually “A sum”

Yet another meaning for this tricky noun! “La cuenta” can also mean the sum or result of a calculation.

El alumno debe realizar una cuenta de dividir y una de multiplicar.

The student should calculate the result of division and multiplication. 

Spanish Error #6: “La Cuenta” (restaurante) is actually “The bill/check”

Did you think we were done with “la cuenta”? Yes, another meaning for this word is “bill” or “check”, when referring to a bill in a restaurant or hotel. Otherwise, a bill is typically “una factura” while a check from a checkbook is typically “un cheque.”

El mesero nos traiga la cuenta.

The waiter brings us the bill.

 English Spanish Errors

Spanish Error #7: “Cantar” (canción) is actually “To sing”

Finally, as mentioned before,”cantar” means “To sing” as in “to sing a song.”

Las mujeres cantan canciones lindas.

The women sing beautiful songs. 

latino don't speak spanish

Are these words and phrases clear to you now? We hope so. Want to learn more Spanish, or just get some personal advice about what to study next?

Contact Confidence Learning Services today at 1-865-226-9477 to set up your free Spanish consultation with a certified instructor. We’ll help you identify some goals and resources you can use to achieve them, all at no cost to you.