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.

knoxville spanish accent

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.

11 English Words that Spanish-speakers Mispronounce

Spanish Speakers Mispronounce

Which words are most difficult for Spanish Speakers to pronounce?

At Confidence Learning Services, we freely admit that English is a difficult language to pronounce. That’s why we offer advanced English Pronunciation courses and offer tips and videos on Accent Reduction. While our English Pronunciation courses are personalized (meaning we plan our lessons based on an in-depth, one-on-one evaluation with you), there are some aspects of English pronunciation that are difficult for almost all Spanish language speakers.

Spanish has 5 pure vowels and 5 diphthongs. Vowel length is not significant in distinguishing between words. However, English,  has 12 pure vowel sounds and 8 diphthongs. The length of the vowel sound plays an important role. It is not surprising, therefore, that Spanish background learners may have great difficulty in producing or even perceiving the various English vowel sounds.

Let’s take a closer look at the Top 11 English words that Spanish-speakers mispronounce when trying to learn English.

11. Breakfast/Brefas

A simple word (for native English speakers) like ‘breakfast’ is tough for Spanish-speakers, who struggle with consonant clusters. Spanish-speakers will often pronounce it ‘brefas’ and omit the ‘k’ and the final ‘t’ because they are attached to another consonant.

10. Teeth/Teet

Some people have trouble mastering the “th” sound on words like “teeth.” (For fun, try speaking “teeth” without  the “th” sound. Oops, You might not want to try that out loud!)

Knoxville English Spanish Accent Reduction

9. Ship/Sheep

Another one of these English words where the relaxed “i” /I/ tends to get replaced with a tense “e” /i/, making it “sheep”. Spanish-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.

knoxville spanish accent

Just imagine how this works for “sheet” and …

8. Joke/Yolk or Jess/Yes

In most Spanish dialects, the sounds for English letter “J” /dʒ/ and English letter “Y” /j/ are allophones, meaning that they can subsitute for one another. So the Spanish word “ella” can be pronounced with either sound. Thus, it can be difficult for Spanish-speakers to learn to differentiate between the two sounds. Many people who speak Spanish pronounce the letter J like the letter Y, or pronounce the letter Y like the letter J.

So, if you tell someone: “That is a funny joke”,  and if you mispronounce the “J”, “joke” will sound like “yolk” (meaning the yellow part of an egg), which is difficult to understand. Likewise, if you pronounce the “Y” as “J” and say “Yes I do”, then “Yes” sounds like “Jess” and someone may think you are speaking to someone named Jess.

Spanish Speakers Mispronounce

7. Focus/F***us

In English, our letter “O” is actually a diphthong, /oʊ/. The key to saying this correctly is remembering to make the “o” a long one, with the lips closing down throughout the sound. Many however replace the long “o” with “uh”, making it “fuhcus”. Look at that word again. “Ladies and gentlemen, if there’s one thing I want you to do today, it’s “f***us!” You may get in trouble for that one!

6. Kitchen/Chicken

This is a common mispronunciation for many English learners and not just Spanish-speakers. While learning English, some speakers say “chicken” instead of “kitchen”. To make it clear, we usually prepare chicken in a kitchen.

5. Ask/Aks/Axe

Spanish-speakers while learning English often mispronounce “ask” as “axe.” So, if you say : ‘You don’t have to axe me why’, it certainly doesn’t mean what you want to say!

Spanish Speakers Can't Pronounce

What were you thinking of?

 

4. Fifth/Fiss

Particularly when it comes to final consonant clusters in English, Spanish-speakers can suffer both from adding extra syllables (e.g. three syllables for “advanced” with the final “e” pronounced) and swallowing sounds to make it match the desired number of syllables (e.g. “fifths” sounding like “fiss”). With words that are similar in Spanish and English, they can also often try to make the English word match the Spanish number of syllables.

3. Comma/Coma

Spanish Speakers Mispronounce

Perhaps more importantly, they can also have problems with the two closest sounds to an “o” sound in “not” , making “comma” and “coma” difficult to distinguish.

2. Pull/Pool

Most Spanish-speakers have difficulty distinguishing between /uː/ and /ʊ/. While /uː/ is very similar to the Spanish letter “u“, it is actually long, or “tense”. /ʊ/ is considered “short” or “lax,” without the tightly-rounded lips.  It’s important to note that pull and pool are not homophones.

1. Stop/Estop

Spanish Speakers Mispronounce

Yes, there are accent differences, but there are also a few common pronunciation mistakes Spanish learners of English can make. Some tend to want to add an “e” to the beginning of words that start with ‘s’ followed by a consonant, making the word stop sound like “estop”.

So, have you heard any of these before? Are you guilty of any of these? Spanish-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.

English Mispronunciation – Which Words Aren’t You Getting Right?

English Mispronunciation

Chances are, if you’re speaking English, it’s not your first language.

That’s right, English has around 400 million native speakers, but a whopping 1.5 billion people speak English as a second language.

English Mispronunciation

Percentage English Speakers by Country. You’re probably not facebook friends with all of them, though.

 

Which means, chances are, if you’re speaking English, there are some words that you may be mispronouncing. And in fact, you probably don’t even notice that you are mispronouncing these words, because you use them dozens of times a day. No, we’re not talking about words like “pusillanimous” or even “Chthonian“.

We’re talking about the most commonly mispronounced words found in the top 100 words in the English language. Here at Confidence Learning Services, we find that most people think that these words are easy, because they’re only 3-5 letters long. But in reality, you may be saying these words incorrectly ten, twenty, even fifty times a day. Let’s take a look.

English Mispronunciation – work

– There’s no /o/ sound in the word, despite the misleading “or” spelling.

-“Work” has the same sound as “were” “sure” “her” or “word” (another one you’re probably mispronouncing).

Pronunciation Tip: Tighten the lips for the /w/ sound, and immediately place your tongue in the high, back position necessary for an /r/ sound. It may be easier to imagine it spelled like, “wrk” since there is nothing between the /w/ and /r/ sounds.

English Mispronunciation – come

– The vowel represented by the letter “o” is actually /ʌ/, usually seen written with an English letter “u” (like the word “up).

– Rhymes with “some” (another tricky word) but not with “home.”

Pronunciation Tip: Keep the tip of the tongue touching the back of the bottom-front teeth, and keep the tongue as flat as possible, even pushing the back of the tongue down into the throat to make it flatter.

English Mispronunciation – other

– The vowel represented by the letter “o” is actually /ʌ/, usually seen written with an English letter “u” (like the word “up).

– The “th”, is voiced /ð/ (meaning that there will be vibration in the throat). Be careful not to replace this sound with a /d/ /v/ or /z/ sound.

Pronunciation Tip: Pronounce a flat /ʌ/ vowel, then place the tongue between the teeth and vibrate continuously to make the /ð/ sound. Last, go right back into that “r” sound, bunching the back of the tongue very high and tight in the back of the mouth.

English Mispronunciation – what

– The /h/ sound in this word is unnecessary. Some American speakers (including me!) include the /h/ sound in “wh-” words, but most do not.

English Mispronunciation

But I’ve been carrying around this extra “h” all day!

– The vowel represented by the letter “a” is actually /ʌ/, usually seen written with an English letter “u” (like the word “up).

Pronunciation Tip: To make the vowel sound correctly, keep the tip of the tongue touching the back of the bottom-front teeth, and keep the tongue as flat as possible, even pushing the back of the tongue down into the throat to make it flatter.

English Mispronunciation – with

– The letter “i” in “with” represents the relaxed /I/ sound in “it” and “if”, not the higher, more tense /i/ sound in “eat” and “sheep”.

– The unvoiced “th” /θ/ sound at the end of this word can be difficult. Practice saying the word in a sentence, like “Come with me” to make sure that you are not replacing this sound with an /s/, /t/, /f/, or removing it entirely.

Pronunciation Tip: The /I/ vowel is one of our most difficult sounds to make in the English language, but you can do it. Start with the tongue high in the mouth, to make the /i/ sound in “eat.” Then, relax the tongue completely and let it drop about half a centimeter to make the more relaxed /I/ sound, before you place the tongue between the teeth to make the /θ/ sound.

English Mispronunciation – this

– The “th”, is voiced /ð/ (meaning that there will be vibration in the throat). Be careful not to replace this sound with a /d/ /v/ or /z/ sound.

– The letter “i” in “this” represents the relaxed /I/ sound in “it” and “if”, not the higher, more tense /i/ sound in “eat” and “sheep”.

Pronunciation tip: Make sure that you voice the “th” sound, which you can check by placing your hand on your neck as you pronounce the word. You should feel vibrations in your neck as you say the /I/ sound. Focus on relaxing the tongue completely and letting it drop about half a centimeter to make the more relaxed /I/ sound.

Last, we have our unvoiced /s/ sound which is usually pretty simple.

English Mispronunciation – was

–  The letter “a” represents the /ʌ/ vowel that is the same as the “u” in “up.”

– The letter “s” represents a voiced /z/ sound.

Pronunciation Tip: It’s better to think of this word as being spelled “wuz,” which is how our grade school students often misspell it! Just like in the word “what,” keep the tip of the tongue touching the back of the bottom-front teeth, and keep the tongue as flat as possible, even pushing the back of the tongue down into the throat to make it flatter to pronounce the /ʌ/ vowel. Check to make sure you are making a voiced /z/ sound by holding your hand against your neck as you say this word.

English Mispronunciation – to

You’ve probably heard that “two” “too” and “to” are all pronounced the same, and it’s true – sort of. The word “to” by itself, or if it is being emphasized in a sentence, is pronounced with the /u/ vowel made by rounding your lips and raising your tongue high in the mouth.

However, most of the time, when this word is used in a sentence, we instead simply say “t” /t/, with very little vowel sound following the /t/ sound. No round lips, no tongue raised in the back.

Pronunciation Tip: Try it in this sentence, “We have to go to the store to pick up some food.” Each time you say the word “to”, your lips should not round- you can check this in the mirror.

English Mispronunciation – of

Probably the word I hear most frequently mispronounced by non-native English speakers! Many people mispronounce this word to sound like the word “off,” but actually:

– The vowel represented by the letter “o” is actually /ʌ/, usually seen written with an English letter “u” (like the word “up).

– The letter “f” represents a voiced /v/ sound.

English Mispronunciation

Don’t risk sounding like this cartoon character when what you mean to say is “of.”

Pronunciation Tip: Think of this word as spelled “uv” instead. Focus on making a flat /ʌ/ vowel, followed by a voiced /v/. You should feel vibration in your neck as you pronounce both sounds.

For more help with English pronunciation, contact us today at 1-865-226-9477 and we will schedule a free pronunciation evaluation for you via Skype – no obligation, and no payment information needed.

Are there any other words that you hear mispronounced, or that you have trouble pronouncing? Let us know in the comments!