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Commonly Mispronounced Sounds by Chinese Native Speakers

Commonly Mispronounced Sounds by Chinese Native Speakers | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Throughout the world, different countries have difficulty pronouncing other sounds from different languages. For many native English speakers learning Mandarin, pronouncing the “x”, “sh”, “q”, “ch”, and “z” sounds are not easy obstacles to overcome. Based on my own experience it takes plenty of repetition to master how to pronounce each of these sounds. Chinese students have a similar problem when trying to pronounce certain sounds in English. The three sounds that come to mind are “th”, “v” and the difference between “r” and “l”.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Jonathan A. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Difficult Sounds

As a mentor for learning English in China, there have been many students that I have encountered that have difficulty pronouncing words such as “the”, “Vietnam”, “that”, “vet”, and “world”. This problem arises from the fact that Mandarin (and their dialects) do not have words that include the sounds “th”, “v” and “rl”. Most students try to pronounce the “th” sound with an “s” sound from either their language or English’s pronunciation. The best approach is demonstrating where the tongue should be located when pronouncing “th” and comparing the “e” pronunciation of Mandarin’s word “ye”, which is a throat like pronunciation. Then provide them with plenty of attempts such as tongue twisters or role-playing to try and reproduce the “th” sound before testing it out on words like “the”, “that”, and “these”.

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Replacing the /v/ sound with the /w/ sound

When addressing the “v” pronunciation the students tend to pronounce a “w” sound because it is similar when pronouncing words in their language such as “wei” and “wai”. They tend to lack the ability to produce that vibration you feel when putting the front two teeth on the lower lip. Majority of the time students will be able to replicate the “v” sound but have a difficult time applying it when pronouncing words like “Vietnam”, “veterinarian”, and “Victoria”. This, in turn, causes the words to be mispronounced as “Wietnam”, “weterinarian”, and “Wictoria”.

Replacing the /l/ sound with the /r/ sound

The last pronunciation, “l” is mistaken for an “r” when students attempt to learn to pronounce certain words in English. The difference in pronouncing the two is slight. When pronouncing an “r” in Mandarin the tongue is curled up towards the roof of the mouth but does not actually contact the roof. Whereas the “l” contacts the roof giving it a negligible different sound. This leads to words such as “twirl” and “world” being mispronounced. So learning to connect the tongue to the roof of the mouth in the middle of a word is not the easiest task at hand for a Chinese student learning English. If the students have difficulty acknowledging that their pronunciation is different from yours, then try recording the student’s pronunciation and playing the recording back to them is another quality method to assist in their pronunciation.

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Over the year and a half that I have been in China, these are the three most frequent pronunciation problems that have put my mentoring skills to the test. Teaching the students how to pronounce certain sounds has been a character-building moment and helped me realize that not all students learn in the same fashion. Hopefully, with the help of this TEFL, I can create more effective methods to perfect the students’ pronunciation of “th”, “v”, and “rl”.

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