5 worst pronunciation errors ESL students make

5 Worst Pro­nun­ci­a­tion Errors ESL Stu­dents Make

I have been work­ing with peo­ple for over 35 years now help­ing them to speak clear­ly. In that time I have noticed that no mat­ter what the non- Eng­lish lan­guage back­ground, there are some com­mon  pro­nun­ci­a­tion errors ESL stu­dents make.

5 Worst Pro­nun­ci­a­tion Errors ESL Stu­dents Make- Num­ber 1

Pro­nounc­ing the /t/ and /d/ sounds incor­rect­ly.

Most lan­guages have a /t/ and /d/ sound, and so a lot of ESL stu­dents don't notice that the Eng­lish /t/ and /d/ con­so­nants are pro­duced dif­fer­ent­ly.

For both /t/ and /d/ you need to raise your tongue tip  up to the ‘bump' in the mid­dle of the bony ridge behind your front top teeth. You tap it up there, and for /t/ you let out a puff of air at the same time.  When you do this new move­ment, you get a crisp prop­er Eng­lish /t/ and /d/.

So it's a straight up move­ment, not a for­ward move­ment of your tongue to the back sur­face of your top front teeth. 

5 Worst Pro­nun­ci­a­tion Errors ESL Stu­dents Make- Num­ber 2

Not cor­rect­ing how you say your /r/ sound.

There are all sorts of ways to pro­duce this sound in dif­fer­ent lan­guages, and maybe because of this, ESL stu­dents often for­get to change their /r/ pro­nun­ci­a­tion once they have learnt to speak Eng­lish. As a result, we have includ­ed a lot of /r/ prac­tise mate­r­i­al in our accent reduc­tion cours­es.

Don't for­get also that the /r/ sound is not pro­nounced in ‘ar' ‘er' and ‘or' when speak­ing with an Aus­tralian or British or New Zealand accent.    You do pro­nounce it for an Amer­i­can accent, but the /r/ has to be an Amer­i­can /r/ not your native lan­guage /r/.

5 Worst Pro­nun­ci­a­tion Errors ESL Stu­dents Make- Num­ber 3

/v/ nev­er says /w/ in Eng­lish

In quite a few lan­guages, there isn't as clear a dis­tinc­tion between these two sounds as there is in Eng­lish. Often the pro­nun­ci­a­tion error ESL stu­dents make is to inter­change these when speak­ing Eng­lish. 

They are always sep­a­rate sounds in Eng­lish.

/v/ is made by pur­pose­ly putting your top teeth on your bot­tom lip and hold­ing it there while let­ting out air and switch­ing on your voice at the same time.  

/w/ is made by putting your lips for­ward as if to kiss some­one while you switch on your voice simul­ta­ne­ous­ly.   Two total­ly dif­fer­ent move­ments. 

5 Worst Pro­nun­ci­a­tion Errors ESL Stu­dents Make- Num­ber 4

Pro­nounc­ing silent let­ters

This is tricky I know, because Eng­lish words aren't always pro­nounced as they are spelt!

For exam­ple in psy­chol­o­gy the /p/ is silent; in Wednes­day the /d/ is silent; in palm the /l/ is silent; in debt the /b/ is silent etc.

One way to over­come this is to keep your ears open when speak­ing with Eng­lish speak­ers and notice how they are say­ing their words as they speak. You can also look up Eng­lish words with silent let­ters and see if there are any there you habit­u­al­ly use and check if you are pro­nounc­ing them cor­rect­ly.

5 Worst Pro­nun­ci­a­tion Errors ESL Stu­dents Make- Num­ber 5

Pro­nounc­ing ‘i' /ɪ /  and ‘ee'  /i:/ incor­rect­ly in words

Most peo­ple think that ESL stu­dents only sub­sti­tute the ‘i' for ‘ee' for exam­ple in the clas­sic ‘shit for sheet', but actu­al­ly some stu­dents from cer­tain lan­guage back­grounds have the oppo­site pro­nun­ci­a­tion error. The say ‘seat for sit' for exam­ple. 

Either way, these vow­els are made in a sim­i­lar way in the mouth, and do sound sim­i­lar.

A trick that some­times helps with pro­nun­ci­a­tion, is to real­ly make a wide smile for ‘ee', and  pull the tip of your tongue back slight­ly also for this sound.

Or, you could prac­tise say­ing the 1st part of the word, and then add the end­ing. For exam­ple, you can already say ‘she' with a good ‘ee'.    So prac­tise with a slight pause between the ‘she' and /t/ (she-t), and then slow­ly speed up, and join the word togeth­er so you don't short­en the ‘ee' when you add the /t/.

Have a look at one of our videos on how to pro­nounce the dif­fer­ence.

What do you find most dif­fi­cult in Eng­lish? Com­ment below to tell me! Maybe we'll even do an arti­cle about it. 

Best wish­es, Esther


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