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