This week I will begin to tackle some pronunciation problems my Chinese students have in learning English. I’ll just address the most common problems, and I’ll mention some of those below. In a future post, I will give some useful ways to help students rectify these mistakes.
Ship or Sheep?
One big problem most Chinese English learners have is with the vowel sounds /ɪ/ and /iː/. For example, in the words “ship” /ʃɪp/ and “sheep” /ʃiːp/.
Don’t Cut the Cat!
Sometimes learners have trouble with the vowels /ʌ/ and /æ/, which may get confused. In short words like “cat” or “cut”, “hat” or “hut,” “cap” or “cup,” there may arise some confusion.
This is the Biggest Problem!
Even the best Chinese students I’ve taught have typically been unable to make the sounds /ð/ and /θ/. Thus, the words “this” and thin” (/ðɪs/ and /θɪn/) because “ziss” or “diss” and “sin.” Of course, these are incredibly common in English, so practicing them from a young age to ensure proper pronunciation is important.
/v/ is Very Difficult
Many Chinese learners have difficulty with the /v/ sound, typically replacing it with /w/. So they might say “English is wery difficult.”
Faulty Final Consonants
Recently I was doing a choral drilling exercise and noted to my horror, that not a single student could say the word “book.” Instead, they all listened to me and then chanted, “book-uh!” Adding an additional vowel sound to some words that should end in a consonant is quite common; as is dropping the final consonant altogether. For example, I’ve heard “wife” pronounced as /waɪfuː/ and /waɪ/.
Chinese students sometimes have difficulties with consonant clusters, and may insert a slight vowel sound between two consonants. For example, “spoon” may be pronounced as /sɪpuːn/. Pluralizing a word ending in a consonant is also troublesome for the same reason, and you may hear “dogs” pronounced /dɒgəz/ (or even following the faulty final consonant rule from above /dɒgəzə/.