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6 Common Pronunciation Challenges for ESL Speakers

6 Common Pronunciation Challenges for ESL Speakers

  1. Switch and Swap (Substituting) Vowel Sounds: This is a common error for foreign speakers learning American English, switching one vowel sound for another. This substitution error is significant because it often completely changes the word meaning.
   The reasons for switching or swapping vowel sounds are because the speaker:
    • is substituting the vowel sound from his native tongue onto the English vowel
    • is mistaken by the inconsistencies of English spelling
    • does not recognize the sound because it does not exist in his own language so he is unable to hear and/or mimmick the sound

    Example: hit and heat are mispronounced

    1. Not Pronouncing Friction Sounds: The most common word in the English language is THE. Besides “the," there are several other very common words that start with a voiced [th]:  
    • this
    • that
    • that
    • those
    • they
    • them
    • their
    • there
    • then


        • north becomes nort   
        • think becomes dink
      1. Not Pronouncing the Hidden |y| sound: The Hidden |y| sound is found throughout American English. However, typically foreign speakers of English do not use this very important pronunciation sound. When this subtle sound is not produced, these words are often unintelligible. The |y| sound is made by “pushing out” the |y| in your speech.
            • create = cree yate
            • Seattle = See yatl
            • brilliant = brill yant
            • human = yu min
            • interview = inter vyou 
          1. Not Pushing Out the |R| and |W| Sounds
            1. See our post on 'R' sounds here
          2. Not Following the Melody of Spoken American English: Syllable and word stress with Stress - Pitch - Duration – Intensity. See more on that here.
          3. Linking or Connecting Sounds between Syllables and Words:
              • Many ESL speakers will even substitute |V| for |W| as in Vut vill ve do for what will we do
              • one = won
              • owe = owah
              • ready = arrready
              • correct = cahrrrect
              • year = yehrrr
              • sir = sahrrr
              • word = wahrrrd
              • girl = gahrrrl

            In American English Pronunciation, syllables forming words and words in a sentence are run together for a smooth and fluent delivery. In American English, words are not pronounced separately as singular units. Usually, the end of one word attaches to the beginning of the next word. This is in every part of spoken English including initials, numbers, and spelling. The link that connects sentences has its own sound by a constant flow of breath. This connection is accomplished when one sound is being formed the speech organs (lips, tongue, cheeks, vocal cords, etc.) are already moving on to the position for the next sound to be formed. When we do choose to pause in our speech it is usually to either make the meaning of a thought clear, to give it more emphasis or simply to take a breath.

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