The Top Spoken English Errors of Portuguese ESL Students

 In Accents and Pronunciation, Classes

We all love rules.  Rules tell us how to do things.  When armed with rules we feel assured we won’t make mistakes. Spoken English is distinctive for its many exceptions to rules of pronunciation. In addition,  students of ESL often grapple with letting go of the pronunciation rules of their native language.  For native speakers of Portuguese, this is especially difficult.  Portuguese has very consistent rules of phonetic pronunciation—it’s often said that every letter of a Portuguese word is pronounced except for the H!  This phonetic consistency extends even to individual letters and letter combination sounds.  The English language, by comparison, is a veritable free for all, and this also applies to spoken English, as letter combinations in different words are pronounced differently, individual letters can sound different from word to word, and don’t even get me started about silent letters.

Common Spoken English Pronunciation Mistakes of Native Portuguese Speakers

spoken englishSome of the biggest hurdles to proper pronunciation that Portuguese speakers will tackle when learning English as a second language are: “th” sounds; “ed” sounds; adding “ee” sounds to words; “h” sounds and “h”/” r” sounds; and dropping the “s” sound in plurals.

“Th” Sounds

Vocal musculature and habit are mostly to blame for the difficulty that Portuguese ESL students have with the “th” sound in English.  You need to vibrate your tongue on your top teeth with an open mouth to properly pronounce words like “the”, “they”, and “them” in English.  For words like “mouth”, “south”, and “truth” you tap and retract your tongue on your front teeth while gently blowing out.

Most Portuguese ESL students lisp the “th” sound because their vocal muscles aren’t trained to make the sounds, and perhaps they feel awkward making the necessary faces to create the proper sounds.

“Ed” Sounds

The trouble with the “ed” sound in spoken English for Portuguese students, is that most pronounce it as a separate sound in an English past tense verb by adding another syllable—“rock”- “ed” instead of “roct”.  Proper English pronunciation of the “ed” sound will finish on the hard-consonant sound of “d” or “t”, and will not change the number of syllables in the word.

Adding “ee” Sounds

Portuguese ESL students are falling back on the Portuguese rules of phonetics when they mistakenly pronounce the “ee” sound in the English words “like”, “take”, and “have”.  Pronouncing an “ee” sound at the end of a word that ends in a consonant is just habit since many Portuguese words end in a vowel.  Better attention to the spelling of a word in these instances can be helpful.

“H” Sounds and “H”/”R” Sounds

The letter “h” is silent in Portuguese, but the Portuguese letter “r” has the same sound as the English letter “h”.  You follow?  Yeah, it is confusing.  That’s why it leads to ESL pronunciation errors like “I” instead of “hi”, or “appy” instead of “happy”, “head instead of “red”, or “heed” instead of “read”.

Dropping The “S” Sound in Plurals

The English pronunciation of the “s” sound in many plurals is actually closer to a “z” sound—“girls” = ”girlz”, or an “iz” sound in words that become 2 syllables when plural— “buses” = ”bus-iz”.  The soft “s” sound is found in words like “books” = “booksah”.  Portuguese ESL students seem to drop the “s” sound in English language plurals but are perhaps simply swallowing the soft “sh” sound that the letter “s” makes when in the final position of a word in Portuguese pronunciation.

Portuguese ESL students can easily fall victim to pronunciation mistakes when speaking English.  The phonetic pronunciation rules of their native language are ingrained and comfortingly consistent.  So much so that the bulk of their spoken English mistakes stem from trying to inappropriately apply the rules of their native language to English.

English is a challenging language.  Learning the proper pronunciation is perhaps the highest hurdle you’ll cross in becoming fluent, but speaking is how people truly connect with one another.






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