Common Student Errors with Spoken English in China, Part 1: Pronunciation

I frequently get worried looking students coming up to me asking me how they can improve their English before their exam. Many are taking it for the second or third time having not attained the score they need to go overseas. Actually most problems are very common, straightforward and identifiable almost immediately. The real issue is that their problems are habitual, having been ingrained since middle school and thus making them really difficult to iron out.

Recently one of my students was scratching her head wondering what she did wrong in her IELTS; after three attempts the highest she’s got was a 5.5 when she really needed at least a 6. She’d been working really hard and clearly things had gotten the better of her. Blowing he nose into a tissue I asked if she was ok

“I catch cold” was her painful reply!

Here is a list of some of the most common mistakes made in class.
• Basic pronunciation errors.
• Some can be referred as ‘Chinglish’ which means the direct translation from Chinese into English.
• Some things are straight out of a textbook and may have little to do with the real world.
• General poor use of simple grammar. You don’t have to be a grammar wiz when it comes to student correction. After a while you will notice that you are correcting the same errors again and again.

Phonetics are in British English.

Love/Blood/Mud – Phonetics: /ləv/bləd/məd/
Error: /læv/blæd/mæd/
The /ə/ sound is replaced with a pronounced /æ/ saying ‘LAV’ or ‘BLAD’.

Round/Brown/Frown – Phonetics: /raʊnd/ braʊn/fraʊn
Error: /rɑnd/brɑn/frɑn/
The /aʊ/is replaced by /ɑ/ sounding like ‘RAAND’ or “BRAAN’.

Will/Mill/Skill – Phonetics: / wɪl / mɪl / skɪl /
Error: / w iːl / m iːl / sk iːl /
The /ɪ/ is replaced by / iː/ changing the meaning of the word to ‘WHEAL, MEAL’.

Usual/Casual/Genre – Phonetics: / juːʒəwəl/ kæʒwəl/ ʒɑnrə
Many students will be able to make the /ʒ/ sound when you ask them, but in normal conversation they will forget it instantly.
Error: /juːjuːɔr/ kæ juːɔr/jɑnrə/
The individual may say ‘U YOU AL/, CA YOU AL or YANRE’
Many also have difficulty making the last ‘L’ sound, instead substituting it with an ‘AW’ sound, for example, ‘U YOU AW’ and ‘CA YOU AW’.

This/That/Other – Phonetics: / ðɪs / ðæt / əðər
Error: /zɪs / zæt / əzər/
The /ð/ is replaced by /z/ creating ‘ZIS, ZAT’ or ‘OZZER’

Thanks/Author/Mouth – Phonetics: / θæŋks / ɔːθə / maʊθ/
Error: / sæŋks / ɔːsə / pɑːs /
The /θ/ is replaced by /s/ forming ‘SANKS’, ‘AUSOR’ or ‘MOUSE’

Violin/Very/Have – Phonetics: / vaɪəlɪn / veriː/ hæv /
Error: /waɪəlɪn / weriː/ hæw /
The /v/ is replaced by /w/ forming ‘WIOLIN’, ‘WERY’ or ‘HOW’

Quality/Quantity/Qualify – Phonetics: /kwɒlətiː/ kwɒntətiː/ kwɒləfaɪ
Error: /kɒlətiː/ kɒntətiː/ kɒləfaɪ/ Note the /w/ is omitted forming ‘KAALITY’. Also there is not normally any difficulty with ‘qui’ words such as ‘quick’ and ‘quiet’.

Tragedy/Trick/Tree – Phonetics: / trædʒədi / trɪk / triː/
Error: / twædʒədi / twɪk / twiː/
The /r/ is replaced by /w/ thus forming ‘TWAGEDY’ or ‘TWICK’.

Towel/Vehicle/ Critical – Phonetics: / taʊəl / viːɪkəl / krɪtɪkəl /
Error: / taʊ ɔː / viːɪkɔː/ krɪtɪk ɔː / Here the learner is unable to make the
/l / sound ending the word, instead replacing it with / ɔː/ forming ‘TOWAW’ or ‘VEHICAW’.

Little/Bottle/Title – Phonetics: / lɪtəl / bɒtəl / taɪtəl /
This is an interesting pronunciation error. In the US, if there is a double or single ‘t’ after a vowel it is often changed to a ‘d’ sound. In both British and American English the /ə/ is omitted with the‘t/d’ and ‘l’ being made at the same time, for example.
/ lɪtl / bɒtl / taɪtl /
This allows us to focus on making the ‘l’ clear and pronounced.
Error: / lɪtɔː / bɒt ɔː/ taɪt ɔː/
As above, the /l/ is replaced with / ɔː/ forming ‘LITTAW’ or ‘BOTTAW’. The same applies to words with a‘d’ after a vowel such as ‘medal’ or ‘idle’.

The addition of an unnecessary schwa sound / ə /
Orange/Finish/ Few
Error: / ɒrɪndʒ ə / fɪnɪʃ ə / fjuːə /
This normally happens after the student has said something that sounds like it ends in a consonant forming ‘ORANGE ER’, ‘FINISH ER’ or ‘FEW ER’.

In addition to this, a schwa may be placed in between two consonants, for example,
Error: / æd ə vɜːb / fʊt ə bɔːl / hɑːd ə bæk /

These common problems that are incredibly deep rooted. They are only ironed out by continually reminding the student at key stages of each lesson such as the beginning, after break and at the end of the lesson (so not to interfere with their fluency). Students must really understand and identify this problem and be committed to changing the way that they speak.



Categories: 07 - Common Student Errors, 08 - Practical Classroom Tips

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