TEFL International Mispronunciation

The English language is spoken in many countries throughout the world. In this modern day, "global society," the English language is used as the common language for international communication. As a result, English is well on its way to becoming the dominant global language. (1) As a result, people of all nationalities are obliged to learn English as a second language. However, pronunciation of the English language by people of different nationalities is varied the world over. On closer inspection, it appears that different nationalities have their own unique pronunciation problems. This is because English words often contain sounds (or phonemes) that are unique to the English language. The native language spoken in a particular country can effect the English language learner´s ability to produce and recognize these sounds.

A perfect example of this can be found in Japan. As is the case in most Asian countries, Japanese students struggle with their ability to produce the the sound /l/. For the most part, the /l/ sound is confused with the /r/ sound. Part of the reason for this confusion is that the /l/ sound does not naturally exist in Japanese. When a student has no solid pronunciation in their native tongue with which to compare their efforts to, it makes it very difficult to learn correct pronunciation of this new sound. (2) And the problem is not limited to pronunciation, recent studies show that most Japanese students cannot percieve the difference between /l/ and /r/ when they are listening to it being spoken, even when done in contrast. (2) Because they did not grow up hearing and making the distinction, the two different sounds appear to sound the same.

Often times it is not so much the individual sounds that are difficult to produce. Sometimes it is the arrangement of sounds in particular positions within a syllable that present difficulties. (3) For example, native Spanish speakers have difficulty with consonant clusters begining with an /s/ and followed by another consonant. So a native spanish speaker says ´es-trong´ instead of ´strong.´ Hence the spanish will say ´Es-spain´ instead of ´Spain.´ They are making this error not because they are ´es- stupid,´ but because they are taking pronunuciation rules for their native tongue and applying them to English. Similarly, people from Thailand will say "suh-norkeling" instead of snorkeling and ´suh- mile´ instead of ´smile.´ Again, they are using the rules for native diction and applying them to English.

Germans, by contrast, have no problems with vowel clusters, however they have great difficulty in other areas. Again, "many just do not hear or appreciate the phonic and phonetic differences." (4) One of the most common errors is pronouncing the consant /v/ as /w/. Thus, a German tends to be ´wery´ careful every time he ´wisits´ the ´willage.´ Although the /v/ sound can be taught with mouth diagrams, Germans will often not voice the fricative sound, and thus the end up ´fisiting´ the ´fillage.´ Germans have other pronunciation problems as well. They have dificulties with the voiced /th/ sound, often substituting /z/ in its place (as in ´zis´ and ´zat´). The difficulty is not limited to initial consonants and can arise at the end of the words as well. For example, Germans also have a phonological rule for their native tongue that states that "all voiced obstruents (v,z,b,d,g) are pronounced like their voiced counterparts (f,s,p,t,k)" when they occer at the end of a word. When this rule is applied to the English language, Germans end up saying ´bat´ instead of ´bad´ or else they walk the ´dok´ instead the ´dog.´ (4)

Although there are countless more examples, suffice to say that the mispronunciation of the English language is something that commomonly occurs throughout the world. In nearly every case, this mispronunciation is due to the fact that native rules are being applied to the English language. More specifically, "Non-native pronunciations of English result from the common linguistic phenomenon in which non-native users of any language tend to carry the intonation, phonological processes, and pronunciation rules from their mother tongue into their English speech." (5) These problems can be overcome by teachers who are themselves skilled in correct pronunciation of the English language. All too often, English is learned as a second language from a teacher who has poor pronunciation habits and thus the teacher´s bad habits are passed on to their students. As a teacher and a native speaker of English, it is important to research and recognize problems that occur in different countries, along with why these problems occur. Knowing exactly why certain words are commonly mispronounced can aid a teacher in their attempts to teach correct pronunciation of the English language to their students.

(1) Jacques Melitz, "English as the Global Language,"

(2) R O Pennington Jr., "Raising Student Consciousness of Pronunciation Differences of English,"

(3) John Wells, "Goals in Teaching English Pronunciation."

(4) "German Pronunciation," Alan Nanders

(5) Wikepedia, "Non-native pronunciations of English,"

Author: Nick Hughes

Date of post: 2006-11-20