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10 English Pronunciation Errors by Mandarin Speakers

[ssba] If your mother tongue is Mandarin, you may find certain sounds in English more difficult than others. Here we present to you some of the common errors made by Mandarin-speaking students at Pronunciation Studio:

1. /l/ vs. /r/

Mandarin-speakers often find it difficult to produce the difference between /l/ and /r/ and may choose the wrong sound in a word. Make sure the tip of the tongue touches the alveolar ridge for /l/ but not for /r/:

“English class” “report” “arrange”

2. /n/ vs. /ŋ/

Mandarin-speakers often use /ŋ/ instead of /n/ at the end of words:

“sun” shouldn’t sound like “sung”
“ban” shouldn’t sound like “bang”
“mine” shouldn’t sound like “maing”

3. /v/ vs. /w/ or /f/

Since Mandarin does not use /v/, students often replace this sound with either /w/ or /f/:

“every day” “live” “of course”

4. th

The < th > sound does not occur in Mandarin, which means that Mandarin-speakers may use /s/, /z/, /t/ or /d/ instead:

“On Thursday we went to the theatre”

5. Intonation

In Mandarin, intonation affects each syllable, but in English, intonation affects a group of words or even a whole sentence. Some Mandarin-speakers add too much intonation to English and this doesn’t sound smooth:

“I went to buy a lot of books”

6. Consonant clusters

It is difficult for Mandarin-speakers to pronounce a group of consonants – what we call a consonant cluster – as these do not occur in Mandarin. This leads to the omission or changing of some letters in consonant clusters and this can be difficult for native English speakers to understand:

“I asked him” – (say /ɑ:skt/ not /as/)
“He needs it” – (say /ni:dz/ not /ni:d/)
“actually” – (say /æktʃəli/ not /aʃli/)

7. /i:/ vs. /ɪ/

English has two close vowels: /i:/ and /ɪ/, where Mandarin only uses [i], so Mandarin-speakers need to learn to make the shorter, more relaxed sound /ɪ/:

“It’s in this bin”
“Give Tim this dish”
“Jim finished his knitting”

8. /ɒ/

In English, the /ɒ/ sound found in “got” is made with the jaw open and rounded lips. This sound doesn’t occur in Mandarin, so when speaking English, Mandarin-speakers sometimes use an open but UNrounded sound:

“Tom’s got a lot of dogs”

9. Separate Words

Mandarin-speakers tend to separate words – this means their speech can sound robotic and unnatural to the native English-speaker. They can improve this by learning the rules of joining in English, which will help them to remove unnecessary gaps between words:

“I went to the lesson alone.”

10. Syllable Stress

In Mandarin, many words only have one syllable, so it’s important to say each syllable clearly. This is different in English – you only have to stress some of the syllables in a sentence – the rest can be weak:

“There are lots of Chinese students studying in London.”



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