Most Common Pronunciation Errors for Portuguese Speakers Learning English
As a language learner, it is important to consider the differences between the languages you speak. This way, you can maximize the effectiveness of your communication and may even be mistaken for a native speaker! This also holds true for pronunciation across languages. Considering the differences in the sounds of languages can help you discover sounds that you may have difficulty with, or even sounds that you may already have in your native language.
In the case of the Portuguese language, as with many other languages, we need to consider dialectical differences, and how this can influence pronunciation. In Portuguese, there are two main dialects: Brazilian and European Portuguese. Differences in pronunciation are often a common way to distinguish between dialects of a language. This means that some Portuguese speakers learning English may have difficulties with some English sounds more than others.
Remember that although this post includes examples of common pronunciation differences, it is not necessarily the case for all Portuguese speakers. Use this post as a guide in your journey towards English proficiency.
To start, English has several sounds that do not exist in Portuguese. These include voiced “th” (“these”, “there”), voiceless “th” (“thanks”, “three”), “t” (“tie”, “bat”), “ch” (“church”, “bench”), “j” (“judge”, “joy”), “r” (“rug”, “car”), and “w” (“wine”, “bow”). The differences in speech sounds between the two languages are very important if you are looking to improve your pronunciation. If your native language does not contain certain sounds that English does, then it is safe to say that these sounds might be more difficult to produce.
After considering which English sounds are not present in Portuguese, we can think about what kinds of errors might be produced in order to compensate for the pronunciation differences. Let’s think about these error patterns in three areas: vowels, consonants, and grammar.
There are several vowels in English that might be challenging for an Portuguese native speaker to distinguish. Portuguese has fewer vowels than English, which may result in difficulty distinguishing between words containing:
“ee” (beat) versus “ih” (bit)
“eh” (kept) versus “ah” (capped)
“oo” (boot) versus “uh” (but)
Difficulty with distinguishing these sounds may lead to communication breakdowns, which happens when the listener misunderstands what the speaker is trying to say. Learning about the difference between languages can lead to less communication breakdowns and more mutual understanding.
In addition to vowel sounds, there are also some consonant sounds in English that might be difficult for Portuguese-native speakers. Again, this is influenced by the differences in speech sound inventories between the two languages. Additionally, English learners may again have difficulty telling the difference between two different letters – in this case, consonants. Here are the most common sounds that are “mixed up”:
“s” (sit) verus “z” (zit)
“w” (wed) versus “l” (led)
“d” (day) versus voiced “th” (they)
“p” (pug) versus “b” (bug)
“s” at the end of words might not be produced (“Tom’s”, “hers”, “bikes”, “drums”)
As with vowels, a mistake in the pronunciation of a consonant sound can lead to a communication breakdown. For example, an Portuguese-native English learner might be in an English class where they are working on an animals unit. The teacher asks the English learning student what the name of the picture on the board is a bug, and the student responds “pug” (a dog breed). The student gets the question wrong because the professor thought he said “pug”, when in reality, he meant “bug”. Again, there are instances of miscommunication that can occur when pronunciation is not taken into account.
Lastly, we need to consider differences in grammar between the two languages. The three main errors we will focus on today are word-initial clusters and blends, prepositions, and questions.
First, let’s talk about what word-initial clusters and blends are. Word-initial simply means at the beginning of a word. A blend is when two consonants are together in a word (in this case, at the beginning). A cluster is when three or more consonants are together (again, in this case, at the beginning of a word). Portuguese-native English learners may mistakenly produce a word with a blend, such as “Robert” as “robber”. They could also mistakenly produce a word with a cluster, such as “scrape”, as “sape”.
Next, we also need to consider the common error in the area of prepositions. Prepositions are words or phrases that connects nouns or pronouns to verbs or adjectives in a sentence. For example, “on”, “under”, and “through” are all prepositions. Although these words are fairly common and numerous in English, they are not in Portuguese. Also, the few that do exist in Portuguese don’t necessarily have an exact counterpart in English.
Last, question forms are very different between the two languages. In English, we have a variety of “markers” that indicate that we are asking a question. These can be “who”, “what”, or “do”, just to name a few. However, questions in Portuguese are marked more by intonation. For example, a Portuguese-native English speaker might ask “You like me?” instead of “Do you like me?”. This shows the influence of their first language on their English productions.
Overall, just like any other language, English proficiency in Portuguese-native speakers can be improved by understanding the differences between the two languages in terms of pronunciation and grammar. To learn more about the influence of Portuguese in English production, check out this page.
Mojsin, L. (2016). Mastering the American accent. Hauppauge, NY: Barrons.
If you missed us last time, check out our last post, Most Common Pronunciation Errors for Arabic Speakers Learning English.
Questions or Comments? Contact us here.