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Common English Mistakes

Popularity 8Viewed 2414 times 2017-3-8 10:52 |Personal category:Education|System category:Life| English

I'm sure I've written on this subject in the past. But, after 500 blogs and several other news outlets that I write for, I can't remember when.

This past weekend, I was a judge once again for the national CCTV English competition. I was reminded of the common problems that Chinese English students make in speaking English. I'll share with you several below.

1. Wrong pronunciation of the word, 'usually'. I've heard this word pronounced wrong in Guangdong Province as well as Henan Province. I heard it once from a person who lives in Shanghai.

This word is mispronounced as something that sounds like 'urally'. 'Urally' is not a pronunciation of this word in any native English speaking country in the world. I've traveled to 27 countries and never heard it pronounced as 'urally' except in China. It is wrong. Even when you look at the IPA's pronunciation of the sound that gets mispronounced, you will never come up with this pronunciation. 

The 'su' in the word is actually the same sound as the English girl's name, 'Sue.' When Americans say it, the 'su' sounds more like an 'sh' sound.

2. 'America' - This is a word that is often mispronounced. Chinese English students will leave the last 'a' off in pronunciation. They will say, "Americ". You must put the 'a' sound at the end of the word to pronounce it properly.

3. The 'st'/'ah' Problem - I've heard hundreds of students say, 'last-ah', 'most-ah', 'best-ah', 'first-ah'. This is wrong. The final 'st' is spoken quietly with only a little air over the top of your tongue as you press the tip of your tongue to the back of your two front teeth. Not only have I heard it with words that end with 'st' but also several other words. Words that end in 'ck' also seem to get mispronounced like this. Students will say, 'sick-ah', 'dock-ah', 'mock-ah', 'crack-ah', 'luck ah'............... This mispronunciation adds another syllable to the word. It is wrong.

4. One of the most common mispronunciations is the 'th' sound. This sound requires you to allow your tongue to at least press against or slightly protrude horizontally through your front teeth. Students will say 'sank you very much' or 'tank you very much'. When I first came to China, I met a girl and asked her what her English name was. She said, "Cassie". 'Cassie' is a perfectly good female name in English. However, when she wrote it down for me, it was 'Cathy.' Apparently, no one had taught her the right way to pronounce this sound.

5. I guess the second most common mispronunciation of Chinese English learners is the 'v' sound. It often gets pronounced as a 'w' sound. If you go to a country where the native language is English, they will know right away that you haven't learned English well if you pronounce this sound as a 'w.' The right way to say it requires the same position of your bottom lip under your top front teeth that you make in the sound for the letter 'f'. You aren't 'wary, wary tired.' You are 'very, very tired.'

6. Adverb 'very' just before the verb. Chinese English learners will say, "I very like you." This is wrong. The right way is to say, "I like you very much" or, "I really like you."

There are many other mistakes that are commonly made by Chinese English learners, however, these are the most common ones that I've heard. 

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Reply Report Jaaja 2017-3-8 19:59
I don't work in education, but the English phrase I most commonly hear pronounced incorrectly in China, is "oh my god" becoming "oh my goh". I first thought, that this was just kids from an individual rural school, but then I heard it by some celebrities in Chinese reality TV as well.
Reply Report GhostBuster 2017-3-8 21:50
Thank you for your informative and educational posting contents. It helps a lot of people. Kind and great of you to pinpoint in specific, so as to raise the standards of spoken English.
Reply Report GhostBuster 2017-3-8 21:56
Once, request was made for translating address from Chinese into English. The student insisted the word, 'County' was incorrect and that it should be 'Country' and that 'County' could not be found in the dictionary. It so happened that the edition of that dictionary did not. Later, the student had an argument with the embass staff over it. Reason is the student passed CET Grade 8!
Reply Report cmknight 2017-3-9 03:10
Point number three can be traced back to initial pronunciation lessons in primary school. When you have a class full of noisy children, the teacher is doing a lot of shouting, and/or unintentionally utilizing the "Crazy English" methodology of learning (the louder, the better). Letter sounds which are velar stops or velar plosives, such as the /k/, /d/, /t/, /g/, are often shouted when taught, instead of spoken in their natural tone. This gives an unintended 'ah' after the initial consonant sound. This methodology error then manifests itself into mispronunciations such as "dog-ah", "truck-ah", "bad-ah", and "put-ah".
Reply Report 1105852048 2017-3-9 03:18
Even Chines people speaking English quite well make mistakes... it is normal. Some have been mentioned above, but another word is 'ually' also mispronounced: what and they say it a s 'wha'.
Reply Report ralmsjourney 2017-3-9 19:57
thanks Sir!
you nailed it.
Reply Report Gayle 2017-3-10 10:23
Thank you for this useful blog.  (It is complementary to my blog about phonemes, which helps to explain some of these pronunciation problems -- you might take a look at that.  This blog in turn gives some good examples of what is described there.)

Some comments:

1) The American pronunciation of "su" in usually is similar to pronunciation of "j" in French (which is spelled "zh" in English dictionaries but is not the same as pinyin "zh").  It would still be understood if pronounced like "s" or "sh."

2) and 3) are really versions of the same problem. which occurs with learners whose native languages don't have syllables that end in consonants (other  than perhaps m or n) -- it is hardest for them to get used to ending a word with an unvoiced stop consonant like /k/, /t/, or /p/.  Just a matter of getting used to it and having a teacher who can point it out.  (A parallel occurs when English speakers study Bantu languages like Swahili and encounter words that begin with mb-, nd-, nz, mw-, etc., and put a vowel at the beginning, pronouncing, say, "nda" as "enda," or Spanish speakers pronounce "street" as "estreet" -- it is because such consonant clusters don't begin words in their native languages.)  This is because people unconsciously substitute the phonetic patterns of their native language for sounds in the target language.

4) "Th" sound is found in very few languages other than English, and therefore it is difficult for speakers of many languages.  No sound is intrinsically difficult, of course, but people will find a sound difficult if it is too different from sounds in the native language.

5)  "V" and "w" sounds are tricky in many languages, one of those often substituted for the other.  Referring to my blog on phonemes, this is an example of a sound that is one phoneme in many languages but two phonemes in English.

6) Yeah, everybody should learn that, "very" comes before adjectives and adverbs but not verbs.  On the other hand, an English-speaker will understand what you mean if you use "very" that way, so don't panic if you happen to forget that rule.

Good blog!  :)

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Michael is the author of the transformational book, Powerful Attitudes. He is a professional educator, an educational consultant, an author. He lives in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. He enjoys playing guitar and writing poetry. He loves China.


Recent comments

  • Brilliant Chinese Parents 2018-6-21 14:40

    parcher: i was asked to teach my collegues daughter english, because her teacher was doing such a poor job (his words ) i tried to put him straight that rome w ...
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  • Brilliant Chinese Parents 2018-6-20 20:37

    i was asked to teach my collegues daughter english, because her teacher was doing such a poor job (his words ) i tried to put him straight that rome wasnt built in a day then declined his offer. i am not a teacher, but have been asked a few times from parents annoyed their kids are not learning faster english

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