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Common Pronunciation and Grammar Errors Faced by Chinese Speakers of English. Jane Coates. Pronunciation and Grammar Errors. 2 very different language families Methods of learning: memorisation and rote learning are very important for the basic written units of Chinese: the characters

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pronunciation and grammar errors
Pronunciation and Grammar Errors
  • 2 very different language familiesMethods of learning:
    • memorisation and rote learning are very important for the basic written units of Chinese: the characters
    • Chinese learners of English spend more time on memorisation rather than speaking and listening skills.
pronunciation and grammar errors1
Pronunciation and Grammar Errors
  • Sounds are the building blocks of spoken language.
  • Some English sounds do not have matching Chinese sounds and are hard to learn.
  • Others sound like Chinese sounds but are not identical in pronunciation and cause confusion.
difficult sounds
Difficult sounds

‘th’ sounds

  • Trouble for many non-native speakers of English
  • Resulting sounds are often z and s.
  • ‘Thin’ may be pronounced ‘tin’, ‘fin’ or ‘sin’. ‘This’ may be pronounced ‘dis’ or ‘zis’
  • Describe and model where the tongue goes.
  • Move to paying attention to the sounds in some real conversations. e.g. Interview classmates with questions that require the th sounds. What are you thinking about? What are you thankful for?
difficult sounds th
Difficult sounds-th

Practice with minimal pairs

  • think - sink
  • thank - sank
  • mouth - mouse
  • faith – face
  • these - seas sees - seize
  • that - sat

Practice with a tongue twister e.g.

  • Those thirteen thin students sat in the classroom thinking. Although the weather was changing and the temperature sinking, they forgot their thick jackets. What were those thirteen foolish students thinking?
difficult sounds th1
Difficult sounds-th
  • Use Jazz Chants to teach the correct sound
  • Tooth, tooth, I have a toothache.
  • I have a toothache,
  • And a sore throat!
  • Thursdays, Thursdays.
  • What do you do on Thursdays?
  • On Thursdays I often go to a football game.

‘r’ ‘l ‘and ‘n’ sounds

  • Difficult to distinguish between so ‘fried’ becomes ‘flied’
  • ‘l’ in a final position is particularly difficult - may be replaced by ‘r’ or simply dropped. e.g. ‘bill’ may be pronounced ‘beer’ or’ bi’

‘n’ sound

  • Absent from many Chinese dialects therefore difficult to distinguish ‘night’ from ‘light’
difficult sounds l
Difficult sounds-L
  • A Tongue Twister
  • A flea and a fly flew up in a flue.Said the flea, "Let us fly!"Said the fly, "Let us flee!"So they flew through a flaw in the flue.
difficult sounds l1
Difficult sounds-L

Tongue Twisters

You've no need to light a night-lightOn a light night like tonight,For a night-light's light's a slight light,And tonight's a night that's light.When a night's light, like tonight's light,It is really not quite rightTo light night-lights with their slight lightsOn a light night like tonight.

n and r sounds
N and R sounds
  • Which noise annoys an oyster most?
  • A noisy noise annoys an oyster most.
  • Round the rugged rock
  • The ragged rascal ran.
v and w z
v and w Z

‘v’ sound

  • Absent from most Chinese dialects - sometimes treated like w or f: ’invite’ may be pronounced ‘inwite’; ‘live’ pronounced ‘lif’

‘z’ sound

  • Absent from most Chinese dialects - usual error is to substitute ‘s’: ‘rise’ may become ‘rice’
v and w sounds
V and w sounds
  • Whether the weather be cold or whether the weather be hot We'll be together whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.
  • Which witch wished which wicked wish?

Final consonants

  • These cause serious problems. As there are few final consonants in the Chinese language, Chinese speakers of English tend to either add an extra vowel at the end or to drop the consonant.
  • Books becomes booksa

Initial consonant clusters-bl- cr- sm- sw

  • These are lacking in Chinese. The common error is to insert a slight vowel sound between the consonants pronouncing ‘spoon’ as ‘sipoon’.

Vowels-ai- ou- oa- oi- ue-

  • There are more vowel contrasts in English
  • There is no equivalent in Chinese for some sounds
  • Hard to distinguish are: ‘eat’ and ‘it’, ‘bean’ and ‘bin’
  • ‘fool’ and’ full’, ‘Luke’ and ‘look’, ‘snack’ and ‘snake’
changing sounds elision
Changing Sounds - Elision
  • Native speakers speak very quickly!
  • Sounds may be dropped!
  • This disappearance of sounds is known as elision.
  • There are 2 sounds that are frequently dropped:

‘t’ and ‘d’

  • e.g. you will hear the ’t’ in fact but not in ‘facts’ and you will hear the ‘d’ in ‘land’ but not in ‘landlady’:

“My landlady bought a new handbag the other day”.

“I don’t know when they finished work yesterday”.

“Let’s face the facts. This Company is going bust quickly”.

stress and intonation
Stress and intonation
  • Stress and intonation are areas of difficulty.
  • Most 2 syllable nouns have the stress on the first sound.
  • Most 2 syllable verbs have the stress on the end sound.
  • In some 3 syllable words and in most words of 4 syllables or more there are 2 stressed syllables-one carries the main stress and the other secondary stress:

ultimatum investigation determination

interfere congratulations departure

stress and intonation1
Stress and intonation

Look at pairs of words and decide where the main stress is in the first word and if it stays the same in the second word:

photograph - photography

consult - consultant

estimate - estimation

refer - referral

stress and intonation2
Stress and intonation
  • Syllable stress changes in a family’ of words:

photograph, photo, photographer, photography

record (noun) record (verb) recording

sentiment sentimental

stress and intonation3
Stress and intonation

Contrastive stress

  • This is when we stress a word very strongly especially when we correct someone, e.g.

Here’s the cheese sandwich you wanted.

That’s wrong. I ordered a meat sandwich.

O.K. That’s two white coffees.

No. I always drink black coffee.

Did you buy that cotton shirt you were looking at?

No. I bought the silk shirt.

key or new information is often stressed at sentence level
Key or new information is often stressed at sentence level

“I’ll be arriving at ten at Heathrow because of a delay, so I’ll get the

last train back to Leeds and be home late.”

Where did you go yesterday?

I was in Leeds yesterday.

When were you in Leeds?

I was in Leeds yesterday.

There was no-one in Leeds yesterday.

I was in Leeds yesterday.

  • The stress changes because what is new is different in each sentence.
stress and intonation4
Stress and intonation
  • Customer: Have you got any frozen peas?

Shopkeeper: No. But we do have tinned peas.

Customer: No. I really need frozen peas.

  • Stress can also be used for contrasting, contradicting and disagreeing.

e.g. David Beckham is quite good really.

David Beckham isn’t good, he’s magnificent.

common errors in grammar and word use
Common Errors in Grammar and Word Use
  • Gender: Confusing ‘he’ and ‘she’.

The spoken forms of ‘he’ ‘she’ and ‘it’ are all the same in Chinese. Chinese speakers find difficulty in applying the rule consistently.

e.g. ‘She is a good Director. His films are very good.’

I’ve a brother and she’s working in a factor

  • Tenses and Time

Chinese and English speakers express the concept of time very differently.

e.g. ‘My brother left home since nine o’clock’.

I’ve seen her two days ago.

I found that the room is empty.

common errors in grammar and word use1
Common Errors in Grammar and Word Use
  • Modals
  • Communication in English requires polite forms of instructions, invitations, requests and suggestions, in which modals play a central role. If Chinese speakers do not use modals then they may appear to speak more formally-or even rudely.
  • ‘Should’ is easy as it corresponds to a Chinese modal. But in some sentences it’s use is more difficult. e.g. ‘It’s strange that you should say this.’

e.g. ‘Can you do me a favour?’/Could you please do me a favour? Would it be possible…..?

common errors in grammar and word use2
Common Errors in Grammar and Word Use


  • There are no articles in Chinese and therefore Chinese speakers find it hard to use them.
  • They may omit the article:

‘Let’s make fire’, ‘I can play piano’. X

  • Or insert unnecessary ones:

‘He finished the school last year’, ‘‘He was in a pain’. X

  • Or confuse the use of the definite and indefinite articles:

‘She is a tallest girl in the class’ X

‘He smashed the vase in the anger’. X

common errors in grammar and word use3
Common Errors in Grammar and Word Use
  • Countable and uncountable nouns
  • The English concept of countability is hard to grasp.
  • For example, furniture, equipment, luggage, news etc. can all be counted to the Chinese way of understanding.
  • This leads to errors such as:
  • ‘Let me tell you an interesting news.’
  • ‘She as brought many luggages with her.
common errors in grammar and word use4
Common Errors in Grammar and Word Use

Progressive aspect causes difficulty

  • ‘ What do you read?’ for ‘What are you reading?’
  • I sit here for a long time for- I have been sitting here for a long time.

Adjectives and verbs are frequently identical in Chinese.

  • Thus the verb ‘to be’ tends to be dropped when followed by predicative adjectives.
  • ‘I busy’, ‘She very happy’.
  • I am busy. She is very happy.

Parts of speech

  • Parts of speech in Chinese are not always formally distinguished. The same word may often serve different structural functions. It is easy to confuse related words such as ‘difficult’ and ‘difficulty’ in terms of their parts of speech or to appreciate the fact that certain functions in a sentence can only be fulfilled by words from certain classes:
  • ‘She likes walk’, ‘It is very difficulty to convince him’.
  • I have not son.