English Conversation Skill 1

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Overcome Common Pronunciation Problems in English

There are three problems with pronunciation that students in China often have: problems pronouncing groups of consonants, problems pronouncing certain vowels, and problems with the rhythm of English. In addition, there are smaller problems such as pronouncing TH sounds and the letter V, which will be discussed at the end of this article. Not all students have the same problems, but maybe one of these causes trouble for you. Look at each problem, and if you think you have some trouble, practice saying the words in this article many times. When you can pronounce a language well, and be understood easily, your confidence level will rise dramatically!

Problem One - Consonants

The first problem is difficulty in pronouncing groups of consonants. (Remember, vowels are open sounds made with the letters a, e, i, o and u. Consonants are hard sounds made with all the other letters.) Consider the word "describe". Many students try to speak too quickly and end up missing one or more sounds. They pronounce it as "decribe" or "desribe" or even sometimes as "deribe". The word "instinct" is even more difficult, with two groups, each having three consonants. It's important to practice by saying each sound slowly at first: IN-S-T-IN-C-T. Then say it a bit faster: IN-ST-IN-CT. Then say IN-STIN-CT. Finally, you can put it all together as INSTINCT. The important thing is to take your time at first, then speak faster later. Here are some other words you can practice saying: IMPRESS, STRONG, ABSOLVE, EXPLAIN, ADMIRE, ADJECTIVE.

Problem Two - Vowels

The second problem students encounter is with vowel combinations. There are fourteen different vowel sounds in English, and they can be spelled in so many different ways. Consider this pair of words. How would you pronounce them?


Many students say these two words with the same pronunciation. They pronounce CHILLED correctly. The "I" is just like in SIT or WITH. The "I" in CHILD, however, should be pronounced like the word EYE. Other words with the same sound are WILD, TIME, SIGN.

Here's another vowel sound that is frequently mispronounced: FAIR. Students pronounce it well in AIR, WEAR, or CARE, but often pronounce FAIR as FIRE. Different spellings can cause confusion. I have also heard students misprounce PET, STRAW, FUN, PLUS, TONE, HATE and SPEED. The best way to learn is to listen to these sounds. You need to listen very carefully in order to "internalize" these sounds. You can listen either to your teachers or to a cassette tape. With just a little practice, you can train your ear and mouth to pronounce such sounds accurately.

Problem Three - Rhythm

The third problem many students have is with English rhythm. One of the unique aspects of the English language is that it is a "stress-timed" language, whereas most other languages are "syllable-timed" languages. Let me explain. Chinese is a "syllable-timed language because each syllable, or part of a word, gets one beat. If you say "Ni hao", it has two syllables and two beats. If you say "Ni hao ma", it has three syllables and three beats. "Ni xianzai mang bu mang" would have six beats, etc. English is not like that at all! If we say "How are you", it has three syllable, but only two stress points (HOW and YOU), so it has only two beats. If we say "How's your little sister", it now has four syllables, but still only two stress points (HOW and SIS), so it takes the same amount of time as "How are you"!

TH and V

There are two TH sounds, one hard and one soft. Many students pronounce the hard TH like Z and the soft TH like S. This is not too bad, but can sometimes make language hard to understand. With both Z and S, you use both your upper teeth and lower teeth to produce sound. With TH, just use your tongue in place of your lower teeth. You can start by biting your tongue slightly with your upper teeth, then blowing out air as with Z or S. Using the tongue makes the TH sounds quite a bit softer than Z or S.

V is actually quite simple to pronounce. Many students try to pronounce it like B, but it is, in fact, like the letter F. The only difference is that with F, you do not use your voice, but with V, you DO use your voice. Try saying FAST and then VAST. The teeth remain in the same position for both words. If you have trouble making the right sound with your voice, think of Z and S again. Say SUE and ZOO now. With SUE, there is no voice in pronouncing the S. With ZOO, you DO use your voice. It's the same with F and V.

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