|COMMON PRONUNCIATION PROBLEMS FOR CANTONESE SPEAKERS
The aim of this leaflet
This leaflet provides information on why pronunciation problems
may occur and specific sounds in English that Cantonese speakers
may have difficulty with.
Why problems occur
Pronunciation problems happen when speaking a second language because
most people are used to hearing and making sounds which only exist
in their mother tongue.
There are many sounds in Cantonese and English that are similar.
Some however, are only partially similar and others are totally
different. When you hear or are trying to say the partially similar
or totally different sounds, it's easy to make mistakes because
you are used to hearing and making sounds in your mother tongue.
It is important therefore, to make yourself aware of how sounds
in a different language are made and practise listening to them
and saying them as much as possible.
To make language sounds we move our jaw, tongue, lips, and the
vocal cords in our throat in a number of different ways. If, for
example, your brain is not used to telling your tongue to move into
a certain position in your mouth in order to make a particular sound,
then you may have difficulty saying that sound clearly.
How do you solve the problems?
Here are a few suggestions on how to train your brain:
- Learn to recognise that there are differences between some
English sounds and some Cantonese sounds.
- Learn to hear clearly and think about how sounds are made when
you are listening.
- Discover how these sounds are made. Find out for example:
- how far open your jaw should be
- whether the tip of your tongue should be touching the inside
of your upper teeth or whether it should be lying flat
- if your lips should be 'rounded' like when you are going
to kiss someone or 'spread', like when you smile
- whether the vocal cords in your throat should be vibrating
or not (we talk about this in terms of 'voiced' or 'voiceless'sounds)
- Practise moving your jaw, tongue, lips etc. as correctly as
possible so that you are able to make the problematic English
Many of the materials listed on P3
give explanations and show pictures of where to put your tongue
or how to move your lips etc. These materials help you understand
how English is spoken and help you practise your English pronunciation.
You can find more ideas on how to practice from P1
English sounds, which can cause problems
for Cantonese speakers
Below is an explanation of which English sounds Cantonese speakers
tend to have difficulty pronouncing:
Vowels: (see P5
According to some researchers, Cantonese speakers tend to say only
7 of the 11 vowel sounds in English clearly. The main reason for
this is that in English there is a difference between what are called
'long' and 'short' vowel sounds.
Cantonese speakers tend not to make a difference between 'long'
and 'short' sounds but instead, produce something in between. Another
reason for making mistakes when saying English vowel sounds, may
be related to understanding how to move the jaw, tongue, lips etc.
into the correct position. Below is a list of 'long' and 'short'
English vowel sounds, which can cause problems for Cantonese speakers:
Consonants: (see P5&
To understand how problems occur with consonant sounds, it’s
important to understand how the vocal cords in your throat work.
When you say any vowel sound and some consonant sounds your vocal
cords should vibrate. Sounds produced this way are known as ‘voiced’
sounds. The consonant sounds that do not cause your vocal
cords to vibrate are known as ‘voiceless’
sounds. All vowel sounds are ‘voiced’ so don’t
worry, you already know how to do this.
Try feeling how your vocal cords vibrate to make a voiced sound.
Place two fingers lightly across your throat. Say one of the vowel
sounds listed above. You’ll notice that the vibration of your
vocal cords can be felt in your fingers.
Other problems can also occur with some English consonant sounds.
Below is a list of sounds that can cause problems for Cantonese
The best way to check the pronunciation of words, is to be aware
of the way sounds are written to show correct pronunciation and
to use a dictionary. Refer to P3
Other areas to be aware of:(see P6
- Word stress
- Sentence stress
Improving your English pronunciation is not just about understanding
and practising the differences between vowel sounds and consonant
sounds, it is also very important to be aware of how all the different
elements that create speech are put together. Understanding and
practising English word stress and sentence stress, linking etc.
will help you enormously in hearing connected speech clearly and
in being able to speak English with confidence and more fluency.
This leaflet is part of the Self-Access Pronunciation Advice Sheets
supporting independent learning, produced by the HKUST Center for Language Education. This leaflet was written by Sarah Toogood 2000, and edited
by Dr Tony Hung of Hong Kong Baptist University. If you copy from
this leaflet, please acknowledge the source. Thanks.