The Commonest Mistakes Made by Brazilian Students

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Most of the mistakes made by Brazilian students originate in a naïve conception of how languages work, what lead the students to think over both the English and the Portuguese phonetic systems as an identical source of patterns to decipher the new words that they are learning. This problem, however, is not a students’ fault but it is due to the common contemporary approaches that emphasize communication rather than pronunciation, treating them as separate studies (when, in fact, they are essential parts of a whole, which is the target language itself)

With this in mind, it is worth recalling how certain words such as few /fyuː/, future / 'fyuːtʃə(r)/, and funeral /'fyuːnərəl/ will often be pronounced as /fiw/, /fu'turi/ (or /‘fiwturi/) and /funer'aw/ (or /‘fiwneraw/). This is due to the proximity of these diphthong to Portuguese ones that appear in words such as rio / 'iw/ and tio /t'iw/, and also to the students’ unawareness that this Portuguese pattern does not occur in English; on the contrary, the phoneme i actually becomes the semivowel y and the semivowel w turns into a long u, what is initially an odd sound to Portuguese speakers. But without that being pointed out, students will most likely never be aware of this difference, since the attachment to their mother language is particularly strong in most cases.

This attachment is also the very reason why words like fire /'fayə(r)/, dice /days/ and mouse /maʊs/ will quite frequently be pronounced as /'fayri/, /’dayci/ and /’mousi/. Deceived by the spelling, many students will call upon Portuguese phonetics and produce words that look familiar to their own language system, taking into account the CVC pattern of Portuguese, but rather strange for English. Indeed, /'fayri/ is much more similar to fairy /'ferɪ 'feər-/ than fire, what may lead a native listener to question such a weird statement like “the house is on fairy”. The main problem, however, is that even though a teacher’s pronunciation is...
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