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The Commonest Mistakes Made by Brazilian Students

By Aterion Nov 09, 2008 927 Words
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 correct, most students won’t perceive by themselves the lack of sound from “e” at the end of words – thus, this pattern must be emphasized with an explanation.

Another source of errors is the existence of certain consonants in English but not in Portuguese, such as the pair ð and θ. It is extremely frequent that Brazilian students mishear them as existing consonants in Portuguese language. This way, father /'fɑðə(r)/, that /ðæt/, theater/'θɪətə(r) and death /dɛθ/ will sound like / 'fɑdər/, /zɛt/, / 'syater / and /dɛf/. A gradual introduction may be the best way to get those two consonants across Brazilian students, since it is quite difficult for them to reproduce right away a sound that is not in their mother language, or even to perceive the clear importance that proper pronunciation has in this case.

A similar problem also occurs with specific vowels from English like æ, and the pairs ɪ and i, ʊ and u. The substitution of æ for ɛ is quite frequent and will cause confusion in words whose only difference lies on those two phonemes, for instance gas /gæs/ will sound like guess /gɛs/ and last /læst/ like the formal conjunction lest /lɛst/. The exchange of ɪ for i and vice-versa represents the same problem in words such as lick /lɪk/ and leek /liyk/ , sick /sɪk/ and seek /siyk/, but in a broader extension since there is plenty of such pairs. The great frequency that oo is equivalent to the long u misleads students to think that book /bʊk/ and foot /fʊt/ will have the same vowel sound of boot /buːt/.

The seven sounds represented by letter a are another problem, for they cause many mistakes like /skærs/ instead of scarce /skɛrs/ or scar /skɑr/, /veyliənt/ in place of valiant /v'ælɪənt/, /rɪkɑ l / for recall /rɪ'kɔl /, etc. This kind of deception by the spelling also happens in a combination of vowel and consonant mistakes with the present continuous ending ing /ɪŋ/, often pronounced as /ing/ or /iːn/ due to the inexistence of ŋ in Portuguese and the tendency of Brazilian students to prefer the long i, or actually the Portuguese i, since the first one is also a troublesome vowel to learn. But as a matter of fact, letter i is pronounced with a long sound only in a few (often foreign) words like machine /mə'ʃiyn/, magazine /‚mægəziyn/, plasticine /'plæstɪsiyn/, etc – a simple advice that may help students to avoid lots of mistakes.

Portuguese patterns of voiced and voiceless consonants, such as the final “s” with a “z” sound when in front of a vowel, present even another problem, making students say a phrase like This idea marks another problem /ðɪs ay’dɪə mɑrks ən’ʌðər ‘prɑbləm/ as / ðɪz ay’dɪə mɑrkz ən’ʌðər ‘prɑbləm/. The same goes for the plural of words, whose rule of voiceless and voiced sounds will be blatantly ignored by students, at first – and go unnoticed if their attention is not called to it.

In conclusion, these mistakes are an unavoidable part of the learning process. The exchange of consonants and vowels will happen despite any advice against it, as well as the other problems, but they may be softened by an approach that considers phonetics as an important piece of the learning process, or even as an engine to speed it up.

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