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Pronunciation errors made by Portuguese learners of English

Introduction

Portuguese was the first foreign language that I learned.  I love the Portuguese language for its rhythm and flow.  Words usually end with a vowel sound, ‘o,’ ‘a’ or ‘e.’  This gives Portuguese a rhythmic flow and makes it a beautiful language in song and poetry.  The rhythm and flow also mean that Portuguese learners will have difficulty with English pronunciation.  English has many words that end in sharp consonants.

Portuguese is a Romance language that has a Latin language origin.  Portuguese is most closely related to Latin and Spanish.  The romance languages also include Spanish, Italian, French, and Romanian.

Portuguese and English consonants are similar with some notable exceptions.  Vowel sounds, sentence stress, and word order are different from English.  Because of these differences, Portuguese learners have difficulty with English pronunciation.

Portuguese as spoken by Europeans can be confusing for Brazilian speakers of Portuguese.  I had learned Portuguese from Brazilian teachers.  When I listened to a European Portuguese tutorial, I could not comprehend some words. Brazilians tend to soften word ending.  In some parts of Brazil, they add an ‘sch’ sound to some words ‘floresta’, pronounced ‘floreshta’.

Differences in Vowel Pronunciation

  • ee as in ‘reach’ tend to be pronounced too short.  For example, reach might sound like rich, and heat might sound likehit.’
  • ea as in head tends to be confused with ar as in had.  For example, head might sound like ‘had.’
  • /a:/ tends to be shortened and confused with /ae/.  For example, ‘aunt’ might sound like ‘ant.’
  • The ‘or’ sound in words like caught tends to get confused with ‘o’ as in ‘Hot’. For example, ‘Caught’ might sound like ‘Cot.’
  • Fool tends to be pronounced Full.
  • The Portuguese alphabet starts with ‘ae’ as in lack.  Luck would sound like lack.
  • Unstressed vowels tend to be given their full value.  The might be pronounced Thee.  Unstressed vowels at the end of words tend to be whispered.  For example, Coffee would be pronounced Cafe
phonemes

Phonemes chart. Click to enlarge

Diphthongs

There are not as many diphthongs in Portuguese compared with English.  Words like ‘hear’ can sound like ‘hair.’

Consonants

Most of the consonants sounds are familiar in Portuguese and English with the following exceptions.

  • Portuguese speakers tend to soften l at the end of a word.  For example, Bottle may sound like Bottu.
  • /p/, /k/ and /t/ at the beginning of words are unaspirated in Portuguese.  These may be confused with /b/, /g/ and /d/.
    • Kate may sound like ‘gate’
    • peg may sound like ‘beg’
    • tin may sound like ‘din’
  • /t/ and /d/ at the beginning of a word and in the middle are pronounced quite forcefully, this may make words like tale sound like ‘dale’.
  • /t/ and /r/ tend to be confused.  ‘Better’ can sound like bearer.
  • Vowels before the last /m/ or /n/ in a word are nasalized, this can mean that the final consonant is not sounded
  • /r/ at the beginning of a word is unvoiced in Brazillian Portuguese.  /r/ as red might sound /h/ as in head.
  • The p and k sounds tend to be unaspirated in Portuguese.  Peg may sound like BegKate may sound like Gate

Consonant clusters

There are more consonant clusters in English than in Portuguese.  Native speakers of Portuguese tend to insert vowel sounds to assist in pronunciation.  For example, ‘study’ may be pronounced as ‘estudy.’

Spelling and pronunciation

Portuguese speakers pronounce each letter in a word.   Portuguese speakers will probably not pronounce /g/, as in general, like a /j/.  Rather, /g/ as in ‘gate’

Conclusion

Portuguese has many words that have a common origin with Latin.  English also has words of Latin origin. Portuguese pronunciation has many differences compared with English.  It is because of these differences that Portuguese learners need to spend a lot of time practicing pronunciation.

Learner English

Learner English by Michael Swan

Michael Swan’s book Learner English is a practical reference guide that compares the relevant features of a student’s language with English. These features help teachers to predict and understand the problems their students have. Learner English has chapters focusing on significant issues of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and other errors as well as new chapters covering Korean, Malay/Indonesian and Polish language backgrounds.

Aaron Skudder

8 Comments

  1. The differences in languages are really fascinating. Portuguese learner of English meet some real challenges in learning the right pronunciation. Like the example you have given of bottle. The last sound is not in Portuguese, so that is a complete new word and sound to learn.

    I do learn new languages and I Know how difficult it can be. But I also learn that practice makes it possible not easy. And practice with someone who is native to that language is better.

    Thanks

    • Thanks for your feedback.  You are right about practice.  Muscles in the face have to be trained to make new sounds.  Learning with a native is the only way to be a good speaker of a foreign language.

  2. You say that Portuguese learners will have difficulty with English  but what language do these people speak before trying to speak Portuguese? 

    I myself have difficulties speaking any other languages apart from my main language which is English, even Welsh as u live in Wales, how would you help someone to speak a different language as I would love to be able to speak Portuguese? 

    Thanks if you can help 🙂

    • When I refer to native speakers of a language, I mean the first language they learned as a baby.  It is more difficult for an adult to learn a language.  Pronunciation is the biggest hurdle.

  3. great content there i just admit. To start off your experience with one language actually makes it rather easy to relate to. I have just learnt how interesting the differences between languages are. you have done a pretty decent job with your website and its contents, keep up the good work looking to read some more.

    • Thanks for your feedback Sherman.  I am updating content daily.  Please check my website for new content.

  4. Thanks for this article, this has renewed my interest in learning foreign languages, I always wanted to enroll in online classes that teach these languages so I will be able to speak to locals when I visit Europe. I’m planning to have a country-hopping adventure across Europe one of these days. 

    I know I can learn more from your articles in this website, but do you know of an online course I can enroll and study in my spare time? Can you recommend a trusted site where I can enroll? 

    • Hi Gomer

      I recommend finding a person or a physical classroom rather than online tutorials.  You will learn much faster with a real teacher.  I use Duolingo in the absence of a physical teacher.

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