Common Pronunciation Challenges for Brazilians Learning English
While Brazilian students study English in school, English itself is not often spoken throughout the day. When you aren’t regularly speaking a language you are learning, it’s difficult to become fluent. You may be learning plenty of vocabulary, but you aren’t able to easily and freely converse with another speaker, and your pronunciation may not be clear without that practice.
Brazilians speak Portuguese, and there are some specific pronunciation challenges they face when speaking English. The following are the most common English pronunciation mistakes that Brazilian speakers are likely to make:
Vowels Can Get Confusing
Getting Vowel Sounds Mixed Up
Brazilian Portuguese has fewer vowels/vowel sounds than English along with a few nasal sounds that don’t even exist in English. As with many other language speakers, pronunciation of the vowels in English can be pretty tricky for Brazilian speakers. As an example, Brazilian speakers might pronounce “bit” and “beat” as if they were the same word, and the same would go for “full” and “fool.” They may also pronounce “man” as “men” because the A sound in “man” just doesn’t exist in Brazilian Portuguese.
Tip: Try starting with simple pairs or groups of words which have a similar sound except for a single vowel. For example, listen to the sound differences in the following words: bat, bet, bit, bot, and but. Learning to listen for the sound difference in these simple words is a great first step in improving your pronunciation.
Past Tense Trickery – Saying the –ED
In English, past tense verbs often use an “ed” ending in which the vowel is mostly silent. So a word like “learned” would be pronounced like “lurnd” and not like “lurn-ehd.” In Portuguese, consonant clusters are fairly rare, so Brazilian speakers may find it makes more sense to vocalize the E (“lurn-ehd” instead of “lurnd”).
Tip: A good rule of thumb in English is that the E in past tense verbs is generally silent unless the main verb ends in the T or D sound. For example, take the verbs “bait” and “shade” – you would pronounce the past tense of these verbs with the full ED sound, but the past tense of the verb “learn” would have just the D sound while the E would be silent.
Adding “ee” at the End of Words
Brazilian Portuguese doesn’t have many words that end in a consonant, so sometimes when Brazilian speakers are speaking English, they’ll add a vowel sound (often an “ee”) to the end of English words.
Tip: Unlike Portuguese, English words rarely end in vocalized vowels. When you see English words ending in E such as “bike,” “sample,” or “ledge,” the E is almost always silent.
Those Pesky Consonants Aren’t Much Easier
Mispronouncing the TH
As it’s not that common outside of English, many ESL learners struggle with pronouncing the TH sound, and Brazilians are no exception. As Brazilian Portuguese doesn’t use the TH sound, Brazilian speakers will often substitute similar sounds such as F or S for a soft TH, or they may use a T or D sound for a voiced TH. This can sound something like “baf” or “bas” instead of “bath” or “der” instead of “there.”
Tip: While it may seem awkward at the beginning, try to stick your tongue out a little bit between your teeth to make the TH sound.
Getting the H and R Mixed Up
In Portuguese, the letter R is pronounced somewhat like the English letter H, so it’s not surprising that many Brazilian speakers confuse the H and R when speaking English. For example, they may read the English R as H, mispronouncing words like “run” as “hun” or “rate” with “hate.”
Using W in Place of L
This one can be a surprise to a native English speaker, as many Brazilians have little trouble with the L sound at the beginning of a word. The normal L in Brazilian Portuguese sounds like the English L, but when it appears at the end of a syllable, the pronunciation is different—it’s almost like a combination of W and U. So while Brazilian speakers may pronounce the L correctly in words like “like” and “love”, words like “fall”, “pool”, and “bottle” may sound more like “fau”, “fuu”, and “bottu.”
Replacing D and T
Brazilian speakers often find it challenging to pronounce the English letters D and T, specifically when they’re at the end of a word. So you might hear a D get changed to DJ (/dʒ/), turning “bad” into “badj”, which can be confusing since bad and badge aren’t the same words. Or you might hear a T is changed to TCH (/tʃ/), turning “pit” into “pitch.”
Making M an N or NG
So here’s the thing about the M sound in Portuguese, while it does exist, it does not get used at the end of words. So when a Brazilian speaker is trying to pronounce English words like “team”, “fame”, or “harm”, they may accidentally turn that unfamiliar sound into a nasal sound like N or NG. So you might hear them say “tean”, or “fain” or even “harng” instead.
The Stressful Stress and Emphasis of Syllables
Emphasizing the Wrong Syllable
When speaking English, each word contains one syllable that is stressed, and you vocally emphasize it more loudly and with higher pitch. While Brazilian speakers also use stress in their native Portuguese, English and Portuguese don’t really follow the same rules for which syllable carries the stress. In Portuguese, the second to the last syllable in long words is usually stressed, while English will sometimes stress the first syllable, so instead of “Saturday,” a Brazilian speaker might misplace the emphasis and say “Saturday.”
Tip: Like many other parts of English, the rules for which syllable to stress isn’t always predictable. There are just too many exceptions to the rules, so you’ll want to check the dictionary for pronunciation whenever you learn new English words in order to ensure you’re stressing the correct syllable.
Sentence Stress – Stressing Too Many Words
If you aren’t already stressed by the correct stress of syllables in English words, there’s a whole other stress to consider – sentence stress. Brazilian Portuguese speakers change pitch throughout their sentences much more than English speakers, with just about every other word being higher in pitch. If you accidentally carry this over when you are speaking English, it can sound confusing to other English speakers. Since pitch connotes stress or emphasis in English, you might accidentally be stressing unimportant article words like “the” or “a” in a sentence.
Tip: Pay attention to your intonation when you are speaking English, and remember that you should generally only stress the nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs in your sentences.
English Language Learning for Non-Native Speakers
English isn’t the easiest language to learn, and the specifics of your native language can play a role in which part of learning English as a second is most difficult for you. Excel English Institute empowers students to master the complexities of the English language while learning to thrive in American culture, both academically and professionally. Our interactive approach, developed from years of classroom experience, is tailored to meet the needs of non-native speakers of the English language. Apply today or give us a call at +1 (214) 363-1700 to learn more about our programs.