Top 6 English Pronunciation Tips for Mandarin Speakers
Many people from China lack confidence with their spoken English because they don’t get much opportunity to practice and improve it. Some people tell me they avoid speaking face to face or on the phone, preferring to use email instead. Learning about and improving pronunciation helps them speak with more confidence and also improves their listening skills too.
Do you feel like your English is flatter than a native speaker? Do you say ‘awoid’ instead of ‘avoid’? Does ‘pain’ sound more like ‘pen’? Do you say ‘Sursday’ instead of ‘Thursday’? These are all English pronunciation errors that that are common for Mandarin speakers.
I’m a Speech Pathologist who has worked for over 10 years with professionals and students from China to help them speak clearer, more confident English.
Whatever field they have worked in – be it medical, engineering or hospitality – they have wanted clearer English to improve their career opportunities.
Do you need or want to improve your English Pronunciation? You probably should improve it if your co-workers or clients don’t understand you easily. You might find that sometimes they ask you to repeat or you might feel like they have missed some words that you have said. If so, speaking more clearly could make a big difference to your work performance.
If you find that people understand you easily, that’s great – you don’t need accent training. Accents are a really important part of who we are and our cultural identity. That said, many people from China seek training because they want to sound more like a native speaker. But in my opinion being clear and easy to understand is the top priority.
If you have ever wanted to speak English more clearly, these 6 tips are a great place to start.
Tip 1. FOCUS ON LISTENING
Listen more carefully to your speech sounds. Focus carefully on how you pronounce words – what sounds you make and what rhythm (music) you make. Try to compare it to native English speakers. Think about what is different and what is the same. For many people the first step is learning to hear the difference between their own speech and a native speaker. If you can’t hear the problems – you can’t fix them! Once you can hear the difference then you can work on controlling and correcting your sounds and stresses.
Tip 2. FOCUS ON FEELING
From today to pay attention to how you move your mouth to make sounds when you speak English. In order to improve your pronunciation you will need to change some of your mouth positions. This means you will need to have control of your tongue and lip positions when you are talking. Start by paying attention to the way you pronounce sounds in words.
You need to become more aware of your mouth positions in order to change and improve them to make the correct sounds. For example, controlling vowel length – Mandarin speakers often make some of the long vowels in English too short – but we won’t go into that today!
Tip 3. OPEN & MOVE YOUR MOUTH
In general Mandarin has a more closed mouth position than English. The jaw doesn’t open much and the lips don’t move a lot. English has many sounds that require an open jaw position like ‘ar’ in the word ‘dark’ and ‘o’ in the word ‘hot’. Some English sounds also require a lot of lip movement like the ‘ow’ sound in ‘phone’ or the ‘er’ sound in ‘hurt’ or the ‘sh’ sound in ‘shop’. Often Mandarin speakers don’t open and move their mouths enough and this makes their English unclear. From today try to open and move your mouth when speaking English. Try it – it will instantly make your English clearer and your voice will travel better too.
Tip 4. TOO FAST?
If you speak English fast you should slow down. Give people time to take in your message, not struggle to understand you. When you speak English very quickly you are more likely to make flatter stress, mispronounce words and make errors in grammar. Try to control your rate – you will find that people understand you more easily and also other things like your expression, word choice and grammar will improve too! Using a good rate of speech is essential for clear communication. Many people think that if they speak English fast people will think they have better English – this is wrong! Actually – quite the opposite is true. Your listener is more likely to find some of what you say difficult to understand and this gives them a poor impressions of your spoken English skills.
Tip 5. FOCUS ON THE ‘MUSIC’ OF ENGLISH
Do you know how to use the correct stress and rhythm in English words and sentences? Do you feel like your English is too flat or like it doesn’t get people’s attention?
Mandarin is spoken with a flatter, more even rhythm and tone (pitch) than English. In English the pitch of our voice goes up and down to make stress. Stress in words is called “word stress”. Making the correct word stress is essential for speaking English clearly. Research shows that it’s the most important area affecting how clear your English is to listeners. Flat English is unclear English. From today start to pay attention to way that native speakers go up and down with the pitch of their voice (the music). Here’s an example – in the word ‘realise’ the stress is on the first part ‘REAlise’, many Mandarin speakers pronounce it incorrectly and put the stress on the last part (reaLISE). Another example is the word ‘suburb’. Which part of ‘suburb’ do you stress? All the stress should be on the first part ‘SUburb’….it is not pronounced ‘suBURB’.
Tip 6. DON’T FORGET THE PAST TENSE!
Do you use it? Are you pronouncing it correctly?
Do you remember to use the regular past tense ‘ed’ endings when you are talking about things you have done in the past? This is important, especially at work or in a job interview. If you leave these off it’s an obvious grammar mistake and can be confusing for your listeners. Many of my Mandarin speaking clients find pronouncing sounds at the ends of words difficult. This means that even if they remember to use the past tense – they don’t pronounce it correctly. Make sure you remember to use the past tense and focus on pronouncing sounds at the ends of your words correctly. You will probably need more practice and teaching to get this right – but being aware of it from now will start you on the road to improvement.
If you would like specialised, step-by-step training to improve your English pronunciation we can help you. Take our 13 week online course Clear, Confident English for Mandarin Speakers. With this course you will correct the areas of English pronunciation that Mandarin speakers find difficult while improving your listening skills, grammar, vocab and expression. Take your course online, anytime, anywhere. Pronounce over 1,000 words correctly and improve with over 20 hours of video and audio training.
Alternatively, do you know what the difference is between the words ‘coat’, ‘caught’ and ‘cot’? Correct these words by taking a free video lesson.
Please call us to chat about your English pronunciation on 1300 859 338 or 0400 331 588.
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