American English Pronunciation Challenges – by Katie Schwartz

If you are a mono-lingual American, it can be helpful to know how native speakers of other languages often pronounce English, so you can understand them more easily.  China is a huge country, and Mandarin is spoken differently in various parts of China. For some people, Mandarin is actually their second language, not their first. People in India speak somewhere between 780 and 1683 different languages, although reportedly only 21 are officially recognized.

People in so many countries speak Spanish, and there are numerous dialects of it. Again, some Hispanics speak Spanish as their second language, with another local language being their “mother tongue” or first language.


Having said that, let’s compare some difficulties each linguistic group has with speaking English. Business Speech Improvement does individual assessments of each speaker in our seminars on American English Pronunciation Improvement for Non-native Professionals, so the following does make some generalities.

First, English is the only language that pronounces the “th” sound. In some countries, such as parts of China, clients have reported that it is rude to put one’s tongue between one’s teeth to produce this sound; instead, people use an “s” sound or omit it entirely. In India, many people trying to say “th” say a “t” or “d” sound instead. In Hispanics, often the sound is omitted, or an “s” sound is used instead.

Hispanics often have difficulty with the American sounds of  “v”, our final sounds such as “t” in “sit”, the regular “r” and the “vowel r” sounds like ar (car) and er (her). “Sh” (shoe) and “ch” (chew) may be hard for some to pronounce as well.

Mandarin (and Cantonese) speakers from China and nearby areas may have difficulty with the “l” and “r” sounds, “r blends” such as tree, and final sounds such as “z”  in “is”. Other sounds may also be difficult.

Native speakers from India come from so many languages that it is hard to generalize. Many learn British English in school, and then want to learn American English, which is different at times in vocabulary and pronunciation. For example, the word “schedule” is pronounced in English as “shedjule”, while in the USA, we say “skedjule”. England uses “lorries”, while in the USA, we call them “trucks”.

Katie Schwartz
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