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The BIGGEST Pronunciation Challenges in English For Arabic Speakers

Free English Pronunciation Guide + audio practice for Arabic speakers

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In this episode, you’ll learn 5 of the most common pronunciation challenges Arabic speakers face when speaking English. You’ll also learn how to pronounce the sounds, and how to practice your American accent effectively. Mispronunciations happen when a sound in the target language, in this case English, doesn’t exist in the speaker’s native tongue (Arabic). When this happens, speakers tend to pronounce a different (but somewhat similar) sound that does exist in their language. Scroll down to read about each challenge and download the FREE English Pronunciation guide for Arabic speakers. In the pronunciation guide you’ll also find 5 more pronunciation challenges that Arabic speakers might face so you could practice those as well.

Here are the challenges of English for Arabic Speakers that are discussed in the video:

Challenge #1: Replacing P with B

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) lacks the P sound so there is no distinction between P and B. Therefore, many Arabic speakers might pronounce a word like ‘pay’ as ‘bay’.

Download our FREE workbook to practice these challenges with our lists of words and audio recordings.

Challenge #2: Breaking consonant clusters

Consonant clusters are sequences of consonants without a vowel between them. In MSA, clusters are less common than in English, especially at the beginning of words. Therefore, many Arabic speakers tend to eliminate such clusters, usually by adding a vowel before the cluster or in between its consonants. For example, a word like ‘spring’ (with the cluster ‘spr’) might be pronounced as ‘sipring’, with two vowels instead of one.
Such insertions are common in words in the past form that carry the -ed suffix (pronounced as D or T). Although the ‘e’ in the spelling is silent, some speakers may perceive it as “permission” to add a vowel and break the cluster: wi-shed, bar-ked, ma-na-ged, etc.

Challenge #3: Replacing CH with SH

In MSA there is no distinction between SH and CH as in English. The CH sound might appear at the end of words, for example when verbs that end with a T sound receive the SH suffix of negation. Since the CH is not a distinct sound in MSA, speakers tend to change it to SH. So a word like ‘chip’ might sound like ‘ship’.

Challenge #4: Merging different vowels

In MSA, neither /ɛ/ nor /ɪ/ exists as a distinct sound in Arabic. Therefore, MSA speakers might confuse them with /i/ that exists in MSA and say ‘beat’ instead of ‘bit’ or ‘bet.

Challenge #5: Mispronouncing the STIR sound

There is no STIR vowel sound in MSA and speakers of MSA tend to replace this sound with a neutral vowel sound according to the vowel letter in the spelling. For example, a word like ‘bird’ might sound like ‘beard’.

And since the R in MSA is a trill sound, where the tip of your tongue touches the roof of the mouth, speakers of MSA also tend to use it in English instead of the English R. The English R is produced with no contact between the tongue and the roof of the mouth, while the sides of the tongue touch the sides of the teeth. In the workbook you’ll also be able to practice the English R sound.

Watch the episode English for Arabic Speakers: 5 Pronunciation Challenges, to understand the challenges and practice with me.

TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to the InFluency Podcast. I’m Hadar, and this is episode number 190. Today we’re going to talk about 5 of the biggest pronunciation challenges Arabic speakers face.

Hello, hello, everyone. How are you doing? So, as you know, I love analyzing languages. And I actually have a series of videos where I analyze two languages and tackle the most common pronunciation challenges certain speakers make. ‘Certain speakers’: it’s like a tongue twister, a bonus tongue twister for today’s podcast.

So, today we’re going to talk about Arabic. I’ve already done this for Brazilian Portuguese, and Russian, and Spanish, and Chinese, and Korean. And now it’s time to talk about Arabic. So, what I’m going to do is I’m going to compare the phonology and phonetics – the sounds and the rules of the language, of the pronunciation of the language – of Arabic and English – and the conflict that occurs for Arabic speakers when speaking English.

Now, by the way, if you’re not an Arabic speaker, a lot of the challenges that I’m going to talk about might be relevant for you as well. So, it might be interesting for you to listen to it as well. And also think about your language, you know, seeing how I compare the two languages. And then maybe coming up with your own challenges, understanding how these conflicts work. And of course, I’m going to give you some tips and strategies on how to practice that.

And as always, I also created for you a pronunciation guide for Arabic speakers. So, if you are an Arabic speaker or if you’re a teacher that works with Arabic speakers, then this is going to be extremely beneficial for you. Because there I share 10 pronunciation challenges, so I added 5 more, with exercises and drills to practice and implement what you learn. Because remember: it’s not just about learning it, it’s about putting it into practice, to make it your own and start making a change in how you speak. Cause it’s all about building pronunciation habits. I hope you already know that.

So, I think in the episode I mentioned that one of my goals for 2022 is to learn Arabic. And… I have not started with that goal just yet. And this is why I’m sharing it here in the podcast. So you all can hold me accountable. You’re like, “So Hadar, how’s your Arabic coming along, huh?” And I’ll be like, “Um, couldn’t find time to practice”. And then I can come up with a whole bunch of other excuses. But no, no, I’m committed to doing the work, to doing the thing.

Okay. So, if your thing is to improve your confidence and pronunciation in English, no matter what language you speak, this episode is going to be super interesting for you. So I hope you’ll enjoy it. Don’t forget to download the pronunciation guide. And let’s listen.

I personally do not speak Arabic, but I grew up in a house where my parents spoke Arabic with their parents. So, my dad is originally from Iraq, and I was exposed to Iraqi Arabic. And my mom is originally from Libya, so I was also exposed to Judeo-Tripolitanian Arabic. And from a young age, I realized that these two languages share a lot of similarities, but also are very, very different.

Which leads me to my next point – I know that there are a lot of dialects of Arabic. So today, I’m going to talk about modern standard Arabic. But a lot of the challenges that I’m going to talk about are relevant for most dialects of Arabic. So, if you’re an Arabic speaker and you would like to know how you can overcome some pronunciation challenges when speaking English, then this video is for you.

If you don’t speak Arabic, I have no doubt that still a lot of the things that I’m going to talk about might be relevant for you too, and you will find some answers here. So, be sure to watch the video as well. If you’re new to my channel, then hi, my name is Hadar. And I’m here to help you speak English with clarity, confidence, and freedom. You can connect with me on Instagram at @hadar.accentsway, or go to my website hadarshemesh.com and find a ton of free resources to help you reach your goals in English.

All right. So let’s get started with challenge number one. The first challenge is that in Arabic, the /p/ sound as in ‘pay’ or ‘price’ or ‘happen’ does not exist. In Arabic, there is only one stop sound that is produced with the lips, and that is the /b/ sound. The P and B are pairs, they’re actually produced in the same manner, but one is voiceless – /p/, and the other one is voiced – /b/.

So in Arabic, there’s only the voiced version. And therefore, a word like ‘pay’ might be pronounced as ‘bay’. And the word ‘price’ might be pronounced as ‘Bryce’.

So first of all, the understanding of the differences is key. Because physically you’re already pronouncing the sound, you’re already doing what it takes. So it’s all about shifting from a voiced sound, where the vocal chords are vibrating – /b/, to a voiceless sound, where the vocal chords are not my vibrating – /p/.

You want to think of the P like a B that is whispered. Think about it. If you want to say ‘bay’, and now you want to whisper it – whisper it with me – ‘pay’. The first sound is actually a P. So now let’s do it again, but this time activate your voice only on the second part of the word. ‘pay’, right. /b/ – /p/. /b/ – I’m doing the same thing here – /p/.

Another thing that can help is listening to the difference between /s/ and /z/. So, when you’re making the /s/ sound, that’s just air coming out. And when you’re making the /z/ sound that’s air with vibrations. And here, it’s easy for you to control between the voiced and voiceless sound. So if you shift between the two sounds – S-Z, and you do it slowly, put your hands on your throat, feel the vibrations for the voiced consonant, you’ll start to understand how you can actually control your voice. And when you realize how you can control your voice, you can apply that onto P-B.

Okay. So once you’re able to pronounce this sound in isolation, let’s put it in words. And that is the idea of practice: learning how to pronounce it in isolation, then practicing it in words, and then using the words in context. So, let’s try a few words: pay, peace, price, apple. Again: pay, peace, price, apple. Try it for a little bit, and then use these words in a sentence that you create. And then come back and report to me in the comments, how that went.

And now let’s practice minimal pairs, where we’re only changing that one sound and that changes the word completely. bro – pro, bro – pro. bay – pay. ‘bay’ – feel the vibrations, and now /p/ – no vibrations – ‘pay’. B – P, B – P.

There are more examples and more exercises in the pronunciation guide that I’ve prepared for you. You can download it by clicking the link below. The next challenge is Breaking Consonant Clusters. Clusters are sequences of consonant sounds – sounds that are stopped, partially stopped, or interrupted – like /p/, /k/, /ch/, /r/. So, a sequence of consonants without a vowel in the middle.

In modern standard Arabic, there are no clusters at the beginning of words, and very few clusters at the end of words. So Arabic speakers are simply not used to pronouncing clusters at the beginning of words. In fact, in their brain, it’s illegal to pronounce clusters of consonants at the beginning of words. In English, unfortunately, there are a lot of clusters at the beginning of words. And what happens is that there is this conflict when trying to pronounce words with a lot of clusters, like ‘spring’ or ‘street’.

So, what happens sometimes is that Arabic speakers might break the cluster and add vowels between the consonants so it’s easier to pronounce or it’s obeying the rules of Arabic. So instead of saying ‘spring’, they might add an /ɪ/ sound between the S and the P: ‘sipring’, ‘sipring’. Same thing with ‘street’. Instead of saying ‘street’, they might say ‘sitreet’, turning it into two syllables, and that makes it a little harder to understand. Because if people expect to hear one syllable – ‘spring’, and they hear two – ‘sipring’, they might think it’s a different word. And this is why it’s important to understand that and learn how to overcome that challenge.

So, to practice it effectively – and again, I prepared lists of words for you with relevant words that you can practice – you want to make sure that you are moving from one consonant to another slowly and intentionally without adding vowels. ‘spr’, right, ‘spring’. ‘stay’. ‘cream’. ‘splash’. Okay? So you want to make sure that you’re pronouncing every consonant one after another, and then you want to gradually go faster and faster. And then of course, always use it in context. So for example, if you’re practicing the word ‘spring’, ‘spring’, then you might want to put it in a sentence like: “You must believe in spring”. “You must believe in spring”.

All right, moving on to the next challenge. The next challenge is confusing the SH and CH sounds. So for example, instead of saying ‘cheep’, Arabic speakers might replace the /ch/ sound with /sh/ and say ‘sheep’. Here’s the thing. The /ch/ sound is not a distinct sound in Arabic. Sometimes it appears at the end of words, but it’s not a very distinct sound.

And this is why their brain kinda like filters it out sometimes. And what the mouth pronounces is the next best thing, which is a /sh/ sound. By the way, the difference between a SH and a CH is that the /sh/ sound is a fricative, so the sound is continuous. And the /ch/ sound is an affricate. So you block the air with a T, in a way, think about it – /t/. And then you release it into a /sh/ sound: ‘T+SH’. That’s the main difference. So that /ch/ sound is sometimes hard for Arabic speakers.

By the way, I have a masterclass about consonants, and it’s super elaborate. So if you want to learn more about the consonants of English and consonants in general, I recommend for you to watch it. I’m going to link to it in the description, so you can watch it and learn more about the pronunciation of English and consonants in particular.

All right. So now let’s practice a few words with a /ch/ sound. Remember, you want to think of it as if you’re pronouncing a T sound and then releasing it to a SH: ‘chain’. ‘chips’. ‘chicken’. And minimal pairs: sherry – cherry, sherry – cherry. ship – chip, ship – chip, ship – chip. shoe – chew, shoe – chew, shoe – chew. All right, great.

And just to remind you, we have a pronunciation guide with 10 pronunciation challenges. In this video, I’m going to cover 5, but there are 10 challenges that we collected for you. With exercises and audio, so you can practice with it and improve. And it’s absolutely free, you can click the link below and download it.

The next challenge is merging front vowel sounds. Vowels are sounds that are not interrupted, like ‘ei’, ‘a’, ‘ee’. And yes, I do have a masterclass about vowel sounds in English as well, I would not neglect vowels. It’s in the link below. And if you’re interested in learning more about pronunciation, I highly recommend it. It really opens up your mind and your ears, for sure.

So, in American English, there are several front vowel sounds. And I’m going to talk about three today: the tense /i/ as in ‘seat’, the lax /ɪ/ as in ‘sit’, and the /ɛ/ as in ‘set’, ‘red’, ‘head’. So again: /i/ – /ɪ/ – /ɛ/ seat – sit – set. Now, in Arabic, there’s only one front vowel sound, and that as the /i/ sound. There isn’t /ɪ/ nor /ɛ/. Okay? And this is where it starts getting confusing. Because the brain is like, “Okay, I have the sounds that I’m familiar with. And all of a sudden, I hear similar sounds. Probably they’re not that important, I’ll just put them in the box of /i/”.

So in a way, when Arabic speakers hear a word with /ɪ/ like ‘sit’, and a word with /ɛ/ as ‘set’, that might be categorized as /i/. So they may confuse this whole triplet of ‘seat’, ‘sit’, and ‘set’; or ‘beat’ ‘bit’ and ‘bet’. So that happens when hearing English, if you’re not used to hearing those differences, right? Because a lot of the work that we do is all about perception and recognizing the differences between the sounds, but also being able to pronounce it.

So, in order for you to not confuse ‘bit’ and ‘bet’, or ‘set’ and ‘sit’ and ‘seat’, or ‘led’ and ‘lid’ and ‘lead’, we want to first make sure that you’re able to produce those three sounds. So, the tense /i/, which is very similar to the Arabic /i/ so we don’t need to really work on it, but I’m going to explain what happens. The tongue rolls forward and the lips pull to the sides a bit: /i/. Okay?

The lax /ɪ/ happens when you drop your jaw a little bit, the tongue lowers, and the lips relax: /ɪ/, it’s more open, /ɪ/. You want to imagine as if you have more space between the tongue and the upper palate. Imagine like you’re putting a small marble or a candy or something like that on your tongue, and it’s not supposed to touch the upper palate – /ɪ/. Which is like you don’t care much: sit, kid, finish.

The /ɛ/ sound is even more open than that. The tongue is lower, so lower it. Use a mirror, see that your tongue is going a little lower. /ɛ/, the jaw drops. Use a mirror, if you need to: /ɛ/ – ‘set’. This sound is usually associated with a letter E: red, head, fled, enemy.

seat – sit – set. Lead – lid – led. beat – bit – bet. Pete – pit – pet. And yes, I did use the P to practice this. So you can put the two things that you’ve learned today and to practice. So let’s do it again: Pete – like someone’s name, it’s not ‘beat’ – Pete – pit – pet. Okay, good.

Now, if you want to practice these vowels even more, so it really is like a workout, I recommend for you to try out my Sprints, which are 10-minute drills that are designed to help you improve your pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. But I definitely go through those similar vowel sounds, especially the front vowel sounds. And we practice it in repetition, and it’s a lot of fun. So I’m going to link to all my Sprints right below the video.

Okay. So the final challenge for today – and remember, I’m only going to talk about 5 challenges, but I have a list with 10 challenges. So, if you want to find out what those 10 challenges are, you can download the pronunciation guide that is right below the video. And it’s absolutely free.

So, the final challenge is mispronouncing the /ɜɹ/ as in ‘stir’. Now, the /ɜɹ/ as in ‘stir’ is a special vowel sound. Because it’s always associated with the R sound, especially in American English, where the R is actually pronounced. And we find it in words like ‘sir, ‘term’, ‘bird’, and ‘learn’. Okay?

So what happens here is that you’re practically shifting from the consonant before the R to the R directly, skipping over the vowel sound. Technically, it’s a vowel letter. You’re pronouncing a vowel there, but you don’t feel it, like you want to connect it to the R. Again, especially in American English, where the R is actually pronounced.

‘perfect’. ‘learn’. ‘girl’, right? It’s not ‘gerl, it’s not ‘geerl’. Right? It’s ‘g’rrrl’. ‘word’. ‘term’. ‘firm’. Now, because this sound does not exist in Arabic, and also the R doesn’t really exist. The R in Arabic is ‘rrr’, right, a trilled R. Then usually Arabic speakers might just pronounce the vowel sound that is associated with a vowel letter.

And, you know, English is not a phonetic language. So the fact that there is the letter ‘i’ does not mean there is an /i/ sound there. And the fact that there is the letter ‘e’ does not mean that there is an /ɛ/ sound there. I know it’s really frustrating, but if you just decide not to count on the spelling, it will make your life a lot easier. I promise. And only follow your ears.

So, for example, if there is the word ‘bird’, Arabic speakers might say ‘beard’. Now, ‘beard’ is a different word and spelled differently, right? So, we want to make sure that we’re pronouncing it clearly and not phonetically. So, ‘bird’. ‘beard’ – ‘bird’. B – R, B – R. And by the way, for the R – and yes, it’s one of the challenges and it’s listed in the workbook – for the R you pull the tongue in: ‘bird’, ‘bird’. ‘firm’, not ‘fearm’. ‘word’. And not ‘ward’, that’s a different word. word – ward. bird – beard. stir – steer, stir – steer – two different words.

All right. So now, what is your biggest challenge? If you’re an Arabic speaker or if you’re not an Arabic speaker, but you realize that, “Hey, I am doing the same things as well”, so let me know in the comments. Also, I want to point out something really important: that mispronouncing sounds is part of speaking a second language. Do not feel bad about it, do not feel frustrated.

There is no bar that you need to pass in order to speak English. But these tools – understanding pronunciation and learning how to change your pronunciation – can help you become clearer. And when you’re clear, you become more confident and you know how to get what you want, which is ultimately the goal.

So, you want to become a confident speaker. And for that, becoming more aware of what comes out of your mouth is key. And this is why I’m making these videos – to help you be in control and in power when speaking English. But it does not mean that there is something wrong with you, if you are mispronouncing sounds, absolutely not. You’re human, and it just, you know, it’s part of the work. And mistakes, really, is the only way to learn. Right?

Okay. So, I hope this was helpful. Do not forget to come and connect with me on Instagram at @hadar.accentsway. I release videos there every single day: a lot of fun videos and reels and stories. So I’m inviting you to connect with me there.

And also I have a podcast, if you’re a podcast listener, it’s called the InFluency Podcast. And I release two different episodes every single week. So you can find it on your favorite platform and subscribe. And of course, subscribe to my YouTube channel if you haven’t yet.

So, that’s it. Thank you so much for watching. Have a beautiful, beautiful rest of the day. And I’ll see you next week in the next video. Bye.

The InFluency Podcast
The InFluency Podcast
190. The BIGGEST Pronunciation Challenges Arabic Speakers Face (and how to overcome them)
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Free English Pronunciation Guide for Arabic Speakers

Download the guide and audio to practice these challenges and transform your English.Get it

Which challenge should be your main focus? Let me know in the comments below.

See our American English pronunciation guides for Spanish, Russian, Brazilian, Chinese, Hindi-Urdu and Korean speakers.

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks you very much Hadar it’s really means to me a lot that u keeping with u r apdates so I love the videos and am suer that am gonna learn a lot from it.

  2. Hi Hadar, thanks for your amazing video , it helped me a lot . I am Libyan and Arabic speaking, the most pronunciation challenge was the difference between P and B but now I understand how to pronounce them .
    Thanks

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