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Pronunciation Challenges Chinese Speakers Face in English

Download FREE English Pronunciation Guide for Chinese Speakers

In this episode, you’ll learn 5 of the most common pronunciation challenges Chinese 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 (Chinese). 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 Chinese Speakers.


The InFluency Podcast
The InFluency Podcast
70. 5 Common Pronunciation Mistakes Chinese Speakers Make

Challenge #1: Breaking Consonant Clusters

In Chinese, there are no clusters at the end of syllables, while at the beginning of syllables there can only be 2 consonants in a row, but only if the second consonant is a Y or W sound.

Therefore, Chinese speakers tend to break clusters in English words in one of two ways, either by adding a vowel between them, or by dropping one or more consonants. For example, a word like ‘camp’ might be pronounced as ‘cam’, a word like ‘bring’ might sound like ‘bwing’, and a word like ‘ask’ – as ‘as-ke’.

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

Challenge #2: Simplifying Diphthongs

Chinese has the same diphthongs as English (except for ‘oy’) and several more, but they tend to change into monophthongs, where only the first vowel is pronounced. Chinese speakers sometimes apply this in English as well, so in fast speech a word like ‘pain’ may sound like ‘pen’, and ‘night’ like ‘nut’.

Challenge #3: No Dark L

The L in Mandarin Chinese is light – /l/, and it’s not permitted at the end of syllables. When MC speakers switch to English, they hear that there’s a difference in pronunciation, and they associate the dark L /ɫ/ with a different sound, not an L.

As a result, and especially because /l/ is not permitted at the end of syllables, they tend to replace the L with a vowel, usually [ə] or unrounded u. For example, a word like ‘people’ might sound like ‘pipo’, and a word like ‘feel’ might be pronounced like ‘fiu’.

Challenge #4: Applying Chinese Prosody

In Mandarin Chinese syllables are generally stressed evenly, unlike in English, where more important words are longer and different in pitch, while less important words (function words) are usually reduced.

MC speakers may carry over the stressing pattern of MC into English, and as a result it may affect their flow and intelligibility, as there is no distinction between important words and less important words, as required in English.

Also, applying tones onto English unintentionally may also affect the speaker’s intelligibility, as higher pitch (the result of applying certain tones) is associated with emphasis, and as a result, less important words seem to be stressed.

Challenge #5: Replacing N with NG

In Mandarin Chinese, the /n/ may be dropped at the end of a syllable. MC speakers tend to keep their tongue down instead of lifting the tip for the /n/, and instead, nasalize the vowel before.

This frequent nasalization of the vowels is responsible for the nasal voice quality of MC speakers. As a result, it may seem as if the /n/ is replaced with /ŋ/ (the NG sound), and words like ‘sin’ and ‘thin’ might sound like ‘sing’ and ‘thing’.

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

Download a FREE English Pronunciation guide for Chinese speakers

“Get a head start the most common pronunciation challenges explained, tips to improve, examples and additional practice resources!
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4 Responses

  1. Dear Hadar. I’ve been with you for two years now. Today I watched this video again, and realized you taught all these implicitly in your programs, that is why my English is really improved. I am a mandarin Chinese speaker. I am learning English for my whole life, and you are the best.Thank you Hadar !

  2. Dear Hadar,
    You nailed every mispronunciation that we make in your video Challenges that Mandarin Chinese Speakers face! I am Chinese mandarin speaker and I just finished New Sound program, which is incredibly beneficial! The program definitely is my life changer! I love you and everyone in the program including my fellow New Sounders ❤️ I am so impressed that you have investigated every single language to pin down the areas each language and speaker needs to work on!!! Among the 5 challenges in this video, the words end with “n” is the most challenging to me and I have been working on it. You provided very practical techniques to help me in this video and New Sound. Thank you and will see you soon in Beyond when my life slows down ❤️
    Xiangying Jensen

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