Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Pronunciation of English Consonants, Vowels and Diphthongs of Mandarin- Chinese Speakers

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Pronunciation of English Consonants, Vowels and Diphthongs of Mandarin- Chinese Speakers

Article excerpt


This paper aims to analyze the production of English consonants, vowels and diphthongs of Mandarin-Chinese speakers and find out problems existing in their English pronunciation. Based on the analysis of 50 participants recordings, it is concluded that the subjects have difficulty in pronouncing the dental fricatives /δ/ and /θ/ and the regular plural forms. In terms of vowels and diphthongs, major problems appear in confusion between /i:/, /I/ and /eI:/. The substitution of /s/ for /θ/ is typical for Mandarin speakers from Northern part of China. The findings may provide guidance for English teachers and learners when teaching or learning English pronunciation. Special attention should be paid to the problematic consonants, vowels and diphthongs.

Key words: Mandarin-Chinese speakers; Pronunciation; Consonants; Vowels; Diphthongs


English learners whose first languages are Asian language tend to show phonetic inaccuracies in their learning of English as second or foreign language (Flege, 1989; Flege & Davidian, 1985; Pittam & Ingram, 1992; Tarone, 1980; Wang, 1983; Yang, 1996, as cited in Yang 2001). From my own English learning and teaching experience, Mandarin speakers have distinctive features in the production of English sounds.

The study focuses on the segmental phonemes of English speech sounds, namely, consonants and vowels. Non-native speakers from different first language groups find various problems when learning English speech sounds. For Mandarin speakers, there are a few English consonants and vowels or diphthongs that are difficult for them to pronounce. For instance, many of them use substitutions /s/ and /z/ for interdental fricatives / W/ and /T/, which do not exist in Chinese language. So they have great difficulty in pronouncing /W/ and /T/. There are no plural forms in Chinese language, so the pronunciation of /s/, /z/, /Iz/ causes problems for Chinese speakers. In terms of vowels, some Chinese learners are unable to discriminate vowel contrasts. Diphthongs are frequently found mispronounced as well. In the process of learning a second or foreign language, the transfer of L1 phonological features has a great influence on L2 acquisition (Lado, 1964). Chinese pronunciation has an impact on learners' production of English sounds. So certain pronunciation features of Chinese speakers are closely related Chinese language. Their pronunciation features usually follow systematic patterns rather than randomly happen. The study aims to diagnose the problems in the Chinese Mandarin speakers' pronunciation in term of consonants, vowels and provide guidance for English teachers.


Menyuk (1968) and Schmidt (1977) claims that dental fricatives /W/ and /T/ are the last sounds that native speakers grasp in their language development and most frequently found to be substituted by other sounds. This probably explains why non-native speakers find problems in pronouncing the two sounds. One of the common difficulties for Mandarin speakers in learning English pronunciation is the sounds absent in Mandarin Chinese language (Chang, 2000), for instance, interdental fricative /W/ and /T/. Lu (2008) proposes that different languages choose /t, d/, /s, z/ or /f, v/ as substitutes for dental fricatives /W/ and /T /. The English noun plural forms which are very different from the formation of Chinese plural forms also create difficulties for Mandarin speakers morphologically (Liu et al., 2006). But little research has been conducted into the impact the phonological feature of English noun plural form may have on Chinese learners. Apart from consonants, a great deal of research has been carried out to explore the mispronunciation of vowels in Chinese learners' speech. Chang (2000) conducted an experiment in the pronunciation of English diphthong /eI/ by Chinese learners and the effect of the immediate phonetic contexts may have on the accuracy of the pronunciation of /eI/. …

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