Portuguese speakers special, part 1
The vowel sounds that cause problems for Portuguese speakers
Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 127th episode.
Hello Portuguese speakers! Many of you have asked me for a special episode, and here is part 1: vowels. I'm breaking this show up into parts because episodes that talk about specific language issues cover so many different concepts, it's just too much for one show. So part 1 will cover 5 vowels issues, and part 2 will cover 5 consonants issues. Since I still can't get into a huge amount of detail, I'll also link to the free Pronuncian lessons for each issue. That way you can learn more if you want to.
Here we go.
Issue 1: Pronouncing the short i as a long e
This is a problem not just for native Portuguese speakers, but for for almost all non-native English speakers. You know you have this problem if you are scared to talk to native speakers about going to the beach or to ask them for a sheet of paper. Your listeners may over-correct, and never really be sure which sound you're intending to say.
The short i is the vowel sound in the word sit, (short i), sit. The long e is the vowel sound in the word keep, (long e), keep. The tongue needs to be dropped a bit lower in the mouth to produce the short i sound. Learning to relax the tongue a little will also help. Listen to the difference, I'll say the short i, then the long e (short i - long e, short i - long e) sit, keep.
To practice, repeat these minimal pairs after me (I'll say the word with the short i sound first):
Issue 2: Incorrectly pronouncing the short a sound
The short a sounds like (short a), and is the vowel sound in the word cat. Portuguese speakers have two different sounds commonly used in place of the short a, the short e or the short o.
It takes a lot of effort to say the short a. The tongue is pushed forward, into your bottom front teeth (short a). If you are accidentally substituting the short e (short e), which is the sound in the word bed, your tongue is too relaxed and isn't pushed forward enough. Listen to the difference, I'll say the short a, then the short e (short a - short e, short a - short e), cat, bed.
To practice, repeat these short a/short e minimal pairs after me (I'll say the word with the short a sound first):
If you're accidentally substituting a short o (short o), the vowel sound of the word top, your tongue is also not forward enough. In addition, the center of your tongue is too low. Listen to the difference, I'll say the short a, then the short o (short a - short o, short a - short o) cat, top.
Let's practice. Repeat these short a/short o minimal pairs after me (I'll say the word with the short a sound first):
Issue 3: Pronouncing the long a as a short e sound
Remember, the long a is not a short a that takes more time; long a is only a name. The long a sounds like (long a), and is the vowel sound in the word cake. The long a is a two-sound vowel. It begins with the tongue neutral in the center of the mouth. Then the tongue rises to a sound similar to a y sound. This means that the tongue is moved close to the hard palate and the back of the tooth ridge.
Remember, the short e is a neutral and relaxed sound created with the tongue slightly raised in the middle; it's the vowel sound of the word bed, (short e), bed. The short e is actually very similar to the beginning of the long a. So the problem occurs when the second part of the long a is not produced. Listen to the difference, I'll say the long a, then the short e (long a - short e, long a - short e) cake, bed.
Repeat these long a/short e minimal pairs after me (I'll say the word with the long a sound first):
Issue 4: Not fully pronouncing the long o sound
You've heard it before, and I'm saying it again: the long o is not a short o that takes more time; it's only a name. The long o sounds like (long o), and is the vowel sound in the word home. The long o is another two-sound vowel. It begins with the tongue low in the mouth, then transitions into a sound very similar to a w sound. This means that the tongue rises in the back at the same time as the lips are made into a slight circle. The second part of the long o sound is very important, and not completing it will cause miscommunication. Listen to the sound again (long o), home.
I'm going to compare the long o with the short u, since the short u is the most neutral vowel sound. Comparing it with the short u will help you hear both parts of the long o. I'll say the word with the long o sound first:
Issue 5: Not reducing vowel sounds
Our last two podcasts were about vowel sounds being reduced to schwa or the short i sound. I gave lots of examples of words that sound very different when unstressed syllables are not reduced. This included the words advocate, company, electric, and election.
Here are three more words that should have a reduced vowel sound on the unstressed syllable. Repeat these words after me:
I want to add to the idea of reduced vowels and include schwa+r as well. Remember, any vowel+r spelling can be pronounced as schwa+r when it occurs on an unstressed syllable. This means that the word doctor is not pronounced doctOR, and forget isn't pronounced fORget and dollar isn't pronounced dollAR. Those words are doctor, forget, and dollar.
I'll say those words again, and you can repeat after me:
That was a lot of information! So I hope you'll forgive me for making you wait for part 2, which will be published after our next podcast. As I mentioned at the beginning of this show, I'll link to the Pronuncian lessons that correspond to all of these issues along with this show's transcripts. Podcast transcripts can be found by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. If you want additional listening and pronunciation practice, consider supporting this show and becoming a Pronuncian subscriber. Subscribers get full site access, including all of our listening exercises and quizzes, plus the TrueVoice feature which allows you to record yourself and compare with a native speaker.
Another fun way to repeat native speakers is to listen to and repeat parts of an audiobook. You can get a free audiobook by signing up for a 14-day Audible.com trial. Just go to www.audiblepodcast.com/pronuncian. They have a huge selection of books, and even if you cancel your subscription before the 14 days is up, you get to keep your free audiobook.
With that, I will end today's show. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.
Thanks for listening.
About the ESL/ELL Teacher
Mandy has been teaching ESL, pronunciation and accent reduction since 2005 at Seattle Learning Academy, an English language school in Seattle, Washington, USA. She uses her experience with intermediate to advanced students to create the topics that most affect students living and working in the United States and can help them communicate better and more clearly.