Anglophone pronunciation of foreign languages

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The following is a list of common non-native pronunciations that English speakers make when trying to speak foreign languages. Many of these are due to transfer of phonological rules from English to the new language as well as differences in grammar and syntax that they encounter.

This article uses International Phonetic Alphabet pronunciation. See Help:IPA pronunciation key and IPA chart for English for an introduction.


  • While English speakers tend to assimilate /m/ to [ɱ] before /f/ or /v/, as well /n/ to [ŋ] before /k/ or /ɡ/, neither of which occurs in "strictly regular" Esperanto.[1] However, since Zamenhof himself recognized this type of assimilation, there is debate over whether this is actually an error.
  • Speakers tend to pronounce Esperanto /ɛ/ as [eɪ], the vowel of pay.[2]
  • Speakers tend to reduce unstressed vowels.[3]
  • Speakers tend to pronounce /x/ as [k] or otherwise have a hard time pronouncing it. This sort of difficulty is behind the gradual shift from ⟨ĥ⟩ to ⟨k⟩ (see Esperanto phonology#Loss of phonemic ĥ).[4]
  • Speakers tend to pronounce the rhotic consonant as [ɹ], rather than an alveolar trill. Speakers of non-rhotic accents tend to mute the r when at end of a word or before consonant.[5]
  • Other pronunciation difficulties are related to spelling pronunciations of digraphs. The digraph ⟨sc⟩ represents /st͡s/, though speakers may substitute [s] or [sk]. The digraph ⟨kn⟩ represents /kn/, though speakers may mute the /k/. The ⟨g⟩ in the digraph ⟨ng⟩ is always pronounced.[6]


There are several German vowels that create problems for English speakers:

  • One of the most difficult is German /eː/ as it is further forward in the mouth than in varieties of Standard English so that speakers may pronounce German Geht as if it were English gate.[7]
  • Similarly, speakers may pronounce German /oː/ with the vowel of goat so that ohne is pronounced [ˈəʊnə].[8]
  • English speakers tend to have difficulty with the front rounded vowels, /øː/, /œ/, /yː/, and /ʏ/.[9]
  • Speakers have some difficulty with German /a/ and /aː/, which may be pronounced as [æ] and [ɑː], respectively.[10]
  • English speakers also have difficulty with the two sounds represented by ch ([x] and [ç]) in German, particularly the latter.[11] Often both are replaced with [k]; replacement of [ç] with [ʃ] is also common. They also have difficulty with the guttural r of most German dialects.[12][better source needed]

Mandarin Chinese[edit]


  • Some speakers have difficulty with the trilled [r] in Russian, especially the palatalized [rʲ] since neither are sounds of English.[14]
    • Non-rhotic speakers, even after learning the rolled-r, are prone to omit /r/ in such Russian words as удар [uˈdar] ('blow') and горка [ˈɡorkə] ('hillock').
  • Depending on the speaker's dialect, they may have difficulty with "dark l" [ɫ] (that is, velarized [l], which in Russian contrasts with a palatalized [lʲ]) in positions other than in the syllable coda.[15]
  • Difficulty with Russian vowels:
    • Most English speakers have no [ɨ] (although it is an allophone in some dialects, see weak vowel merger) and speakers generally have difficulty producing the sound.[16] They may instead produce [ɪ].
    • Speakers may replace /e/ with the diphthong in day. e.g. [ˈdeɪlə] instead of [ˈdʲelə] дело ('affair').[17]
    • Speakers are likely to diphthongize /u/, making сижу [sʲɪˈʐu] ('I sit') sound more like [sɪˈʒʊu]. Some speakers may also universally front it to [ʉ].[18]
    • Speakers may also diphthongize /i/ in a similar fashion, especially in open syllables.[19]
    • Speakers may have difficulty with Russian /o/, pronouncing it as either [ɔ] or [oʊ].[20]
    • It is likely that speakers will make the second element of Russian diphthongs insufficiently close, making them resemble English diphthongs (e.g., [druzʲeɪ] instead of [druzʲej]) or pronounce it too long.[21]
    • Speakers may pronounce /a/ as [æ] in closed syllables так ('so') and [ɑ] in open syllables два ('two').[22]
  • Speakers may also have difficulty with the Russian vowel reduction system as well as other allophonic vowels.
    • Tendency to reverse the distribution of [ɐ] and [ə]. English speakers tend to pronounce [ə] in the pretonic position, right where [ɐ] is required in Russian, while they pronounce [ɐ] in pre-pretonic positions, where [ə] occurs. Thus, speakers may say голова ('head') as [ɡɐləˈva] instead of [ɡəlɐˈva] and сторона ('side') as [stɐrəˈna] instead of [stərɐˈna].[23]
  • There are no cues to indicate correct stress in Russian. Speakers must memorize where primary and secondary stress resides in each word and are likely to make mistakes.[24]
  • Speakers tend to fail to geminate double consonants.[25]

See also[edit]



  • Blanke, Detlev (2001), Studoj pri interlingvistiko, Studien zur Interlinguistik (in Esperanto and German), KAVA-PECH, ISBN 80-85853-53-1 
  • Gottfried, T.L.; Suiter, T.L. (1997), "Effect of linguistic experience on the identification of Mandarin tones", Journal of Phonetics, 25: 207–231, doi:10.1006/jpho.1997.0042 
  • Hall, Christopher (2003), Modern German pronunciation: An introduction for speakers of English (2nd ed.), New York: Manchester University Press 
  • Jones, Daniel; Dennis, Ward (1969), The Phonetics of Russian, Cambridge University Press 
  • Zamenhof, L.L. (1963), Fundamento de Esperanto, Esperantaj Francaj Eldonoj