English sounds difficult for Taiwanese to pronounce

I am trying to put together a list of sounds that Taiwanese people have difficulty pronouncing. Or, common stumbling blocks for the ESL learner in Taiwan, with the aim of coming up with solutions to pronunciation difficulties.

So far, I’ve come up with:

l/r/w - feel can sound like fear or feew

th (aspirated and non-aspirated) shank you, de bookuh (the book)

finals overcompensating or omitting (as in “Yessuh” for yes, sickussuh for “six” - adding an extra syllable or “tonigh” for tonight )

consonant clusters (more than one consonant together) puhlease for please, buhread for bread)

Am I missing any that you can think of?

Shankuh you :smiley:


She can often sound like the Mandarin- xu.

Z…is hard for the untrained to pronounce like ‘zoo’ for example will sound like roo or the mandarin- ru

Snake and snack- many taiwanese have problems with the short a sound

L as a final as in ‘doll’ they tend not to use the tongue to make the l sound and use the mandarin ‘ou’ instead

v, if unchecked can end up being too too much like b

these kinds of problems can be overcome simply be slowing the words down and repeating them, right?

  1. All final consonants.

  2. All long vowels, but especially long ‘a’.

  3. To a lesser extent ‘z’ and ‘th’.

  4. ‘R’ and ‘l’ confusion following by ‘b’, ‘p’ etc.

I think theses are the common ones. 1, and 2, for all speakers, and 3 or 4 for many. And every individual will have their own problems.


The [b]

I don’t get why ‘zoo’ is such a problem with some students. I can understand final consonants or ‘th’ being a problem because they’re either rare or non-exsistant in Chinese. But I would think that zoo is close enough to zu so as not to be a problem.

Michael Swan’s Learner English. Highlights pronunciation and syntactical problems of English learners, organized by their native languages. Not sure if you can get it in Taiwan, but you can order it from amazon.

There is a conscious/subconcious resistance to accurate pronunciation in another language. That is why you hear so many stupid mistakes. If you provide your students with a model that they can empathize or identify with in some way pronunciation mistakes sometimes practically disapear, at least momentarily. I had a student who could imitate Jennifer Anniston so well that I sometimes couldn’t tell the difference between them. When I am teaching pronunciation seriously I get my students to mimic an actor that they like and I want the whole deal: body language, facial expresion, tone of voice, blended thought groups…It is a fun, challenging and effective way to at least give your students a chance to see what it “feels like” to speak at a normal pace and rhythm.


Now, I knowa my a, b, shees, wha do you shink afu me?

yea J pronounced as ‘dzay’ that obviously comes from the lazy Taiwan style pronounciation of the Zh sounds in chinese

“zu” is pronounced somehing like “dzoo” rather than “zoo”. It’s an affricate rather than a pure sibilant like “z”.

What’s interesting is that many Taiwanese pronounce the Mandarin “r” like an English “z”, such as “z-ben” for “Japan”.

But it’s true that a lot of people in Taiwan pronounce “thousand” as if it were “thourand”.



More like “ello”

An XL size shirt is “e-ke-sz ello”!

But I think the “ello” comes from the pronunciation in the ABC song /ElamInopi/. You can try to correct it when singing the song to the kids by slowing it down and pronouncing each of those 5 letters separately, but if they have parents and grandparents reinforcing the mistake and telling them it’s correct, it makes it harder to fix the error.

Here’s a link to Michael Swan’s Learner English book online. You can look for the chapter of common errors made by Chinese speakers starting on page 312 of the document. It gives reasons for the interlanguage mistakes in addition to the common errors in pronunciation, syntax, spelling, grammar, and style with a literal and idiomatic translation of Chinese language.

You can thank me later. :wink:

I think worrying about English sounds that are difficult for Taiwanese to pronounce is jumping the gun a little bit. I have adult students that couldn’t differentiate the pronounciations of shan (mountain) and san (three) if their life depended on it. Why is standard pronunciation of Mandarin not taught here? :unamused:

And I bet there are Canadians who couldn’t manage a decent British accent to save their lives. Why isn’t standard (RP) English taught there? What’s that? You mean you don’t need a ‘standard’ English accent to understand each other, nor do you want one? Gee, I would never have thought of that :smiley:

And I bet there are Canadians who couldn’t manage a decent British accent to save their lives. Why isn’t standard (RP) English taught there?[/quote]
I don’t think that’s a relevant analogy. :eh: I’m talking about the ability to distinguish between consonants. As far as I know, this is not a problem common in English-speaking countries, regardless of accents.

We could go on and on about how what is defined as the Chinese language is really an agglutination of different languages but considered having varied dialects, kinda like the idea of the third largest country in the world being in one single time zone, whereas other mutually intelligible languages like Croatian and Bosnian, which were in fact dialects, are considered separate languages.

English has many dialects, but each dialect’s speakers can speak to one another for the most part and understand each other to a point. Since learners are learning the rules for pronunciation, grammar, syntax, semantics, etc. it becomes more difficult for them to learn different sets of rules from different speakers, especially if they are not aware that these are different dialects. What can, and often does happen in this situation, is that they mix up their Englishes. While it is still intelligible to speakers of different kinds of English, it causes problems when these learners go on to take English competency tests.
In a pure mind of cause, I understand why American English is more desired in Taiwan just as I understand why British English is more desired in, oh say, France since the majority of people who immigrate from Taiwan wind up in North America.

Thanks for the advice everyone.

Also, this was for a specific purpose - a pronunciation workshop.

Always funny to see how questions and answers morph into something completely different within a few days on Forumosa. :laughing: