A Bilingual Child: Pronunciation interference

English: stamp with the words "Fail"...

(Wikipedia)

A while ago I was talking to a good friend of mine who used to be an English teacher, but who has now moved on to other things.  We were talking about how frustrating it can be teaching young children English and, despite only ever presenting them with ‘correct’ models of pronunciation, they still insist on saying them with a distinctive Brazilian accent.

One example of what we were talking about was the pronunciation of the word ‘red’ /red/.  A typical Brazilian pronunciation would be to say something that sounds like ‘hedgey’ /ˈhedʒɪ/.  There are three things going on here that give rise to the Brazilian sounding pronunciation: the first is that the letter ‘r’ /r/ is usually pronounced as the letter ‘h’ /h/ would be in English.  The next thing is that the letter ‘d’ is much softer in Portuguese than in English and so usually sounds like the letter ‘g’ in ‘gin’ /dʒ/.  And finally there is the tendency in Portuguese for some consonants to always be followed by a vowel.

Fortunately, I don’t have a class of three-year-olds to deal with, but I do have one two-and-a-half-year-old who we are bringing up to hopefully be bilingual English and Portuguese.  Obviously he would never say any English words with a Brazilian accent, would he?

Of course he would.

Prainha beach at São Francisco do Sul island, ...

Prainha beachy (Wikipedia)

Life’s beachy

During our recent summer holidays we spent 10 days at the beach in Sao Francisco do Sul in Santa Catarina.  It was baking hot with temperatures up around the 40 C mark so we had to ration the amount of time at the beach so we didn’t get burned to a cinder.  Our son, Mr. T was not too enamoured with this idea and kept demanding to go to the beach, or, as he said it, the beachy /ˈbiːtʃɪ/.

I was distraught.  I corrected him and said it was the beach, not the beachy.  I used exercises that have been useful with my students.  All to no avail.

I had failed.  Both as an English teacher and as a father.  My son is speaking English with a Brazilian accent because he is determined to add a vowel at the end of the word instead of just ending with a consonant.  He even seems to enjoy my displeasure now and shouts out beachy at the top of his voice.

I am glad, though, that at least he has got the long vowel right and isn’t saying /ˈbɪtʃ/

Other Brazilian pronunciations:

bike /bɑɪk/ is pronounced bikey /bɑɪkɪ/

watch /wɒtʃɪ/ is pronounced watchy /ˈwɒtʃɪ/ or washy /ˈwɒʃɪ/

hot /hɒt/ is pronounced otchy /ɒtʃɪ/

The Ramones /rəˈməʊnz/ is pronounced as Hamonees /hæˈməʊniːz/

Further Reading

After a couple of long journeys to Rio and Blumenau I am now in the middle of the third book of the ‘Foundation’ series by Isaac Asimov.  So far, it is almost as good as the first two.

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5 thoughts on “A Bilingual Child: Pronunciation interference

  1. Not sure if that helps, but I want to say: “Relax”!My girls still can’t pronunce the Polish “R”- they should roll it like in Spanish, but they pronunce it the German way (a little like in French). I think before I would be very distressed, but now I am not. Even if they have an accent, so what? And I think once they’re bigger- and I can tell them how to pronunce it, they will do that… and more exposure to Polish would definitely help as well.

    Reply
    • I’m not all that stressed out about it, to be honest. It was just very funny to see him running down the road shouting out ‘beachy’.

      I think what is important, though, is that I am aware of it and continue to produce a ‘correct’ model for him to eventually copy.

      Reply
  2. Don’t worry, he will grow up speaking a beautiful English (with or without a hint of an intriguing accent) and being the envy of all his peers struggling with the things which his insightful dad taught him when he was a little boy!

    Reply

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