09 May Most Common English Pronunciation Errors made by Arabic Speakers
Because there are so many dialects of Arabic, native language interference concerns in English phonology can be rather diverse.
Here are some commonly challenging aspects of English Pronunciation that Arabic speakers often encounter.
1. Consonant Clusters
Consonant clusters (or blends) occur when two or more consonants occur one after the other, such as in the words “stop” or “straight”. When first learning English phonology, Arabic speakers often insert a vowel to make the pronunciation of consonant clusters easier, pronouncing words like grey as gi-ray or spoon as si-poon.
Clusters with three consonants in succession appear fairly often in English, but they can be challenging for native Arabic speakers as no Arabic clusters have more than 2 consonants in a row.
strike, tasks, spilled, strings, strength, splash
2. “i” and “e”
While English has 20 vowels and diphthongs, Arabic typically has only 8 (three short, three long, and two diphthongs). Because of this, native Arabic speakers may often use a more limited range of vowels when first learning English phonology.
The most common confusion is between /ɪ/ and /e/, which can completely transform a word: consider, for example, the difference between till and tell, or bit and bet.
level, head, city, finish
Some elongated diphthongs, sometimes called double vowels, can be tough for native Arabic speakers to become accustomed to as only two exist in Arabic dialects while the English language features eight! In particular, /eɪ/ and /əʊ/ are often pronounced in too short a manner and tend to be mistaken for /e/ and /ɒ/.
Remember that diphthongs are two vowel sounds spoken in the same syllable: you can practise pronouncing them slowly while getting used to forming them with your mouth, before speaking at a regular pace.
day, pay, say, so, no, phone
4. Glottal Stop
When learning English phonology, native Arabic speakers will often insert a glottal stop before initial vowels. Though this is a common feature of Arabic dialects, when aiming for Received Pronunciation, inserting glottal stops in this position can impact the clarity, smoothness, and rhythm of speech.
Learning the rules of vowel and consonant joining will smooth out your speech tremendously and make you sound more fluent.
Learning connected speech using this e-book (+ audio) will also help a lot!
Emma‿always finds me‿eating‿apples in the‿airing cupboard!
5. /p/ vs. /b/
While English contains both the bilabial consonant /b/ and its voiceless counterpart /p/, Arabic dialects don’t present a distinction between these sounds. As a result, native Arabic speakers may replace the /p/ in English words with its closest alternative /b/, pronouncing words like “example” as “examble” and “pet” as “bet”. While we want to activate our vocal folds for the /b/ sound, the English /p/ sound is unvoiced and requires more aspiration (a puff of air) when released.
happy, properly, please, paper, problem
6. /v/ and /f/
Native Arabic speakers will often replace /v/ with /f/, pronouncing words like vacation or level as facation or lefel. This is because the voiced /v/ consonant sound doesn’t exist in Arabic dialects: as a result, the sound closest in similarity, /f/ is substituted in. To produce a /v/, touch your upper teeth to your bottom lip and vibrate the sound in this place, making your voice buzzy.
valley, flavour, favourite, vast, five
7. When “ch” merges with “sh” for Arabic speakers
Because /tʃ/ is not a distinct sound in Arabic, it can be tough for native Arabic speakers to get used to when first learning English phonology. They may substitute the more familiar /ʃ/ in its place, so words like which will be pronounced as wish. To produce this /tʃ/ sound, touch the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth and release with a sharp puff of air, ensuring that the speech sound cannot be held for any duration.
watch, twitch, situation, kitchen, each
Though /ŋ/ exists in both GB English and Arabic dialects, the different restrictions placed on it by each language can be challenging for new speakers to become accustomed to. In Arabic, /ŋ/ is only pronounced before /k/, while in English it can occur on its own in middle or final positions before many different consonants (without /g/ in Modern Received Pronunciation).
This is an important sound to become comfortable with as it occurs very often in English, denoting verb tense. While /n/ is produced with the tongue tip behind the teeth on the alveolar ridge, /ŋ/ is produce at the back of the mouth, with the back of the tongue making contact with the soft palate.
swinging, rung, tongue, along, running, bringing
Learn the precise rules of how to pronounce NG in the Complete English Pronunciation Course.
The British RP /r/ is pronounced in a vowel-like way with tension in the tongue. This is often challenging when your native language is Arabic. Practise bunching and tensing with these example words.
real, red, reason, ranch, reply
Learn exactly how to shape your mouth for the consonants of British English & master the rules here:
10. Staccato speech
Arabic is often articulated in a very energetic way and this energetic nature also often gets transferred into English. Arabic speakers who learn the precise rules and exceptions of English tone, stress, and rhythm can develop a smooth, British-sounding accent, placing emphasis where it is needed and reducing vowels that are typically weak. In this way, Arabic speakers can master the stress-timed patterns of Modern Received Pronunciation.
I’m \always here for you
Learn the rules and exceptions of English tone and melody using this e-book (+ audio)
Sign up for a course with British Accent Academy to reduce native language interference from Arabic or to work on any aspect of your pronunciation, intonation, and connected speech using a Modern Received Pronunciation model.