English Pronunciation in Hong Kong - Major Problems

Do you often have to repeat yourself when communicating in English? Do you get blank looks and raised eyebrows when you are in meetings? Do you feel that people just don't understand what you are saying? Are there long pauses at the other end in teleconferences? If so, your English pronunciation may not be up to standard.

Communicating in English has always been a problem in Hong Kong. 98% of the population here speak Cantonese as their mother tongue, and although English is taught in schools from kindergarten upwards, it is hardly ever spoken outside the classroom.

As globalisation continues and Hong Kong's economy moves to become more service orientated, the need for English to communicate in business is growing at an ever increasing pace.

Many sounds in the English language just don't exist in Cantonese and so Hong Kong people have great difficulty in producing them. An "R" sounds like and "L" and so BLUE is pronounced like BREW. The "S" sound in SOCKS is pronounced like "SH" and becomes SHOCKS.

The three most common mistakes, however, are:

*"TH" sound replaced by "F"*

The inability to pronounce the "TH" sounds in words like Therapist. Instead, HK speakers say "Ferapist" The "TH" sounds is mistakenly pronounced "F" instead.

*Past Tense "ED" missed*

The past tense ED is often omitted and causes confusion with meaning as well as giving the impression of grammatical mistakes. Simple words like ENDED are pronounced as END

*Plural "S" missed or sounded when not present*

The omission of the plural "S" also gives rise to confusion of meaning, as well as grammatical inaccuracy. "I borrowed three book last week." instead of "I borrowed three books...."

Also common is the addition of an "S" when it is not needed. So, for instance, speakers add an extra "S" and LAST becomes LASTS.

English is just another language, and the purpose of any language is to communicate information. The ability to pronounce English correctly is one major step in making yourself better understood. And more importantly to stand out in the business world as a "good communicator".

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