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Teaching English pronunciation is a challenge, especially in mixed-language classrooms. When a teacher is aware of common pronunciation mistakes that are frequently shared among native speakers, students learn better. Pronunciation mistakes your Polish English language learners make can be corrected when the English teacher better understands what those common mistakes are.
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“Th" sounds like in “thing" and “that" are often pronounced as “ting" and “dat" by Polish speakers. You may also hear “vat" and “fing." Sometimes final consonants are devoiced and said voicelessly before a pause or if the next word to be said begins with a voiceless letter. For example, you may hear “tap" for the word “tab" or “slet" for “sled." The word “barge" may be said “barch." The letter “W" is usually pronounced as a “V" as it is in Polish by beginning English speakers.
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The Polish language has nine vowels, and their sounds do not change. This can create difficulties for Polish English language learners. For example, the short “A" sound as in “sat" or “hat" is often pronounced as a short “E" sound. “Sat" then becomes “set," and “hat" becomes “het." Polish speakers also take long vowel sounds and make them short. So, you may hear “foot" for “food," or “bet" or “bed" for “bird. Polish English language learners also often mix up the short “I" sound (as in “flit") with the sound of “EA" in “feat." In addition, you may hear the schwa sounding more like the short “E" sound. This can lead to changes in word stress. The “EA" sound in “dear" may sound more like “dir" with a short “I" sound; the “EA" in “pear" can sound like “per" with a short “E" sound when said by Polish speakers.
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English uses a rhythmic intonation system in its phrases and sentences whereas Polish is spoken with sentences or phrases divided into syllables more so than in English. The speaker’s pitch does not change much as a result. This can lead to a more monotone sound from Polish speakers when they speak in English.
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Polish words are often stressed on the second to last syllable. When a Pole speaks English, long words may have the stress the wrong syllable. This is also true in words where the last syllable is the one to receive the stress in English such as “canteen."
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Polish words are often spoken by native speakers with a hurriedly-said ending. This does not often change the meaning of the word. However, in English, words can change meaning based on the end sound of a word. Polish English language learners may have difficulty learning to say the end sounds of words. When they speak Polish, word endings tend to be said quickly and without much thought given to correct pronunciation.
As you teach, take into account Polish English language learners’ pronunciation mistakes. This will help you to guide your students as they learn English pronunciation. The more you know about Polish and its sounds, the better prepared you will be to help your students learn English sounds.
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- ProZ: Understanding Polish English Pronunciation-Tips for Interpreters and EFL Teachers: http://www.proz.com/translation-articles/articles/2461/1/Understanding-Polish-English-Pronunciation%3A-Tips-for-Interpreters-and-EFL-Teachers
- Polish-Translations: Difficulties in Speaking the Polish Language: http://www.polish-translations.com/speaking.html