Most of my students have a frustrating story where they’re talking to a native speaker and they say something that sounds, to their own ears, SOOOOO perfect, but to the native speaker sounds just a little, teensy-weenie bit off. Result? the native speaker has no idea what the Brazilian said. It goes a little something like this:
Brazilian: “Excuse me, can you tell me where is the bitch.” (common grammar mistake included)
Native: “What? The bitch? The bitch? What are you talking…oh! You mean the “beach”?
Brazilian: Yes, that’s what I said. Bitch.
If you are intrepid enough, you can look up what the differences in pronunciation and meaning are if you didn’t understand this little story. Anyway, this is the same case for this particular mistake in the video above. For some reason, and I have a theory I’d like to propose, Brazilians will leave out the final “y” sound when it is pronounced like the long vowel “e” (the Portuguese “i”), especially when followed by fricatives and stops. That’s fancy linguistic terminology for the sounds produced by the letters p, b, t, d, g, and k, (these are the “stops”: air is blocked and stopped and then released from the mouth); and f, v, th- (both voiced and unvoiced), h, s, z, sh-, the zh sound (like in "vision"), ch and j like in my name, Josh. These are the fricatives. Think of “friction” and the idea of some resistance to air flow caused by the structures of the lips and tongue, but no complete stoppage, so the air continues to flow through the mouth. I said it was a little technical.
The mistake? Brazilians often just leave out this sound, which when spoken correctly, adds an entirely new syllable to the end of the word. I’ll give you a great example: you’ve got the word “health”, which means saúde in Portuguese. To create the adjective “healthy”, saudavél, you have to add that “y” sound like the Portuguese “i” at the end, and hold it for a beat: health-iiiiiiiiiiiii (exaggerate it a bit to get the feel).
The fix? Simple. When you come across this kind of word, which is actually extremely common, make sure you add that nice, extended iiiiiii sound to the end of it to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding. Here is a short list of similar words and their correct pronunciation. There are thousands of these kinds of words, by the way. These are just some of the more common words that are mispronounced.
STOPS/FRICATIVES FOLLOWED BY “Y”
OTHER CONSONANT SOUNDS
"Y" AS DIPHTHONG, OR GLIDING VOWEL
My theory why Brazilians do this? For whatever reason, I believe Brazilians see the “y” as if it corresponded to the Portuguese sound “i” that often comes at the end of the word, like in cidade, capacidade, atividade, publicidade, etc. Often this sound is cut short, not forming a complete new syllable to the word. So, for example, in Portuguese, a Brazilian might say cidade with only two or two and a bit syllables, and not three complete syllables. They’ll say ci-dad maravilhosa and not ci-da-diiii maravilhosa. When speaking English, and due to linguistic interference, the Brazilian will then see city and extrapolate that incomplete final syllabic sound and say “cit”, with one syllable, instead of the two-syllable “ci-tyyyy”.
Please forgive the somewhat technical nature of this post, but I believe pronunciation is super important, and understanding WHY mistakes happen is crucial to making sure you can stop them from happening in the future and avoid any misunderstandings or embarrassing situations.
I hope you enjoyed this post, and I’ll see you next time.