When speaking in a second language, people will use the structures and style of their native language.  This is called first language transfer, or L1 transfer.  L1 transfer can affect one’s pronunciation, grammar, spelling, word choice, and communication style.

To reduce your accent, become aware of how your L1 transfer negatively impacts your English pronunciation.

Chinese Speakers

When speaking English, the biggest areas of difficulty for most Chinese speakers are stress, linking, and lengthening syllables.

Below are a few common L1 transfer problems for Chinese speakers.

In Chinese, intonation is on the words, whereas in English, intonation affects the entire utterance (like a rising tone for a yes/no question). Chinese speakers may have difficulty hearing and applying English intonation patterns.

Stress: The rhythm of English is created through a combination of stressed and unstressed syllables. However, Chinese does not have many reduced syllables. Therefore, Chinese speakers tend to stress all syllables equally and clearly when speaking English, and find stress patterns difficult to hear and adopt. When all syllables are stressed equally, the rhythm is lost, and speech becomes hard to follow.

Linking: Linking runs words together in a fluent stream. Linking does not exist in Chinese. Unlike English, Chinese is basically a monosyllabic language, in which words predominantly consist of a single syllable.  Because of this, they may separate English words into syllables, rather than smoothly connecting them. This absence of linking makes speech sound choppy.

Vowels: Chinese has fewer vowel sounds than English, and so distinguishing the slight differences in sounds (eat, it) and the position of articulation (where your tongue, lips and jaw are) may be difficult. Vowels and diphthongs in Chinese are generally held for shorter period. Chinese speakers often need to lengthen their vowel sounds in English.

Consonants: Final consonants, and final consonant clusters, common in English, do not exist in Chinese. They can be very difficult to pronounce correctly. Chinese speakers often either drop the consonants completely, or break them up by inserting a vowel sound. Consonant placement also affects pronunciation. Some consonants are harder for Chinese speakers to pronounce when they are at the end of a word than at the beginning. For example the /l/ in the following words: like; people.