Anyone who speaks Portuguese knows how different it is from English. Due to these differences, we can expect mistakes to occur in all areas of language usage. Even if the person is fluent, errors often appear naturally as a result of their mother tongue. This makes it important to practise and develop an understanding of the most common mistakes. You can then better avoid these in future.
• 10 common pronunciation errors
• 10 common grammar mistakes
• 10 common spelling errors
• 10 common listening mistakes
This is one of the top mistakes Portuguese natives make when speaking English. A mixture of vocal musculature and habit are the reason for such difficulty when it comes to the ‘th’ sound in English. Most Portuguese speakers don’t see a clear difference in the pronunciation of ‘day’ and ‘they’. The key is to regularly practise the English ‘th’ sound.
You need to vibrate your tongue against the bottom of your upper front teeth with an open mouth to properly pronounce words like ‘the’, ‘they’, and ‘them’. For words like ‘mouth’, ‘south’, and ‘truth’, you tap your tongue on your front teeth while gently blowing out and then pull it back quickly.
Minimal pairs are words that vary by only a single sound – vowel or consonant. There are several minimal pairs in the English language and for ESL learners they can be very hard to differentiate. Some examples are:
Rich / Reach
Pack / Puck
Put / Pot
Sing / Thing
This is another extremely common mistake amongst Portuguese speakers. Most ESL learners pronounce ‘ed’ as a separate sound within the word, which is incorrect. The proper English pronunciation of the ‘ed’ sound will finish on the hard consonant sound of ‘d’ or ‘t’. For example:
Shocked = correct spelling
Shock-ed (/ʃɒked/) = incorrect pronunciation
Shokt (/ʃɒkt/)= correct pronunciation
In Portuguese you don’t really pronounce the ‘h’ sound. For example, a name like ‘Helena’ (Portuguese: Relena) would be pronounced ‘Elena’ by a Portuguese native. So, words like ‘hear’ and ‘high’ are often incorrectly pronounced as ‘ear’ and ‘I’. Portuguese speakers need to be aware that in English a written ‘h’ is usually pronounced (although there are some exceptions, such as ‘vehicle’).
Words that end in ‘T’ in Portuguese are usually pronounced without any reduction in the final sound. For example, a Portuguese speaker with poor English might incorrectly say ‘party’ instead of ‘part’ because in Portuguese you usually pronounce all of the letters or sounds fully. However, in words such as ‘part’, ‘court’, ‘cart’ etc. the ‘t’ is a softer ‘tuh’ sound, rather than ‘tee’ (as when reading the alphabet).
When you pronounce the letter ‘s’ in Portuguese it sounds like ‘ese’, so the inclusion of extra vowel sounds in words that begin with ‘s’ in English can be a challenge for Portuguese speakers. Words such as ‘strap’ might be pronounced ‘estrap’, which is wrong. Another example is ‘strange’ becoming ‘estrange’ (difference meaning in English).
Words in Portuguese that end in the letters ‘m’ or ‘n’ sound as if there’s a ‘g’ added to the end of the word (e.g. bem, tem, sem). Due to this, it’s common that Portuguese speakers create a nasalisation of the final ‘m’ or ‘n’ sounds in English words. For example, ‘ran’ might become ‘rang’ or ‘can’ could be pronounced ‘cang’.
8. Differentiating words with ‘P’ vs. ’B’ and ‘G’ vs. ‘K’ sounds
Many Portuguese speakers of English have difficulty distinguishing between words like pig/big or gale/kale. This is because the letters P, B, G and K are pronounced differently in each language:
P (pee – ENG) vs. (pe – PT)
B (bee – ENG) vs. (be – PT)
G (gee – ENG) vs. (je – PT)
K (kay – ENG) vs. (kah – PT)
Native English speakers often pronounce these letters as aspirated phonemes, which means more air is pushed out just after the sound. This doesn’t happen in Portuguese, so this skill must be learnt through speaking English.
One annoying thing about the English language is that there are a lot of silent letters. Portuguese natives often make mistakes with words ending in ‘b’. In English, words such as ‘bomb’, ‘lamb ‘and ‘comb’ are pronounced ‘bom’, ‘lam’ and ‘com’. You don’t pronounce the ‘b’ at all. Portuguesespeakers should keep in mind that when it comes to English not all letters will be pronounced the way they look, and some will even be silent!
Portuguese speakers tend to make this mistake because they end up going back to the Portuguese rules of phonetics. In words that phonetically sound like they end in a consonant, such as ‘take’, ‘have’ and ‘like’, they might add an extra ‘e’ to produce ‘takee’, ‘havee’ and ‘likee’.
I am 22 years-old. ✓
Since in Portuguese you don’t say you are a certain age but rather you have that age, this mistake is very common amongst Portuguese speakers. Always remember that in English you are the age, you don’t have it.
We had a party for her birthday. ✓
In English, you don’t ‘make’ a party you either ‘throw’ or ‘have’ one!
I only have three more days of school left. ✓
In Portuguese the number goes after the word ‘more’, but remember that in English the number goes before!
I have been learning English since I was at primary school. ✓
In this example, the speaker started learning English in the past (when they were in primary school) and is still learning English right now. Contrary to what is learned in Portuguese (that you can use the present continuous to express this), in English you need to use the present perfect tense to show this uncompleted action from the past.
I said to her that she shouldn’t buy a new purse. ✓
‘For’ and ‘do’ can be confusing to Portuguese speakers since they have the same word for both. ‘Para’ has multiple meanings (for, do, stop etc.) so it should be noted that in the example above ‘for’ doesn’t work with ‘say’. When it comes to the verb ‘say’ in the past, you should always use ‘to’ not ‘for’.
Some people like to go to the beach to relax. ✓
Another mistake involving ‘for’ and ‘to’. In English when you give a reason for doing something you use the preposition ‘to’ and not ‘for’. When it comes to giving reasons for something always use ‘to’!
I went to the shopping mall/centre to buy a new outfit.✓
In Brazilian Portuguese a shopping mall/centre is usually just called ‘shopping’. However, in English, you say shopping mall (US) or shopping centre (UK).
I couldn’t do anything about it. ✓
If you have a negative word around the start of the phrase (such as couldn’t/could not), the following word cannot be a ‘no’ word (e.g. nothing). You should use an ‘any’ word (e.g. anything).
B: Yes, I told. X
B: Yes, I told him.✓
Personal pronouns, especially direct object pronouns, are often omitted in Portuguese, which leads to mistakes such as ‘I told’(eudisse). In English you wouldn’t omit ‘him’, you would say ‘I told him’ (eudisse a ele).
She is coming, isn’t she? ✓
In Portuguese it makes perfect sense to use isn’t it (não é) for this phrase but this is not so in English. In this context, there is only one tag question in Portuguese, in contrast to English which has several different ones depending on the tense and form of the opening words. In this example, you wouldn’t use ‘it’ at the end of the phrase but rather ‘she’ because you’re talking about a person, not a thing.
This type of mistake is often made by native English speakers so by avoiding these errors you’re definitely on the path to perfecting your language skills! ‘You’re’ and ‘your’ sound the same, but they mean different things. ‘You’re’ is short for ‘you are’, while ‘your’ is a possessive (meaning something belongs to you). So, you use them in different situations:
You are beautiful. (voce é bonito/a)
Your shoe is black. (seu sapato é preto)
This is a similar mistake to the previous one and another that is often made by native English speakers. This is probably because possessives normally have an apostrophe in them (e.g. Paula’s cookies are delicious). ‘Its’, despite being a possessive (just like ‘yours’) does not. While ‘It’s’ is a shortened version of ‘it is’. In consequence, they sound the same but have different meanings. Here are some examples to illustrate their use:
It’s a beautiful day. (Está um dialindo)
This milk is past its expiration date. (Este leite passou da data de validade)
These two words might not look very different, but the spelling matters! ‘Everyday’ is an adjective used to describe something that is seen or used every day (daily). Synonyms for it are ‘ordinary’ or ‘typical’. Meanwhile, ‘every day’ is a phrase that simply means ‘each day’. Look at the examples below:
I wear black jeans every day. (Eu uso jeans pretotodososdias)
This doesn’t taste like my everyday coffee. (Isso não tem o mesmo gosto do meu café de todos os dias)
While this might not be considered a spelling mistake, it is common for Portuguese speakers to write dates in an incorrect way. Here’s how to do it properly.
In British English, any of these forms are considered correct:
10 March 2018
10th March 2018
the 10th of March 2018
In American English, you can use these forms:
March 10, 2018
Saturday, March 10, 2018
The letter ‘w’ doesn’t exist in the Portuguese alphabet so dealing with this letter can be confusing to Portuguese speakers. It is a common mistake to think that words beginning with ‘wr’ are only spelled with an ‘r’. For example the word ‘writing’ can sometimes be misspelled ‘riting’.
‘Definitely’ is most certainly a word that even native English speakers find hard to get right. It’s also one of the top words that Portuguese speakers tend to misspell. Mistakes such as ‘definately’, ‘definetely’, or ‘definitily’ are the most common ones. Make sure to not write any of those and always stick with D-E-F-I-N-I-T-E-L-Y.
Like ‘definitely’, this day of the week is another easy one to misspell. The silent ‘d’ leads to errors like ‘Wensday’ or ‘Wansday’.
Another word that is often misspelled is ‘responsible’. Since ‘responsible’ in Portuguese is Responsável, writing ‘responsable’ instead of ‘responsible’ is extremely common amongst Portuguese speakers.
‘Separate’ in Portuguese is separado(a). This similar sound and spelling can cause issues for Portuguese speakers of English. Mistakes like ‘seprate’ frequently occur because when you actually say the word, you only say two syllables, even though it’s actually spelled with three.
The words ‘accommodate’ and ‘accommodation’ are often misspelled by native English speaker and foreigners alike. Common misspellings are ‘accomodate’ or ‘accomodation’. Always remember that these two words have 2 C’s and 2 M’s!
You might think this is a minimal pair, but these two words sound exactly the same! This can lead Portuguese speakers to use one word when they actually mean the other. It’s important to know exactly what they mean so you can use them in the correct context:
Week (Semana) – ‘I had a great week working in the school.’ (Eu tiveumaótimasemanatrabalhandonaescola)
Weak (Fraco/a) – ‘I’ve been so ill, I feel weak all the time.’ (Eu tenhoestadotãodoente, me sintofraco o tempo todo)
‘Accepted’ and ‘excepted’ are commonly mistaken for one another because they sound similar. Remember that both their spelling and meaning are different:
Accepted (Aceito/a) – Widely used, recognized, or approved. E.g. ‘An accepted treatment for pneumonia are antibiotics.’ (Um tratamento aceito para a pneumonia são antibióticos)
Excepted (Excetuado/a) – To leave out; exclude. E.g. ‘An admission fee is charged, but children are excepted/exempted.’ (Uma taxa de admissão é cobrada, mas as crianças são excetuadas)
Because these words sound exactly the same, getting them mixed up is not uncommon. For you to be able to properly differentiate them you have to know their meaning so you can tell which one is being used based on the context:
To (preposition/preposição) – ‘I am going to buy a cake.’ (Eu vou comprar um bolo)
Two (the number 2 in written form/o número 2 escritoporextenso) – ‘There are two bathrooms in my house.’ (Hádoisbanheirosnaminha casa)
Too (to a higher degree than is desirable/muito) – ‘He was driving too fast.’ (Eleestavadirigindomuitorapido) OR Too (in addition; also/também) ‘I want to play too.’ (Eu tambémquerobrincar)
This mistake also falls under the spelling and pronunciation category but it’s mostly to do with listening. There are words in the English language, such as ‘knee’ (joelho) and ‘knowledge’ (conhecimento) that are spelt with a silent ‘k’. This means that you don’t pronounce the ‘k’ at all.
Also called “false friends” (https://onlineteachersuk.com/false-friends-english-portuguese/), these kinds of words can be extremely annoying to ESL learners. One of the top misused words by Portuguese speakers is ‘fantasy’. It sounds a lot like ‘fantasia’, which means ‘costume’ in Portuguese, but in English it actually means the faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things. In Portuguese, it actually means both things but the problem here is saying ‘fantasy’ when you actually mean ‘costume’.
Fantasy – ‘I had this fantasy that I would live in a big mansion.’ (Eu tinha essa fantasia de que eu iria morar em uma grande mansão)
Costume –‘ I will wear a witch costume for Halloween.’ (Eu vou usar uma fantasia de bruxa para o Halloween)
‘Kitchen’ and ‘chicken’ are two words that get easily mixed up by Portuguese speakers. This is no surprise because the letters k/w/y didn’t use to be part of the Portuguese alphabet. They were only used in some foreign words borrowed into Portuguese. Not only that, but the ‘k’ sound in Portuguese can be replaced with ‘c’ or with ‘qu’. This means that Portuguese speakers may not be so familiar with the use of ‘k’.
Just like the week/weak example, ‘bear’ and ‘bare’ may sound the same. However, you can distinguish them as long as you know what each word means.
8. Weather vs. Whether
Another pair of words that need to have their meanings memorised in order to use them properly:
Weather/Clima – ‘We’ve been having terrible weather.’ (Estamos tendo um clima terrivel ultimamente)
Whether/Se – ‘I’ll see whether she’s at home.’ (Eu vou ver se ela esta em casa)
English has an annoying habit of changing the sound of the word according to its form. For example, the word ‘resign’ rhymes with ‘line’. So, when an ESL learner reads
‘resignation’ they might think it has the same pronunciation as in ‘resign’. However, this is not the case and the ‘ig’ in ‘resignation’ is pronounced.
These two word also fall into the pronunciation category but the reason they are in the listening one is because you can distinguish them best based on what you hear. ‘Breath’ means respiração (e.g. A breath of fresh air = Um sopro de air fresco), while ‘breathe’ is a verb, meaning respirar. (e.g. I can’t breathe = Eu naoconsigorespirar). The difference is in the middle of the word. The underlined part in ‘breathe’ sounds like the letter iin Portuguese. While in ‘breath’, the underlined bit sounds like bré.
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