If you want to be understood when speaking English, then correct pronunciation is vital. Russians tend to mispronounce English words that are similar to those in their native language and share the same origins.
In this article, we will examine several categories of words that lead to Russian mistakes in English pronunciation. By building our understanding of where our languages differ, we can learn to reduce interference from our mother tongue.
GREEK AND LATIN INFLUENCES
Over the course of time, English has borrowed extensively from Greek and Latin with lexis often entering the language via French. Russian is also no stranger to these languages and contains many terms similar to those borrowed into English. Problems arise when English and Russian have different ways of saying these words. There may be contrasting preferences in terms of stress and the pronunciation of certain letter combinations. It is worth spending a few minutes to learn the correct pronunciation of words that are already familiar to you.
The following table illustrates similar words in English and Russian with typical Russian mistakes listed in the third column (approximate pronunciations have been added):
Some of the Greek words in English have rather convoluted spellings and this can lead to pronunciation difficulties with “psy-” (psychology), “-rophe” (catastrophe), “pneu” (pneumatic), etc. Russian has similar words but tends to pronounce all of the sounds phonetically as in «психология» (psi-), «пневмония» (pnev-), etc. Medical terminology also draws heavily on Greek and Latin, creating difficulties of a similar nature. If you find this challenging, you’re not the only one – many native speakers of English struggle to spell the word “schizophrenia” correctly!
Another common mistake is pronouncing the “ch-” as /tʃ/ in words like “chemistry” and “character”. In Russian these words would be «химия» (kh-) and «характер» (k-) but the confusion probably arises from the English orthography here rather than these Russian terms. However, the final three examples are results of direct linguistic transfer from Russian and lead to mistakes such as: “avtomatic”, “meecro-organisms”, “bee-sexual”, etc.
As Russian does not have an /h/ phoneme, a suitable substitute must be found for transliteration – this is usually /g/. To native English speakers, this can sound strange because English has both of these phonemes, for example: Harry Potter (literary character) but Gary Potter (a normal working-class man!). Arguably, Russian «х» (kh) is closer to the English /h/ phoneme, but for some reason /g/ is the standard transliteration and this can create problems with the pronunciation of words like “alcohol” as Russians are used to replacing /h/ with /g/.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
There is now doubt that French has had a significant influence on both English and Russian – this is clearly visible today in both languages. In fact, the French were the first to put the English language into written form; hence the introduction of “c” (do we really need “k” AND “c”?), “qu” (not “kw”), etc. Russia was never conquered by France but came under strong influence from French culture and language when Peter the Great (1682-1725) looked to Europe for inspiration. French became the language of nobility and the educated classes in Russia for quite a number of years.
English and Russian share many French words, although our pronunciation of them differs. Where English tends to copy the original French long /eɪ/ (-ay sound as in “day”) ending, Russian has a short “-yet” or “e”. Words to pay special attention to include: ballet [bæ̱leɪ], bouquet [boʊkeɪ], buffet [bʌ̱feɪ], cafe [kæ̱feɪ], resume [rezjuːmeɪ].
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