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8 Common Mistakes that Brazilians Make when Speaking English

It should be no surprise that Brazilians as a group share many of the same difficulties
when learning English. Here we discuss eight of the most common problems which I have seen again and again with my students.

1) The short i sound versus long e sound My new students often express dismay when they encounter pairs of words like sit and seat, fit and feet, or rich and reach. In each pair, the only difference in pronunciation is that the first word contains the short i sound of it, and the second contains the long e sound of beach. Students often tell me that they cant hear the difference between these two sounds and until they can hear the difference, they cant produce the two sounds consistently. However, there are at least three differences between the short i and long e sounds: When saying the short I, the mouth is lazy. It doesnt move much. But when saying the long e, you must work the mouth and the cheek muscles much more. In fact, you almost smile. Imagine yourself going to Posto 9 in Ipanema on a Sunday afternoon as you say beach. Smile! Generally the long e sound is held for a longer duration than the short i sound, because the mouth has to move more. When saying the long e, you can feel your vocal cords vibrate much more than when saying the short i. Try it!

Listen closely to native speakers and focus on these three differences and you should find that your pronunciation improves dramatically. It really is very important that you can clearly pronounce both of these sounds so that you dont embarrass yourself by saying, John Clites 2011 www.EnglishForBrazilians.com [1 ]

for example, bitch when you mean to say beach. One of the very first lessons of the EnglishForBrazilians course focuses on distinguishing between these two sounds. 2) Make versus do Portuguese has the handy word fazer. In English, fazer might be translated as either make or do. But in English, make and do are not interchangeable, so you should learn when to use which. The general rules are: Use the verb do to express daily activities or routines. Usually these are activities that produce no physical object. For example, we do housework and we do the dishes. We also do homework (or should!), even though you could argue that a physical product is produced. Think of homework as a routine. We also use do when speaking of activities vaguely: What are you doing later? Im not doing anything. Want to do something? Use the verb make when something physical is produced: Volkswagen makes cars. Would you like me to make some coffee?

The biggest problem when choosing whether to use do or make is that many standard expressions use make when according to the general rules above you might expect to use do. You should learn these expressions. A few of the more common ones are: make plans or arrangements make an exception make a telephone call make a decision or make up your mind make a mistake

Special note: A Brazilian faz uma prova. In English, should you use do or make? Neither. In the US, we take a test. In England, students write a test. In Canada, you will hear both usages. John Clites 2011 www.EnglishForBrazilians.com [2 ]

3) That tricky /th/ The /th/ sound is used quite often in English. Because the /th/ doesnt exist in Portuguese, many Brazilians pronounce it as /d/ or /t/ at the beginning of a word, or as /f/ at the end of a word, which sounds strange to native English speakers, and can lead to confusion. Actually, there are two /th/ sounds, and while neither is found in Portuguese, they can be learned fairly easily with just a little practice. If you practice while looking in a mirror, you can actually see if you are producing the sounds correctly. Here are example words, and tips to correct pronunciation. Group 1: think, thin, thirsty, thorough, through, thought, thank, thing, three, throat, method, nothing, anything, something, bath, math, path, truth, moth, both, teeth The words in this group contain the unvoiced /th/ sound, meaning that the sound is made in the front of the mouth without the use of the vocal cords in the throat. To make the unvoiced /th/ sound, begin with the tip of your tongue actually sticking out a bit from between your front teeth, and touching the upper teeth, as if you were going to bite the tip. When you make the /th/ sound, you will pull the tip of your tongue back into your mouth. You can feel a puff of air if you hold your hand before your mouth. The sound is all made in the front of the mouth, without vibrating the vocal cords. Watching yourself in a mirror will help you to make this sound correctly. You can also touch the vocal cords to be sure that they arent vibrating much. Although this sound will probably feel a bit odd at first, practice makes perfect! Group 2: The, these, those, there, therefore, that, thus, then, brother, mother, bother, another, rather, gather, lather, weather, leather, bathe, breathe The words in this group all contain the voiced /th/ sound, which means that to say the sound requires vibrating of the vocal cords. Place your fingers lightly on your throat as you say the words in Group 2. If you are saying them correctly, you will feel the vibration of your vocal cords. As with the unvoiced /th/, begin with your tongue forward, with the tip touching the upper teeth. But as you say this /th/, push the tongue forward lightly John Clites 2011 www.EnglishForBrazilians.com [3 ]

against the teeth. Again, you will need to practice this sound a bit, but mastering it will dramatically improve your accent. I am often surprised that even many advanced students often have difficulty producing the /th/ sounds when they begin studying with me. For this reason, I made Pronouncing the TH Sounds the very first lesson in the EnglishForBrazilians program, and provide a video version of the lesson as well as the PDF and MP3 versions, so that you can watch me produce the sounds correctly. 4) Forming questions in the past (Did you saw that?) English generally uses the auxiliary verb do when forming questions. The past tense form of do is did. Many Brazilians have a tendency when asking questions about past events to use did and also to use the past tense form of the principle verb, as in: Did you saw him? or Did he went to the store? However, only the auxiliary verb should be in the past tense. It is not necessary for the principle verb to also be in the past tense, because the auxiliary already indicates the past. The correct forms for the questions above are: Did you see him? and Did he go to the store? 5) Say/tell/talk/speak English has a number of verbs referring to talking which are almost but not quite the same. These are say, tell, talk, and speak. Portuguese has a similar set of verbs: dizer, contar, and falar. Say (or its forms says or said) is used frequently in English for reported speech, that is, repeating what someone else said. It generally translates as dizer in Portuguese. Examples: She said that she would meet us here at noon. He called to say hes sick. [Notice how the that after say is optional.] Tell is used when communicating information, directions, or orders to someone. Examples: I told you to clean up your room, young man! The boss told me that the report must be finished by Friday. We also tell a story and tell a lie or tell the truth. Tell generally would equate to contar. John Clites 2011 www.EnglishForBrazilians.com [4 ]

Special note: We tell someone something. In our examples above I told you and The boss told me In English, we would never say I said you or The boss said me This is a fairly common mistake among those learning English. You can use the verb say in such situations, but you must use the preposition to before the object: I said to you or The boss said to me However, more frequently native speakers use tell in these situations. Finally, talk and speak generally would translate as falar. When should you use talk and when speak? Very often either is fine. Talk is generally used for more informal situations and speak for more formal ones: Hi, Joe. We were just talking about your new car. Sir, could I speak with you when you have a minute? When giving a presentation to a group of people, we use the noun forms of talk and speak, which are talk and speech. Examples: I have to give a talk to the new employees next Monday. I have to give a speech to 300 people on Thursday and Im really nervous! Again, the meaning is essentially the same, but speech is a bit more formal than talk. 6) Infinitives versus Gerunds You should remember that in English the infinitive is preceded by to: I just want to go home and go to sleep! But English also frequently uses gerunds, which are formed by adding -ing to a verb: running, smoking, studying. Note that gerunds, although formed from verbs, and although they look identical to the present participle (I am running, for example), are used as nouns: Running is good exercise. English for some reason loves the gerund. Very often in English we use the gerund when other languages, like Portuguese, would use the infinitive. But then, sometimes we do use the infinitive. And occasionally either form is acceptable. Confusing? Yes, it can be. And unfortunately, some memorization is required to know when to use the infinitive and when to use the gerund. However, there are some guidelines if not firm rules which will help you to know whether to use the infinitive or the gerund in a given situation. Here are three guidelines which cover three common situations: 1. Verbs which describe feelings whether someone likes or does not like something are followed by a gerund. Examples: I like swimming. I dislike swimming. I hate John Clites 2011 www.EnglishForBrazilians.com [5 ]

studying grammar. Common verbs in this category include: like, dislike, hate, enjoy, fear, interested in, detest, dont mind, cant stand, tolerate, and love, among others. Note that a few of these verbs like and love, for example may be followed by either a gerund or an infinitive. Most, however, can only be followed by a gerund. A native speaker of English would never say, for example, I dislike to swim, but always I dislike swimming. Why? I have no answer. However, use the gerund after this category of verbs and you will always be safe. 2. Verbs which describe motion, whether stopping, starting, or a lack of motion, are usually followed by a gerund. Verbs in this category include: begin, complete, delay, finish, continue, stop, start, postpone, quit, resist, resume, stay, remain, and cease. Examples: I didnt begin studying until 10:00 PM. I have just finishing reading the assignment. The following students should remain standing English, however, is often capricious, and there are a few verbs in this category which are followed by infinitives, including: commence, proceed, leave, and wait. A few maybe followed by either a gerund or infinitive: begin, start, and continue. Stop is an interesting verb. It can be followed by a gerund or and infinitive but the meaning will change. I stopped smoking indicates that I no longer smoke, whereas I stopped to smoke indicates that I stopped some other activity in order to have a cigarette. If you arent sure, use the gerund after verbs in this category and generally youll be correct. 3. Verbs which communicate an intention to do something are generally followed by the infinitive. Verbs in this category include: attempt, arrange, be able, choose, consent, dare, decide, expect, hope, intend, mean, ought, plan, prefer, try, want, and wish. Examples: I plan to visit the U.S. in December. I didnt mean to hurt you. I wouldnt dare to fly in an ultralight airplane. These guidelines dont cover all situations, but they cover some common ones. And if you already speak English at an intermediate to advanced level, I offer you an additional tip if you arent sure whether to use the infinitive or the gerund: Trust your ear. Say each aloud and use the one which sounds best to you. John Clites 2011 www.EnglishForBrazilians.com [6 ]

7) Possessives Possessives in English actually are not difficult, but their gender can be confusing for Brazilians. The reason is because in Portuguese, seu or sua is used according to whether the gender of the item possessed is masculine or feminine. In English, we use his or her/her or its according to the gender of the possessor. This is a very important point to remember, as you may give offense if you imply that a man is a woman or vice versa. Example: In Portuguese, livro is masculine and you would say seu livro regardless of whether the possessor is male or female. But in English if the book belongs to Jane, you MUST say her book and not his book. If you say his book in this situation, Jane may be offended, as you are referring to her as a male. This should be an easy rule to learn because, while a book (or any object) is not inherently masculine or feminine, the person possessing it certainly is. Your and yours are easy to apply. Use them only when referring to something possessed by the person you are addressing. Example: Your new car is awesome! It is yours, isnt it? Remember: When referring to any item possessed by a non-human entity, such as a government, use its, not his, her, or your. Example: The government released its new budget (NOT his or her or your budget). 8) Mistranslating at The Portuguese word at often translates into English as until. However, often it should be translated as by, and mistranslating it as until in these cases can cause confusion. And when talking about quantities (money, amounts, etc.), at is typically best translated as up to. Confused? Dont be. The rules are actually pretty simple. In English, until indicates a continuation of an action to a certain point in time in the future, after which point the action stops. By, when used to indicate time, means on or before or no later than. Lets look at some examples to distinguish between the two: The work on the General Osrio Station will continue until it is finished. I will study in the US until April. Then I will return to Brazil. [7 ]

John Clites 2011 www.EnglishForBrazilians.com

The General Osrio Station should be completed by [on or before/no later than] the end of December. A native speaker would never use until here, but always by.

Notice how until looks forward in time to a conclusion. There is a continuation of some action already begun. You could look at by as almost the opposite. We are setting a definite end date or time, and then saying that something must happen by that point or before that point. Here are some more examples to illustrate, because this sense of by is the confusing point for most Brazilians. I must have this report done by Friday! You must show up by 8:30 to be assured of getting a good seat.

As you read English and listen to native speakers, focus on their use of until and especially by. The distinction to us is an important one. In Portuguese, at is also used when referring to quantities, such as um desconto de at 20%. In English we would translate at in this sense as up to. Sometimes of precedes up to. Examples: Buy now and receive a discount of up to 20%! The company is giving out bonuses up to R$2,000 for cost-cutting ideas.

Note: Up to also has other unrelated meanings: I hope that you have found this brief discussion of common problems helpful. All of these topics and many more including pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and writing problems are discussed in my course, available at www.EnglishForBrazilians.com. Finally you will learn what they never taught you in English class! Are there specific topics that you would like to see addressed in this course? Please send suggestions to suggestions@EnglishForBrazilians.com and I will try to incorporate the most popular requests into this or future programs. Please visit www.EnglishForBrazilians.com and also our Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/EnglishForBrazilians, where youll find lots of tips and fun material. If you enjoy the Facebook page, please LIKE us, and tell your friends about us! John Clites 2011 www.EnglishForBrazilians.com [8 ] So what are you up to this weekend? (What are you doing this weekend?) Whatever you want. Its up to you. (Its your decision.)

And keep practicing! Learning should be a lifelong endeavor. John Clites Paraty / RJ, 2012

Lifes a beach! Smile!

Lifes a beach! Smile!

John Clites 2011 www.EnglishForBrazilians.com

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