Common pronunciation errors native Yoruba and French speakers make in English

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Yoruba is one of the major languages in Nigeria. It is mostly spoken in the Southwest of Nigeria. Due to migration, speakers of this language can also be found in Benin, Togo, Brazil, Cuba and the United Kingdom. Though the official language of Nigeria is English, Yoruba is used in the media, the film industry and taught in some schools in the Southwest of Nigeria.
As for French, it is a Romance language spoken in all the continents. However, it is more spoken in Europe, especially in France where it’s the official language.
Each of these languages has its distinctive characteristic:
Yoruba is a tonal language where the meaning of a particular word changes according to the pitch of pronunciation. There are three tones in this Niger-Congo language: high, mid and low tones. For example, in the words ọkó (hoe), ọkò (vehicle) and ọkọ (husband), it is the pitch of the voice that determines which one a speaker is referring to. The short form of my name is another interesting example: ifè (the name of a place in Nigeria), ifé (love or will), ife (cup).
On the other hand, the French language is a gendered language in which nouns are classified mainly into masculine and feminine: un livre (m), une salle (f), un stylo (m) etc.
Despite the major distinctions between Yoruba and French, there are some similarities in the phonetic features, which make their speakers confront similar pronunciation problems in English. These can be observed through the pronunciation of some English words. Below are three major pronunciation errors native yoruba and French speakers tend to make when speaking English.

  • The consonant ‘h’
    This sound is silent in Yoruba. Ex: ohun (voice), ahọn (tongue), ehoro (hare). Similarly, in French, a number of words are written with the letter ‘h’, but it is mostly silent. For instance, hier [jεR]— yesterday; réhabilitation [Reabilitasjɔ̃]– rehabilitation; habileté [abilete]— skill; habitant [abitɑ̃]—habitant. However, the ‘h’ sound is pronounced in English, except in words like hour, honour, honest etc.

    Due to the absence of “h” sound in Yoruba and French, the Native speakers tend not to pronounce the “h” of English words at all or ignore it when it is required and pronounce it when it’s silent.
  • The θ and ð sounds
    These consonants figure in words with ‘th’ in English. The Yoruba and French languages do not have these sounds and substitute with other consonants when pronouncing words like mother /’mʌðə/, thing/ /’θɪŋ/, smooth /’smu:ð/.  French speakers substitute the sounds with “s” or “z”, while Yoruba speakers use “t” for θ and ‘d’ for “ð”.
  • The “” sound
    This sound is represented by “ch” in English words and neither exist in Yoruba nor in French, making it difficult for the native speakers of these languages to pronounce English words like check/’tʃek/, chat/’tʃæt/, teacher /’ti:tʃə/ The sound is rather substituted with ʃ (sh) by these speakers.

Many Yoruba and French native speakers of English do not or no longer make these pronunciation errors when they speak. It is possible to overcome these problems through a conscious effort.


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