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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  can’t  hear  the  difference  between  these  two  sounds  –   and  until  they  can  hear  the  difference,  they  can’t  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  doesn’t  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  don’t  embarrass  yourself  by  saying,   © John Clites 2011 [1 ]

  In   English.   We  also  use  “do”  when  speaking  of  activities  vaguely:  “What  are  you  doing  later?”   “I’m  not  doing  anything.  Think  of  homework  as  a  routine.EnglishForBrazilians.  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”.   The  general  rules  are:   • Use   the   verb   “do”   to   express   daily   activities   or   routines.     © John Clites 2011 www.for  example.   should   you   use   “do”   or   “make”?   Neither.  “fazer”  might  be  translated  as  either   “make”  or  “do”.   For   example.  In [2 ] .  “bitch”  when  you  mean  to  say  “beach”.     2) “Make” versus “do” Portuguese  has  the  handy  word  “fazer”.   even   though   you   could   argue   that   a   physical  product  is  produced.  so  you  should   learn  when  to  use  which.   We   also   “do   homework”   (or   should!).  you   will  hear  both  usages.  In  the  US.”  “Want  to  do  something?”   Use  the  verb  “make”  when  something  physical  is  produced:  “Volkswagen  makes   cars.  students  “write  a  test”.  But  in  English.  we  “take  a  test”.   we   “do   housework”   and   we   “do   the   dishes”.  You  should  learn  these  expressions.  One  of  the  very  first  lessons  of  the   EnglishForBrazilians  course  focuses  on  distinguishing  between  these  two  sounds.   Usually   these   are   activities   that   produce   no   physical   object.  “make”  and  “do”  are  not  interchangeable.  In  England.  In  Canada.”  “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”.

 or  as   /f/  at  the  end  of  a  word.  If  you  practice  while  looking  in  a  mirror.   mother.   thought.   thank.  nothing.   then.  many  Brazilians  pronounce  it  as  /d/  or  /t/  at  the  beginning  of  a  word.  Watching  yourself   in   a   mirror   will   help   you   to   make   this   sound   correctly.  and  while  neither  is  found  in  Portuguese.  path.   You   can   also   touch   the   vocal   cords   to   be   sure   that   they   aren’t   vibrating   much.  begin  with  the  tip  of  your  tongue  actually  sticking  out  a  bit  from   between   your   front   teeth.  As  with  the  unvoiced  /th/.  you   can  actually  see  if  you  are  producing  the  sounds  correctly.   thin.  truth.  begin  with  your  tongue [3 ] .   Because   the   /th/   doesn’t   exist   in   Portuguese.  with  the   tip   touching   the   upper   teeth.   Group   1:   think.   you   will   feel   the   vibration   of  your  vocal  cords.   brother.  weather.  lather.  which  means  that  to  say  the   sound   requires   vibrating   of   the   vocal   cords.   3) That tricky /th/ The   /th/   sound   is   used   quite   often   in   English.   and   touching   the   upper   teeth.  you  will  pull  the  tip  of  your  tongue  back  into  your   mouth.   Here  are  example  words.     Actually.   thing.  gather.  The  sound  is   all  made  in  the  front  of  the  mouth.   throat.   If   you   are   saying   them   correctly.   bother.  When  you  make  the  /th/  sound.  something.   meaning   that   the   sound   is   made  in  the  front  of  the  mouth  without  the  use  of  the  vocal  cords  in  the  throat.  and  tips  to  correct  pronunciation.  rather.   as   if   you   were   going   to   bite   the   tip.  there  are  two  /th/  sounds.   thirsty.   there.   therefore.   another.  math.   thorough.  bathe.  teeth   The   words   in   this   group   contain   the   “unvoiced”   /th/   sound.  You  can  feel  a  puff  of  air  if  you  hold  your  hand  before  your  mouth.  breathe     The  words  in  this  group  all  contain  the  “voiced”  /th/  sound.   that.  bath.   Place   your   fingers   lightly   on   your   throat   as   you   say   the   words   in   Group   2.  moth.  practice  makes  perfect!       Group   2:   The.   those.  anything.   three.  without  vibrating  the  vocal  cords.   thus.  they  can  be   learned  fairly  easily  with  just  a  little  practice.   push   the   tongue   forward   lightly   © John Clites 2011 www.  To  make   the  unvoiced  /th/  sound.   these.   through.  which  sounds  strange  to  native  English  speakers.  leather.   Although   this   sound   will   probably   feel   a   bit   odd  at  first.  both.  and  can  lead  to   confusion.   method.   But   as   you   say   this   /th/.EnglishForBrazilians.

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

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

  continue.   including:   commence.  dislike.   mean.   quit.  among  others.   hope.   are   usually  followed  by  a  gerund.   and   wish.”  “I  have  just  finishing  reading  the   assignment.   expect.   starting.”   These  guidelines  don’t  cover  all  situations.  and  continue.  can’t  stand.  consent.  however.   resist.   proceed.  however.   use   the   gerund   after   this   category  of  verbs  and  you  will  always  be  safe.  complete.   plan.   dare.   Examples:   “I   plan   to   visit   the   U.   start.   A   few   maybe  followed  by  either  a  gerund  or  infinitive:  begin.   fear.studying  grammar.   ought.”   “I   wouldn’t  dare  to  fly  in  an  ultralight  airplane.  “I  stopped  smoking”  indicates  that  I  no  longer  smoke.  arrange.  but  they  cover  some  common  ones.  “I  dislike  to  swim.  I  offer  you  an  additional  tip  if   you  aren’t  sure  whether  to  use  the  infinitive  or  the  gerund:  Trust  your  ear.  Verbs  in  this  category  include:  begin.   “Stop”  is  an  interesting  verb.   stop.   and   cease.     2.  whereas   “I  stopped  to  smoke”  indicates  that  I  stopped  some  other  activity  in  order  to  have  a   cigarette.  choose.   in   December. Verbs   which   describe   motion. Verbs  which  communicate  an  intention  to  do  something  are  generally  followed  by  the   infinitive.       © John Clites 2011 www.  Say  each  aloud   and  use  the  one  which  sounds  best  to  you.”  Common  verbs  in  this  category  include:  like.”  but  always   “I   dislike   swimming.   decide.   and   wait.   remain.   want.  and  there  are  a  few  verbs  in  this  category  which   are   followed   by   infinitives.   Note   that   a   few   of   these   verbs   –   “like”   and   “love”.”   “I   didn’t   mean   to   hurt   you.     If  you  aren’t  sure.  And  if  you   already  speak  English  at  an  intermediate  to  advanced [6 ] .  tolerate.  interested  in.  hate.  It  can  be  followed  by  a  gerund  or  and  infinitive  –  but  the   meaning  will  change.   However.   or   a   lack   of   motion.S.   leave.  Most.   postpone.  enjoy.  is  often  capricious.  start.  for  example.   whether   stopping.”   Why?   I   have   no   answer.  detest.  can  only  be  followed  by  a  gerund.  be  able.   try.   finish.EnglishForBrazilians.  delay.  and  love.  use  the  gerund  after  verbs  in  this  category  and  generally  you’ll  be   correct.  don’t  mind.   stay.   resume.   for   example   –   may   be   followed   by   either  a  gerund  or  an  infinitive.  A   native  speaker  of  English  would  never  say.   prefer.   3.   Examples:  “I  didn’t  begin  studying  until  10:00  PM.  Verbs  in  this  category  include:  attempt.”  “The  following  students  should  remain  standing…”   English.   intend.

  And   when   talking   about   quantities   (money.   etc.   her.   not   his.     I  will  study  in  the  US  until  April.   amounts.   and   mistranslating   it   as   “until”   in   these   cases   can   cause   confusion.   In   English.   while   a   book   (or   any   object)   is   not   inherently  masculine  or  feminine.   8) Mistranslating “até” The   Portuguese   word   “até”   often   translates   into   English   as   “until”.    But  in  English  if  the  book  belongs  to  Jane.   we   use   his   or   her/her   or  its  according  to  the  gender  of  the   possessor.   However.   use   its.   [7 ] © John Clites 2011 www.  as  you  are  referring  to  her  as  a  male.   In   English.  when  used  to  indicate  time.   but   their   gender   can   be   confusing   for   Brazilians.  This  is  a  very  important  point  to   remember.   “until”   indicates   a   continuation   of   an   action   to   a   certain   point   in   time   in   the   future.  the  person  possessing  it  certainly  is.  Use  them  only  when  referring  to  something  possessed   by  the  person  you  are  addressing.   Example:   In   Portuguese.  The  rules  are  actually  pretty  simple.   such   as   a .     Let’s   look   at   some   examples   to   distinguish   between   the   two:   • • The  work  on  the  General  Osório  Station  will  continue  until  it  is  finished.     This   should   be   an   easy   rule   to   learn   because.  “By”.  after  which  point  the  action  stops.EnglishForBrazilians.   Example:   The   government   released   its   new   budget  (NOT  his  or  her  or  your  budget).   “até”   is   typically   best  translated  as  “up  to”.   Confused?  Don’t  be.  If  you  say  “his  book”  in  this  situation.   seu  or   sua  is  used  according  to  whether   the   gender   of   the   item   possessed   is   masculine   or   feminine.     Your   and   yours  are  easy  to  apply.  Then  I  will  return  to  Brazil.  Example:  Your  new  car  is  awesome!  It  is  yours.   or   your.   often   it   should   be   translated   as   “by”.  you   MUST  say  “her  book”  and  not  “his  book”.).7) Possessives Possessives   in   English   actually   are   not   difficult.  means  “on   or   before”   or   “no   later   than”.  The  reason  is  because  in  Portuguese.  as  you  may  give  offense  if  you  imply  that  a  man  is  a  woman  or  vice  versa.  Jane  may   be  offended.  isn’t  it?   Remember:   When   referring   to   any   item   possessed   by   a   non-­‐human   entity.   livro   is   masculine   and   you   would   say   seu   livro   regardless   of   whether  the  possessor  is  male  or  female.

 but  always  “by”.• The  General  Osório  Station  should  be  completed  by  [on  or  before/no  later  than]  the   end  of  December.   You   could   look   at   “by”   as   almost   the   opposite.  where  you’ll  find  lots  of  tips  and  fun   material.     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.     Please  visit  www.   grammar.  (It’s  your  decision.  please  LIKE  us.EnglishForBrazilians.  The  distinction  to  us  is  an  important  one.   Notice  how  “until”  looks  forward  in  time  to  a  conclusion.    A  native  speaker  would  never  use  “until”  here.EnglishForBrazilians.  It’s  up  to  you.     Note:  “Up  to”  also  has  other  unrelated  meanings:   • •   I  hope  that  you  have  found  this  brief  discussion  of  common  problems  helpful.  If  you  enjoy  the  Facebook  page.  All  of  these   topics   and   many   more   –   including   pronunciation.   focus   on   their   use   of   “until”   and   especially  “by”.  such  as  “um  desconto  de   até   20%”.   and   writing   problems   –   are   discussed   in   my   course.   http://www.   because   this   sense   of   “by”   is  the  confusing  point  for  most  and  tell  your  friends  about  us!   © John Clites 2011 www.   As   you   read   English   and   listen   to   native   speakers.EnglishForBrazilians.   vocabulary.  There  is  a  continuation  of  some   action   already   begun.   available   at   and   I   will   try   to   incorporate   the   most  popular  requests  into  this  or  future  programs.  “até”  is  also  used  when  referring  to [8 ] So  what  are  you  up  to  this  weekend?  (What  are  you  doing  this  weekend?)   Whatever  you  want.  and  then  saying  that  something  must  happen  by  that  point  or   before   that   point.   Sometimes   “of”   precedes  “up  to”.   Here   are   some   more   examples   to   illustrate.)   .   In   English   we   would   translate   “até”   in   this   sense   as   “up   to”.   We   are   setting   a   definite  end  date  or  time.  Examples:   • • Buy  now  and  receive  a  discount  of  up  to  20%!   The  company  is  giving  out  bonuses  up  to  R$  and  also  our  Facebook  for  cost-­‐cutting  ideas.   • • I  must  have  this  report  done  by  Friday!   You  must  show  up  by  8:30  to  be  assured  of  getting  a  good  seat.facebook.     In  Portuguese.

com [9 ] .EnglishForBrazilians.  2012                     Life’s a beach! Smile! Life’s a beach! Smile! © John Clites 2011 www.And  keep  practicing!  Learning  should  be  a  lifelong  endeavor.           John  Clites   Paraty  /  RJ.