“Cashew,” “banana,” “potato,” and “chocolate” – these are all English words that Brazilian speakers would immediately understand.
In general, English has a lot of similar words to Brazilian Portuguese (“total” and “ordinary,” to name a couple more!).
Still, even with some overlap in vocabulary, you might struggle to say certain English words correctly as a Brazilian speaker. Or maybe you can get the pronunciation right if you really put effort into it and slow down your speech, but it becomes so much harder when you have to talk at regular speed.
To help you improve your English communication skills, we’ve come up with a detailed guide that tackles the most common English pronunciation mistakes for Brazilian speakers. Whether you consider yourself a beginner in English or an advanced learner, you might still make pronunciation mistakes every now and then – and they’re often related to your native language!
Learning English for Brazilian Speakers
As a Brazilian speaker, one of the easiest languages for you to learn would be Spanish since it shares almost 90% of its vocabulary with Portuguese. There’s also plenty of common ground with other Romance languages such as French and Italian.
In contrast, it can take longer to get the hang of speaking English.
For one, Brazilian Portuguese only has 23 letters compared to English’s 26, and it doesn’t have the K, W, or Y in English as well as the TH sound. Portuguese also has less vowels, which is why Brazilian speakers sometimes find it hard to distinguish between words such as “head” and “had.” In addition, Portuguese sounds more musical than English, so you’ll also have to adjust your intonation when switching to English!
Although Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese are practically sister languages, Brazilian speakers and Spanish speakers don’t face the exact same challenges with English pronunciation. In fact, there are certain pronunciation mistakes that are very specific to Brazilian speakers. If you hear someone saying “speakee” instead of “speak,” there’s a good chance they might be a Brazilian speaker.
But whatever your native language is, picking up English pronunciation does take time – and you’ll naturally get better as you keep growing your vocabulary. For a fun, all-in-one resource that’ll show you how to level up your spoken English, the Creativa course on Mastering North American English Pronunciation has got your back. It features high-quality video episodes that tackle the most important areas of English pronunciation. These include topics that can be unclear or confusing for Brazilian speakers, such as saying the TH sound and applying correct intonation.
Each episode comes with a clear breakdown of the pronunciation points, along with helpful examples and language hacks that you can apply right away. Curious about it? Here’s a free video directly from the course.
Common Challenges in English Pronunciation for Brazilian Speakers
Let’s dive into the English pronunciation mistakes that Brazilian speakers are the most likely to make:
1. Adding “ee” to the end of words
One of the more unique pronunciation tendencies that Brazilian speakers have is adding “ee” to the end of words (or even syllables). In the sentence “That movie was so fun to watch!”, some Brazilian speakers might pronounce “fun” as “fun-ee” and “watch” as “watch-ee.” This is because Portuguese doesn’t have that many words ending in a consonant, so it feels more natural for a Brazilian speaker to add a vowel sound (usually “EE”) to the word.
Tip: Sometimes you might not even notice that you’re doing this, so your best bet is to record yourself speaking in English! A crucial point to remember is that unlike Portuguese, English words rarely end in vowels. When you see words ending in E such as “like,” “example,” and “badge,” the E is almost always silent.
2. Saying W instead of L
The regular L in Portuguese does sound like the English L, but when it appears at the end of a syllable, it changes—it’s pronounced like a combination of W and U. Because this happens all the time in Portuguese, Brazilian speakers can carry this over to English. Although they can pronounce the L normally in words such as “love” and “light”, it gets trickier when L is at the end of the syllable. The words “all,” “bottle,” and “tool” become “au,” “bottu,” and “tuu.”
Tip: Whip out a mirror and observe your mouth position as you pronounce the L sound. If your mouth’s forming a tight circle, then you’re saying W or U! What you can do is to touch the tip of your tongue above your teeth instead. This isn’t necessary for saying the English L, but it ensures that you’ll be avoiding slipping into the W sound.
3. Replacing D and T
D and T can also be challenging to pronounce for Brazilian speakers when they’re at the end of a word. D can get changed into DJ (/dʒ/), while T is turned into TCH (/tʃ/). A Brazilian speaker might want to say “mad” and “hot” but they end up saying “madj” and “hotch” instead. This can seem harmless, but sometimes other people can get confused about the word. For example, “rid” and “ridge” don’t have the same meaning at all!
Tip: When you default to DJ or TCH, slow down your pronunciation so you can observe your mouth movements. Your tongue will usually be pressing against your teeth for the D or T at first. Try keeping it there so you don’t make the extra J and CH sounds.
4. Mispronouncing TH
If you haven’t gotten the hang of the TH sound yet, then you’re not alone – nearly all English learners struggle with the TH sound at first because it’s not very common outside of English! When saying words such as “the,” “mouth,” and “three,” you might substitute TH with related sounds such as F or S for the unvoiced TH and T or D for the voiced TH. As a result, you could say “mous” instead of “mouth” or “da” instead of “the.”
Tip: It can feel strange at first, but to make the TH sound in English, you have to stick your tongue out slightly between your teeth. This helps you avoid substituting with other sounds!
5. Confusing H and R
Aside from mispronouncing TH, a lot of Brazilian speakers also mix up the H and R in English. To be specific, they can read the English R as H. This distorts words heavily, with “rain” becoming “hain” and “right” turning into “height.” As always, there’s a reason behind this! In Portuguese, the letter R is pronounced similarly to the English H. Out of force of habit, you might fall back on this when speaking English.
Tip: To break the association between H and R, you have to let your brain get used to pronouncing them as separate letters. This comes with repetition – draw up a list of words that contain the R sound, and read them out loud until you’re not slipping up anymore and accidentally pronouncing H.
6. Reading –ED out loud
When you use past tense verbs like “talked” and “washed,” have you ever accidentally pronounced the –ED in full so they sound like “taw-kehd” and “wa-shehd?” Even at advanced levels, Brazilian speakers can forget to keep the E silent in these verbs. Consonant clusters are rare in Portuguese, so Brazilian speakers find it more intuitive to add the E (“talkehd” instead of “talkd”).
Tip: The E in past tense verbs is usually silent unless the main verb ends in T or D! In verbs like “waited” and “faded” you would say –ED in full. Otherwise, the E is silent. For practice, say the word “talk”, followed by the D sound. Then narrow the gap between the two until you’re saying “talkd.”
7. Turning M into N or NG
The M sound does exist in Portuguese, but you’ll never find it at the end of words! This isn’t the case in English, where you have words ending in M such as “cream,” “farm,” and “name.” Since this is unfamiliar to Portuguese speakers, they tend to turn M into a nasal sound instead such as N. They might say “crean,” “farn,” and “nain.” Sometimes it can also sound as if there’s a NG sound added on (“creang” and “naing”).
Tip: Hum the M sound on its own for a few seconds. Afterwards, read these out loud while prolonging the M sound: AMMMM, EMMM, IMMMMM, OMMMM, and UHMMM. You know you’re pronouncing it correctly if your lips are pressed together.
8. Mixing up vowels
Compared to English, Brazilian Portuguese has fewer vowels, and around five of these are nasal sounds that aren’t even present in English! Because of this, it’s not surprising that pronouncing all of the English vowels correctly can be tough for Brazilian speakers. For example, Brazilian speakers tend to pronounce “lip” and “leap” as if they were the same word – and this is also true for “pull” and “pool.” They can also say “tan” as “ten” because the A sound in “tan” doesn’t exist in Portuguese.
Tip: Out of all of these pronunciation mistakes, mixing up vowels will have the greatest impact on how well you communicate. To start off, focus on minimal pairs where the words have a similar sound except for a single vowel. Check first if you can tell the difference just by listening to the words. Being able to recognize the sounds is the first step before you can work on your pronunciation.
9. Emphasizing the wrong syllable
In English, every word has one syllable that’s stressed – you emphasize it over the others, saying it more loudly and with higher pitch. Brazilian speakers also use stress in their native Portuguese, but the catch is that English and Portuguese don’t exactly follow the same stress rules. In Portuguese, the second to the last syllable is usually stressed in long words, while English sometimes stresses the first syllable instead. Instead of “Saturday,” a Brazilian speaker might misplace the stress and say “Saturday.”
Tip: Although English has word stress rules that it’s helpful to be aware of, you’ll still need to check the pronunciation of words on an individual basis. Which syllable you stress in an English word isn’t always predictable. Every time you learn a new word, look it up in a dictionary to make sure you’re getting the stress right!
10. Stressing too many words
Beyond word stress, there’s also sentence stress to consider. When you speak Portuguese, your pitch actually changes much more often than in English, with almost every other word being higher in pitch. You can accidentally speak English this way too! This matters because pitch signifies stress or emphasis in English. Instead of emphasizing only the most important words in a sentence, you could be stressing words too such as “the” or “an,” which can sound confusing to English speakers.
Tip: Be mindful of your intonation when you switch from Portuguese to English. Most of the time, you should only be stressing the content words, which convey the message of the sentence. These include nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives!
Part of what makes English interesting to learn is that there’s still some connection with Brazilian Portuguese but the two aren’t too similar. Improving your spoken English is a continuous process – and it’s also exciting! As you hone your English pronunciation, you’ll be able to have smoother conversations with people from varied cultures and backgrounds, and more adventures (and opportunities) can open up for you.