Communicating in any foreign language can be an arduous task, especially when the language you are trying to speak contains phonemes 1 that are absent in your L1 2. This is the case and struggle of Spanish speakers when they learn English, and my dad is no exception…
These amusing happenstances occur because the devil is in the minimal pairs: two words that have a very similar pronunciation, but differ from one another by one phoneme in the same position in each word:
Whereas Spanish has one phoneme for <i>, English has a long /iː/ and short /ɪ/ one. No wonder Spanish speakers are confused when they start learning English. This madness would the phonetic equivalent of going to bed with two feet and waking up with four. One needs some practice to figure out how to navigate the world with additional extremities – or extra phonemes one had never had before.
To make matters worse, you will stumble upon words that contain the same graphic vowels, yet each one is pronounced differently:
But don’t fear, dear language learner! All it takes is a bit of practice, and you can train your ear to the different phonemes of the English language with online resources like this super cool interactive phonemic chart. If you are unsure how one word sounds, look up the pronunciation in dictionaries that include the IPA transcription and sound clips, like WordReference.
In conclusion, I think English learners should get more credit for their Herculean efforts.
In fact, anyone who stumbles upon words like these ↑ and doesn’t give up, deserves a standing ovation.