Transferring linguistic habits – German
As native speakers of English will have problems grasping the sounds of a foreign language of course foreigners will grapple with English sounds as well. That is, of course, unless one learns the second language as a child. Children are great mimics, and mimicry is the solution.
What problems do Germans have with learning English? They have difficulty hearing the difference between ‘th’ sounds of English and confuse them with and ‘es’ sound. There is a humorous You Tube video that demonstrates that quite well where the captain of an English vessel is sending out a distress signal near a German port. The captain proclaims that his ship is ‘sinking’, and the German harbor crew responds by asking what the captain is ‘sinking’ about.
Germans see the letter, ‘w’ and pronounce it like an English ‘v’, even in the English word ‘once’, the German may pronounce it as ‘vunce’. And of course the English ‘r’ is unique. Yes, it is English that is different, not the other European languages. The German ‘r’ is guttural, produced in the back of the throat. English words that start with ‘sp’ or ‘st’ tend to be pronounced ‘schp’ or scht’ by Germans. Hence a German might pronounce the word ‘story’ as ‘schtory’, and yet the German language does have words that don’t follow that rule of pronunciation.. In the German word, ‘Gestern’ (yesterday) the ‘st’ is pronounced more as it would be pronounced in English.
The letter ‘s’ at the end of a word in English usually gets a ‘voiced’ sound, i.e. a ‘z’ sound, as in the word, ‘was’. But the German word, ‘was’ (what) is pronounced ‘vahss’. And yet an initial ‘s’ in English is often pronounced as ‘s’ as in ‘see’. But the Germans pronounce ‘Sie’ (you) ‘zee’.
So, how does one overcome these linguistic hurdles? Observe the differences carefully, listen closely. Parrot the sounds as a child would. We are creatures of habit. We have to make sure that they’re the proper habits. Learn to make adjustments and not carry over our native language habits into the foreign language.