Oral Exams form a large part of a child’s English Language grade. At the PSLE level, it accounts for 15% of your child’s final grade, while in the GCE ‘O’ Levels it accounts for 20%, or a fifth, of the final grade.
English Oral can be a great boon to a student, but it can also be a minefield. An eloquently presented conversation might do wonders. A single misstep in grammar or pronunciation can be fatal.
Why is Pronunciation important in Oral Exams?
Pronunciation errors are surely the easiest to identify. The evaluator is instantly aware of the mistake and may penalise the examinee. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the influence of Singlish, pronunciation errors are also one the most often committed. We have compiled a list of 10 (+1!) words that commonly trip up both children and adults alike.
How it’s often pronounced: Selm-uhn
How it should be pronounced: Sam-uhn
This is a very common one. The “L” in “Salmon” is, in fact, silent. While the word is unlikely to come up in the pictorial description, it might appear in the Reading Aloud section. If your child can demonstrate the correct pronunciation, it would go a long way in impressing the examiner.
How it’s often pronounced: Tuh/Duh/Dee
How it should be pronounced: Thuh/Thee
This is a tricky little word. “The” is the most commonly used word in the English language – in fact, this sentence just used it thrice with two different pronunciations. But “the” is also one of the trickiest to pronounce. The first level of difficulty is that it is pronounced differently depending on whether it precedes a vowel sound. Some people confuse this with the case of the word preceding a vowel.
For instance, you would use “thee” when trying to say “the uninjured”, but you would use “thuh” when saying “the usual”. This is because the “U” in “usual” is pronounced with a consonant sound “yu”, but the “U” in “uninjured” is pronounced with the vowel sound “ahn”
The second difficulty comes from the soft “th”. Many Singaporeans instead pronounce it with a hard “T”, making it sound like “tuh”. However, “th” is not pronounced that way, but is rather known as a dental fricative. Attempting to describe this sound in writing is rather difficult, so here is a video which demonstrates how it should be pronounced.
This pronunciation mistake is shared with most “th” sounds in general; other common examples are “Clothes”, “Through”, and “Other”. Impress your examiner by avoiding this common mistake.
How it’s often pronounced: Tiu-shen
How it should be pronounced: Too-i-shen
This is an often used word that is mispronounced almost as often. This word might emerge in the Stimulus-Based Question component.
How it’s often pronounced: Chew-dren / Chew-ren / Chil-ren
How it should be pronounced: Chi-L-dren
This is a word where the L in the center is not, in fact, silent, and should instead be clearly enunciated. Unfortunately, a large number of people swallow up the L, resulting in wrongful pronunciations that inspire amusing implications of chewing adolescents. It’s funny, but it’s also wrong. Don’t do this.
On the topic of chewing and swallowing, another common mistake made when saying this word is to swallow the “d” sound in the middle of the word. This is also wrong. Please make sure to pronounce the “d”, or you risk the examiner express it for you on your grade.
How it’s often pronounced: Wen-nes-day
How it should be pronounced: Wens-day
This word is an example of how wrongful pronunciation can occasionally make words harder to say. Most speakers correctly recognise that the first “D” in “Wednesday” is silent. Unfortunately, a good number forget to apply this to the second “E”. “Wensday” is faster and simpler to say than “Wennesday”. It’s also correct. Use “Wensday”.
How it’s often pronounced: Stroh-BEAR-ee
How it should be pronounced: STROH-bear-ee (American)/ STROH-Buh-ree (British)
The common mispronunciation of this word lies in the stress. Many speakers have a habit of placing emphasis on the “ber” of “strawberry”, but the emphasis should really be placed on “Straw”.
This mistake is commonly shared amongst other words which contain “Berry” or “bery”, such as “Raspberry”, “Mulberry” and “Bribery”. In all of these, the emphasis should be placed on the first syllable of the word, not on the “ber”.
How it’s often pronounced: Proh-noun-see-ey-shen
How it should be pronounced: Pruh-nuhn-see-ey-shen
Another tricky word. Any English teacher can attest to the amount of confusion caused by this word. The culprit is probably the fact that the root word, “pronounce”, is pronounced “proh-noun-ss”. But if you look carefully, the spelling of the word “pronunciation” is a little different, switching out the “ou” for a single “u”, and is instead pronounced “proh-nun-see-ey-shen.”
Confusing, we know.
How it’s often pronounced: Pooh-lees
How it should be pronounced: Puh-lees
A common mispronunciation which, to be honest, is rather rude to the people it refers to. No matter how you feel about them, calling the police “poo” is a bit impolite. Let’s respect the defenders of order and refer to them properly, as “police”.
How it’s often pronounced: Pi-cher
How it should be pronounced: Pik-cher
Singaporeans often gloss over the “c” in “picture”. It is not a silent “c”. Opening your pictorial response with “the pi-cher shows” is a highly effective way to create a bad impression and lose marks. Avoid that.
How it’s often pronounced: F-lim
How it should be pronounced: Fi-l-m
This is an example of something known as local metathesis, where two adjacent sounds switch places in the pronunciation. While it’s nice to know big words, the most important takeaway is it’s a mispronunciation. You can identify just by looking at how the letters in the word are arranged. Be extra careful about this, it’s easy to trip up and commit this mistake when nervous.
How it’s often used: “Irregardless” | Ee-ree-gahrd-luhs
How it should be used: “Regardless” | ree-gahrd-luhs
This is less a mispronunciation and more an incorrect usage. However, it is equally visible and perhaps more disastrous if it is used in an Oral examination. The wrongful use of this word permeates the Singaporean lexis and refuses to stand down. Many people use “regardless” and “irregardless” interchangeably. But consider this: “Ir-“ is a prefix that negates its object. For example, “irresponsible” or “irrational”. Therefore, “irregardless” literally means “not regardless”. Think about that, and stop using this word.
If you can avoid these oral missteps and master navigating through these common mistakes, you’ll find that the journey to a better Oral score becomes much smoother.