Table of Contents
One of the main objectives of ESL (English as second language) students is to pronounce the English words correctly. Notably, these students often have a big challenge when it comes communicating as native speakers because of the influence from their mother tongue. Not all ESL students can speak fluent English and while many struggle to achieve eloquence, only a few manage to pronounce the words correctly. The challenge to pronounce words correctly is horrendous for most of these students and it only becomes a dream come true when they manage to overcome the nightmare. English is a language that is widely spoken across the globe and its mastery represents a high status among societies. English is no doubt an international language as it is used in business, technology, communication, trade and diplomacy for many countries. Therefore, it is critical that international students should master and comprehend it well.
Pronunciation of English words is a major obstacle of communication among ESL students and the pronunciation errors that these learners make tend to agree with predictions of the “Hierarchy of Phonological Difficulty.” These errors also follow the predictions made by the “Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis”
To prove these statements right, there will be an analysis of data that shows how ESL learners communicate. The data presented will be from conversation made by a non-native English speaker.
The method used for the study will be mainly qualitative. Qualitative studies involve the views or notions about a specific occurrence. It seeks to gather understanding about a specific human behavior and why such behavior occurs. For this specific research study, data of ESL learners being interviewed will be collected. While international students speak in many languages, the target language will be Arabic. The data was obtained from a You Tube. The links provided are examples of speeches made by two readers speaking in Arabic accent.
Link 1 shows a video of a woman who speaks in Arabic accent; she tries to explain to the audience how one can speak standard Arabic. The lady is Arabic hence she is considered an ESL learner. While one might slightly recognize the words coming from her mouth, it becomes very difficult to comprehend what she is talking about because of wrong pronunciation. She seems to have numerous errors while pronouncing the words. One of the errors that occur in her pronunciation is replacing of consonants. The reader pronounces the word “But” as “bath” which is a misinterpretation of the consonant “t.” It is evident that in Arabic accent, there is no distinction when it comes to the pronunciation of the consonant “t” and “th” From the video, the vowel /i/ is the one that is incorrectly inserted in different positions. The way the reader pronounces the words in English show that the Arabic syllable structure is different from the English one. The speaker finds it challenging to pronounce the English words because this syllabus does not exist in Arabic language. According to Carlisle (2001), there is no word that begins with a vowel in Arab hence the difficulty in pronouncing such words in English. The author adds that in Arabic, no two consonants can meet when speaking. Therefore, for the Araba speakers accidentally put an anaptyctic vowel between two consonants to make their pronunciation easy, hence the Arabic accent.
The video in link 2 is an interview done among two Arab speakers. They interview is done in three stages. The first stage is meant to relax the candidate’s minds; the second stage involves a debate of relative merits of various ideas and the third stage involves a debate on any topic of interest to the candidates. The interviewees are two native English speakers who want to understand the level of the candidates’ mastery of pronunciation. The first question that the interviewee asks them is, “could you tell me your name and ID number please.” The candidate on the right begins to respond by saying, “My name is Ahmed Dharwesh and my ID number if zero one double ones seven one.” The candidate on the left also replies, “Hammad Hammadi and my ID numbers of triple zero, two five nine one nine.”
I think this second video is one of the most difficult to understand because of numerous errors in pronunciation. The listener find it almost impossible to comprehend what candidates are saying and perhaps the entire speech after the first one does not even sound English. It takes a great deal of keenness for one to listen to what she is saying. Perhaps only Arab speaking people would be able to understand what the lady is speaking in the video. Again, the major challenge for these two Arab candidates is pronunciation. The two interviewees proceed with the second stage by asking them, “Where were you born?” The first candidate replies, “I was born here in Abu Dhabi and I have also lived here.”
In monosyllabic words of English, the beginning of almost all words has three consonants, therefore, the two Arab candidates find these combinations difficult to pronounce because their native dialect does not allow such clusters in the beginning of words (Saiegh-Haddad, 2017). Therefore, these two candidates intentionally insert the vowel/i/ so that they may make their pronunciation easy. Additionally, the word born is pronounced “bon” with a silent “r.” However, these candidates accidentally pronounce it as “born,” intentionally pronouncing the silent r, which is the same way it’s spelt.
According to Alqahtani (2014), the two common sources of difficulty in pronunciation for the ESL learners are the stages of development and interference. The acquisition of language is usually progressive and may not occur at once. The two candidates are most likely still building a structure of linguistic rules that inspires production and comprehension of the English language. At every learning stage, the candidates will be able to modify their ‘interlanguage restructuring the entire system by erasing or adding some rules. The modifications entirely depend on the errors that the candidate makes and suppose they make wrong expressions of grammar, they may not have to modify anything (Ibrahim, 2017). For both candidates, it appears they are still in the initial stage of learning English and that is why they make mistakes in both utterance and pronunciations. Therefore, the errors that these candidates make only belong to the beginning stages of learning. Verhoeven and Perfetti (2017) adds that a number of errors that beginning ESL students produce are not always found among the advance learners and this means that the beginning students need enough time to master certain features. Therefore, while these candidates make the current errors, it might take them some time to master certain features of the English language so that they may perfect their pronunciations in future.
Another source of difficulty in pronunciation that is evident among these two candidates, just like the first woman in link 1, is mother tongue interference. Mother tongue is the main source of interference for all non-native English speakers. Any learner who is in the process of learning a second language must always rely on their first language. Usually, these learners use the background of their first language (mother tongue) to assist them in learning the second language. For the two candidates and the lady in the first video, their first language is Arabic and this explains why their pronunciation of English words is highly affected by their first language. It is evident that the Arabic syllabus does not match with that of English hence the difficulty of the candidates to pronounce the English words correctly. English language therefore proves to be very problematic for these Arab speakers as it applies a variety of consonants. However, with continuous practice, the learners will be able to overcome such difficulties. The beginners may experience difficulties in combining the vowels and consonants within the clusters.
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The phonological skills
The development of phonological skills is predictable progress. The idea is always vital as it gives the basis of teaching language from an easy task to a difficult one. When beginners start to learn a second language, the easiest task, which is always taught first, is the word awareness. Therefore, word awareness is the first phonological skill for any beginner. The word awareness involves tracking of words in a sentence. The second phonological skill is alliteration and responsiveness to rhyme during word play; in this stage, the learner enjoys rhyming words. The third stage is awareness of the syllabus, for example, blending, tapping, segmenting or counting words into syllabus. The fourth stage is rime and onset manipulation; in this stage the learner will develop the abilities to rhyme words depending on their comprehension that the rhyming words have similar rime. The final stage which proves to be the most difficult is awareness of phoneme. In this final stage, the learner should be able to blend sound into words, produce and segment initial sounds match and identify initial sounds in words, manipulate phonemes by substituting, adding or eliminating sounds etc.
Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis
According to this hypothesis, the learners who learn English as a second language will find some of its features easy and some very difficult. The elements that are similar to their first language (mother tongue) will be easier to understand while those that are not similar to them will be harder to understand. The Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis has three stages which include the descriptive stage, the juxtaposition stage and the comparative stage. In the descriptive stage, the analysts describe the languages to be studied using some framework. In the juxtaposition stage, the analyst must identify what needs to be compared, which means two or more entities must be identified. In the comparative stage, the analyst identifies the similarities and differences between the first and the second language.
Discussion and conclusion
The above study proves that learning English as a second language for Arab speakers is quite challenging. In fact, learning English as a second language is difficult for all non-native English speakers. The first and most obvious reason is that the language is new and it is being introduced at an age when the learner has already matured. The learner was raised while communicating in their first language, which is their mother tongue. The English syllabus proved difficult to learn for the Arab speakers because they are being introduced for the first time in their lives. The issues that were noted as sources of difficulties were stages of development and interference. At every learning stage, the learners often modify their ‘interlanguage restructuring the entire system by erasing or adding some rules. The modifications entirely depend on the errors that the candidate makes and suppose they make wrong expressions of grammar, they may not have to modify anything. The second source of difficulty that was noted was mother tongue or first language influence. Usually, these learners use the background of their first language (mother tongue) to assist them in learning the second language. The learners will only grasp what they are familiar with and what they don’t know, they will have difficulties with.
As mentioned earlier, the study was to hypothesize whether the pronunciation errors that the ESL learners make tend to agree with predictions of the “Hierarchy of Phonological Difficulty.” Also, the study was to hypothesize if these errors follow the predictions made by the “Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis.” According to the study, the hypothesis was correct meaning that the errors made by the ESL learners concur with the predictions of Hierarchy of Phonological Difficulty.” According to the “Hierarchy of Phonological Difficulty” the learners often learn the easiest task first then they progress as they learn the difficult ones later. The candidates being interviewed in the video are in still learning the easiest tasks in English, which is word awareness. As these candidates progress in their classes, they will learn the second phonological skill which is alliteration and responsiveness to rhyme during word play; in this stage, the learner enjoys rhyming words. The third stage is awareness of the syllabus, for example, blending, tapping, segmenting or counting words into syllabus. The fourth stage is rime and onset manipulation; in this stage the learner will develop the abilities to rhyme words depending on their comprehension that the rhyming words have similar rime. The final stage in their learning will be blending sound into words. Therefore, “Hierarchy of Phonological Difficulty” is a conclusive predictor in the learning stage for the Arabic candidates. According to the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis, the learners who learn English as a second language will find some of its features easy and some very difficult. It is quite evident that these Arab learners familiar with syllabus that they already knew in their first language and therefore used them in speaking.
- Alqahtani, M. S. M. (2014). Syllable structure and related processes in optimality theory: an examination of Najdi Arabic.
- Carlisle, R. S. (2001). Syllable structure universals and second language acquisition. International Journal of English Studies, 1(1), 1-19.
- Ibrahim, M. A. (2017). The CV Treatment of Consonantal Gemintes in Arabic: A Non-Linear Approach. The Buckingham Journal of Language and Linguistics, 9, 21-31.
- Saiegh-Haddad, E. (2017). MAWRID: A model of Arabic word reading in development. Journal of learning disabilities, 0022219417720460.
- Verhoeven, L., & Perfetti, C. (Eds.). (2017). Learning to read across languages and writing systems. Cambridge University Press.