February 01, 2017

Pronunciation Difficulties for Students with L1 Spanish

Judul: Pronunciation Difficulties for Students with L1 Spanish
Penulis: Peter Allen

Pronunciation Difficulties for Students with L1 Spanish
Peter Allen
August 2011
University of Leicester
MA TESOL and Applied Linguistics
Module Two: Grammar and Phonology
Table of Contents
1. Introduction3
2. Phonetics and phonology3
A Speech Sounds3
B The sounds of English and Spanish4
3. Analysis of learners' performance ……………………………………………………………………………………...…….5
A Segmental features…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….5
B Suprasegmental features .………………………………………………………………………………………………………….6
4. Implications for teaching ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….6
Appendix ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..8
Bibliography ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….10
1 Introduction
Learning a second language is a complex process which involves the skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing; and the systems of grammar, lexis, discourse and phonology (or selections therefrom). Of these, accurately acquiring the phonology of another language often seems to be the most difficult task. Although contrastive studies have shown that there may be some problems caused by L1 grammar in acquiring L2 grammar, and although learning the L2 lexis may be complicated by that of L1 (for example through `false friends') achieving native-speaker level pronunciation is a problem of a different order. There is an important difference between the other systems and the production of speech sounds.
The influence of L1 phonological habits…is due largely to the nature of the
speech process itself. Once the neurolinguistic phase…is completed, the process thence consists of motor commands flowing out through motor nerves to muscles
in the speech organs… the production of speech sounds is unlike that of lexis
and syntax, since it does not involve passing messages through the brain, but
rather the development of highly automatized motor skills and…the formation
of L1 speech habits which are not easily de-automatized in L2
(Jenkins, 2000: 112).
I therefore begin with a description of the articulators used in the production of speech sounds and of their use to produce vowels and consonants. I go on to look at some of the differences between the phonology of English and Spanish. This should provide context for the following analysis of two (South American) Spanish speakers' performance of a tapescript, with a comparison to RP. Finally, I try to draw some conclusions on implications for teaching English phonology to students with L1 Spanish.
2 Phonetics and Phonology
A brief definition of these terms is that phonetics is the study of speech sounds, and phonology that of the sounds of a particular language and their systematic interrelationship (Richards and Schmidt, 2002:397-398).
A Speech sounds
According to the account given in Gimson's Pronunciation of English (2001: 8-17) the production of speech sounds begins (with very minor exceptions) with the expulsion of air from the lungs (although a few languages do make some speech sounds on the in-breath). This then passes through the larynx where it may be modified by opening or closing the vocal folds, passing on through the pharynx to where the soft palate (the velum) may be closed, allowing the airstream to pass into the mouth, or lowered thus allowing air into the nasal passages. In the mouth the combination of the movements of a number of different articulators may further modify the airstream. These are the lips, teeth, alveolar ridge, tongue and hard palate. Movements of the tongue (whose different sections are referred to as the tip, blade, front, back and root) into different positions in the mouth, sometimes with varying contact with the other articulators, modifies the airstream to produce different sounds, traditionally divided into vowels and consonants. A common definition of the former is that `there is no obstruction to the flow of air as it passes from the larynx to the lips' (Roach, 1991:10), whereas consonant sounds are made by obstructing or restricting the passage of air in various ways.
B The sounds of English and Spanish
As Roach points out, the situation is a little more complex than this. In English phonology, for example, /j/ is regarded as a consonant sound but seems to be obstructed little more than any vowel sound. But this is generally regarded as a reasonable working definition. Differences in vowel sounds are caused by the distance of the tongue from the hard palate, and which part of it is raised highest. For example, in English /e/ is produced with the tongue held about midway and the front raised. By comparison, /a:/ is produced with the tongue held low in the mouth and the back part raised. It is generally accepted that there are 20 vowel sounds in RP – 7 short, 5 long, and 8 diphthongs, which are made by combining two vowel sounds together.
Consonants are categorised by place and manner of articulation. Place of articulation relates to the articulators listed above. The manner refers to the nature of the obstruction to the airflow, which may be complete as in the plosives /p/ /b/ /t/ /d/ /k/ /g/, or the affricates /tʃ/ and /dʒ/; narrowed with friction as in the fricatives /f/ /v/ /θ/ /ð/ /s/ /z/ /ʃ/ /ʒ/ /h/; complete but with air allowed to escape through the nose as in the nasal continuants /m/ /n/ and /ŋ/; or partial as with the approximants /l/ /r/ /j/ and /w/ (Gimson and Cruttenden, 2001: 149-216). Consonants are described as voiced or unvoiced, but voicing (sometimes described as if it is a permanent feature of a particular sound) may be affected by position. Voiced plosives such as /p/ tend to be unvoiced in initial position in stressed syllables and are recognised instead by their aspiration. In fact the realisation of speech sounds may often vary somewhat. As long as they are not heard as a different sound where that would change the meaning they are likely to be understood as the expected sound. These variations are termed as allophones.
It is also necessary to consider supra-segmental issues such as word stress, rhythm and intonation. Although there are some regularities in word stress these are limited. Learners must ensure they know the stress of multi-syllabic words when they learn them if they wish to be accurate. There still seems to be no definitive conclusion to the debate as to whether English is a stress-timed language. However, what is not in doubt is the extensive use of weak forms in RP. Grammar words such as prepositions and articles are pronounced in a weak form unless there is a reason to stress them. Those who wish to communicate with native speakers will need a good receptive understanding of this at least. With regard to intonation, this is used to convey meaning more than in some languages and once again receptive awareness is necessary when dealing with native speakers.
Although there are some similarities between English and Spanish there are important differences which can cause difficulties for L1 Spanish speakers. According to Coe (2001: 90-91) at the segmental level there are fewer problems with consonants than with vowels (although there is a tendency to devoicing of final voiced consonants) as many consonants have Spanish equivalents (or near equivalents). The main problems include that the difference between /b/ and /v/ is an allophone not a phoneme; /z/ /ʃ/ /ʒ/ and /dʒ/ do not exist; /j/ is pronounced in a less open way coming out more like /dʒ/; and voiceless plosives in initial position are not aspirated so they sound like their voiced equivalents. In addition, South American Spanish does not have the phonemes /ð/ and /θ/.
Vowels are more problematic as Spanish only has five and five diphthongs compared with the English twelve plus eight diphthongs. `Consequently, learners find difficulty in differentiating between English vowels, especially where length is a part of the difference. Typically, at least two English vowels share the 'phonetic space' occupied by one Spanish vowel, so one-to-one correspondences are practically impossible' (Coe, 2001:91). This leads to a wide range of possible errors.
There are also a number of potential problems at the suprasegmental level. For example, the greater number of consonant clusters in English may lead to Spanish speakers oversimplifying them and missing out some sounds. Word stress in Spanish is regular (usually on the penultimate syllable – Green, 1990:245) so the irregular nature of word stress in English may come as an unpleasant surprise. Coe (2001:94) also points out that there is a great deal of congruence between spelling and pronunciation in Spanish which can lead to attempts to pronounce English words letter-by-letter the way they are spelt. Another major issue is the difference in rhythm and stress between the two languages. As a syllable-timed language Spanish is very different in not weakening the grammar words or giving particular prominence to the `meaning-carrying' words such as nouns and verbs. It is not as natural for L1 Spanish speakers to give clues to meaning through rhythm and stress in this manner. A final point relates to intonation. Spanish speakers use a narrower pitch range and in addition, the nuclear tone regularly falls on the last stressed syllable in the sentence – which is not always the case in English, so there may also be problems arising from this.
3 Analysis of learners' performance
For this analysis, two learners were recorded (separately) reading a dialogue (see Appendix). There are some advantages to this compared with recording natural speech – for example, if analysing more than one learner, they are saying the same thing and it is therefore easier to compare them. There are also some disadvantages. For example, when reading a dialogue it is far more likely that learners will consider themselves to be speaking formally and therefore take much more care to monitor their output and limit their errors. As a result, they may not make all the errors they would make in normal speech. It should also be pointed out that this is a phonemic analysis rather than a phonetic one. I am attempting to analyse their speech according to the sounds of English so the transcription only uses English phonemes. Some of the sounds that the learners make are allophones or even sounds which cannot be transcribed exactly in this way. I will refer to this if the sound is not an allophone of an English phoneme.
A Segmental features
(i) Vowels – There were fewer problems here than might have been expected (possibly because of increased monitoring due to the situation). In line 2 of the dialogue Spanish speaker 2 (SP2) shortened /u:/ to something like /ʊ/ rather than /ə/ although this had no effect on understanding. In line 5 SP1 pronounced the first vowel in today as an approximation of /ʊ/ where a native speaker would probably use /ə/. In line 7 SP1 pronounces oh as something more like /ɔ/ (although not exactly that). If this is a common error it could lead to some misunderstandings due to mispronunciation. One surprising error (to me at least) made by both learners was in line 7 when they pronounced the first letter e in kettle as /ɪ/. It is not clear to me why they did this as this does not seem to be influenced by the pronunciation of letter e in Spanish. However, this kind of error could definitely cause a listener to fail to understand what is being said. In line 8 SP1 pronounces the vowel in catch as something more like /ʌ/. Finally, SP2 made the error of pronouncing since with an approximation of /æ/ in line 8, but quickly corrected herself (and so the error is not included in the transcription).
(ii) Consonants – As /dʒ/ does not exist in her L1, SP 2 produced /j/ as the initial consonant of journey in line 1. On more than one occasion /n/ replaced /ŋ/ at the end of a word for both speakers. In line 4 SP1 produced something more like (although not exactly) /h/ than /w/ at the start of would. In line 5 SP began with /ɪs/ rather than /ɪts/. This may have been due to grammatical differences as it is not always necessary for a clause to have a subject in Spanish so there is no need to insert it where there is no other subject, unlike in English. In line SP1 produced the final t of at as /d/, which while not correct would be unlikely to affect understanding. Most of these errors would probably mark the speaker out as L1 Spanish to a native speaker but would generally be unlikely to obstruct comprehension. However, SP1 sometimes omitted the final consonant of words, for example /d/ at the end of bad in line 2 and could in line 5; and /t/ at the end of put in line 7 (although a native speaker might substitute /t/ here with a glottal stop). These errors might well have a negative effect on communication. He also omitted the word did in line 1 and in before Manchester in line 2, which would be less likely to cause problems.
B Suprasegmental features
With Spanish speakers paragoge (adding a sound to the end of a word) and epenthesis (adding a vowel sound in between consonants in a cluster) (Jenkins, 2000:34-35) are not uncommon features to help with the problem of consonant clusters. However, there is only one instance here – SP1 puts /ə/ between it's and great in line 5. The number of these errors may have been reduced by the speakers length of time in the UK (both have been here at least 2 years) and by them monitoring their performances carefully due to the nature of the situation. There were also no real problems with word stress, perhaps because there was little in the way of unknown vocabulary in the dialogue.
With regard to weak forms, the learners used some that native speakers would use, for example weakening to to /tə/. Where they did not do so it had no effect on communication. In general, their rhythm was quite good and not different in major ways from that of a native speaker. However, they both had some problems with catenation in line 6 which caused their fluency to break down. The main problem seemed to be the linking /t/ between the words in not out of, although SP2 also found it difficult to link at all. In natural speech there might be some problems like elision of the /t/ which could create difficulties for the listener. In terms of intonation, there were no major problems. Both learners were reasonably natural, for example, using rising intonation with the question in line 3 and falling in the reply in line 4. Once again, this performance might vary somewhat more in natural speech.
4 Implications for teaching
The implications would depend very much on the needs' of the learners. For example, if they wish to integrate fully into a native speaker community they may wish to develop productive abilities with regard to features such as the use of weak forms. If they wish to use English to communicate with native speakers they will definitely need receptive skills in this kind of area. However, if they will mainly be using English as a means to communicate with other non-native speakers there is no need for them to work on those aspects of English pronunciation that are usually not assimilated by second language learners. Furthermore, for reasons of identity they may actively wish not to become completely native speaker-like.
With regard to these two particular learners, their intention is to go back to their home countries when they have completed their studies in England. They believe that their English language skills will enable them to get a good job, which is likely to require the use of English as an international means of communication. So with regard to phonology their main need is receptive skills for listening to both native and non-native speakers; and productive skills for communication mainly with speakers of English as a second language.
Perhaps the most relevant teaching model for these students is Jenkins' Lingua Franca Core (2000). Although based largely on her own research, and thus needing more independent verification, she makes a strong case for concentrating on particular features of English whilst leaving others aside as being less productive. Partly this is to do with the factors of teachability (if a feature is not realistically teachable it is wasting time to try) and learnability (if it cannot realistically be learned in the classroom there is no point spending time on it) (Jenkins, 2000:132-134). But also it is a matter of prioritising those features that cause the most communicative problems between second language learners.
Jenkins groups her core items into five areas, of which the main points follow. The first is consonants, where close approximations are permissible as long as they are allophones and do not become a different phoneme; most substitutions of /ð/, /θ/ and dark /l/ are acceptable; /r/ is rhotic (as in General American). Secondly, in terms of phonetics /p/ /t/ and /k/ are aspirated; and the effect of fortis or lenis phonemes on the length of preceding consonants is maintained. Thirdly, initial consonant clusters should not be simplified, and elision in medial or final position must be as in L1 English. Fourthly, vowel length contrasts must be rendered reasonably accurately. Finally, with regard to intonation, learners need to work on the correct production and placement of nuclear stress, and division of speech into tone groups. Other areas would still need work for receptive purposes. (2000:159).
If this model is broadly accepted appropriate classroom methodology needs to be considered. Jenkins suggests that accommodation of the learner's interlanguage towards intelligibility should underlie the work done (2000:167) as `the greatest influence on the accuracy or otherwise of pronunciation…is the salience of interlocutor comprehension' (180). Productively, learners need to develop new pronunciation habits; receptively, they need to be exposed to a wider range of accents (both native and non-native speakers). With regard to the phonemes, Kenworthy has a number of useful suggestions to raise awareness, such as minimal pair practice, listening for a specific word and writing the word you hear (1987:46-48). Recordings of different accents can be played with attention drawn to specific problem areas, including suprasegmental areas such as intonation.
Jenkins proposes that practical work should be based on tasks completed in pairs involving a two-way flow of information (a staple of the communicative approach for many years). `In fact, it is only [student – student] interaction that is able to promote these particular skills' (2000:188, emphasis in original). There is a wide range of materials available for this kind of pairwork. This work enables students to converge towards mutual intelligibility. Over time, and with enough practice, this can help them to reduce those errors that make their speech difficult to understand. This kind of approach should help such learners to become aware of areas of phonological difficulty, to work on developing new habits to improve intelligibility, and to help them develop their receptive skills.
(Word count: 3,042)
A: Did you have a good journey yesterday? LINE 1
RP:dɪd jə həv ə gʊd ˈdʒəniː ˈjestəˌdeɪ||
SP1:ju: ˈhævə gʊd ˈdʒɜ:nɪ ˈjestəˌdeɪ||
SP2:dɪd ju: ˈhævə gʊd ˈjɜ:ni ˈjestəˌdeɪ||
B: Not too bad, just one short delay waiting in Manchester. LINE 2
RP:nɒt tuː bæd| dʒəs wʌn ʃɔːt dɪˈleɪ ˈweɪtɪŋ ɪm ˈmænˌtʃestə||
SP1:nɒ tu: bæ| dʒʌs wʌn ʃɔt dɪˈleɪ ˈweɪtiŋ ˈmænˌtʒestə||
SP2:nɒt tʊ bæd| dʒʌst wʌn ʃɔt dɪˈleɪ ˈweɪtɪn ɪn ˈmænˌtʃestə||
A: Good. Would you like something to drink? Tea, coffee …? LINE 3
RP:gʊd| wʊd juː laɪk ˈsʌmθɪŋ tə drɪŋk| tiː| kɒfiː||
SP1: gʊd| wʊd ju: laɪk ˈsʌmθɪŋ tə drɪŋk| ti: kɒfi:||
SP2:gʊd| wʊ ju: laɪk ˈsʌmθɪŋ tə drɪŋk| ti:| kɒfɪ||
B: Tea would be lovely. Thank you. LINE 4
RP:tiː wʊd bɪ ˈlʌvliː| /θæŋk juː|
SP1: ti: hʊd bɪ ˈlʌvli:| θæŋk ju:||
SP2:ti: wʊd bɪ ˈlʌvlɪ θæŋk ju:||
A: It's great that we could meet today. LINE 5
RP:ɪts greɪʔ ðət wiː kəd miːʔ təˈdeɪ||
SP1:ɪzə greɪʔ ðət wi: kʊ mi: tʊˈdeɪ||
SP2:ɪs greɪt ðət wi: kʊd mi:t təˈdeɪ||
B: It's a real pleasure and it's not out of my way at all. LINE 6
RP: ɪts ə ˈrɪəl ˈpleʒə ənd ɪts nɒt ɑʊt əv mɑɪ weɪ ət ɔːl||
SP1: ˈɪzə ˈrɪəl ˈpleʃə ən ɪts nɒt ɒf ə maɪ weɪ əd ɔ:l||
SP2:ˈɪtsə ˈrɪel ˈpleʒə æn ɪts nɒt aʊʔ ɒv maɪ weɪ æt a:l||
A: Oh, let me put the kettle on. LINE 7
RP:əʊ| let mɪː pʊʔ ðə ˈketl̩ ɒn||
SP1:ɔ ˈlemɪ pʊ ðə ˈkɪtl̩ ɒn||
SP2:əʊ let mi: pʊt ðə ˈkɪtl̩ ɒn||
B:Yes, then we can catch up on what's been happening since last time.
RP: jes| ðen wiː kən kætʃ ʌp ən wɒts bɪn ˈhæpnɪŋ sɪns lɑs tɑɪm||
SP1:jez ðen wi: kæn kʌtʃ ʌp ɒn wɒts bɪn ˈhæpəˌnɪn sɪns la:s taɪm||
SP2:jes ðen wi: kæn kætʃ ʌp ɒn wɒs bɪn ˈhæpəˌnɪn sɪns la:s taɪm||
Coe, N. (2001) `Speakers of Spanish and Catalan' in Swan, M. and Smith, B. (eds.) pp.90-112
Comrie, B (1990) The World's Major Languages, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Gimson, A.C. and Cruttenden, A. (2001) Gimson's Pronunciation of English, (6th ed.) London: Arnold
Green, J.N. (1990) `Spanish' in Comrie (ed.) pp.236-259
Jenkins, J. (2000) The Phonology of English as an International Language, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Kenworthy, J. (1987) Teaching English Pronunciation, Harlow: Longman
Richards, J.C. and Schmidt, R. (2002) The Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, London: Longman
Roach, P. (1991) English Phonetics and Phonology, (2nd ed.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Swan, M. and Smith, B. (eds.) (2001) Learner English, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

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