Secondary school students’ handicap in pronouncing English words [Archives:2006/998/Education]

November 13 2006

Mohammed Hassan Bakheet
Hodeidah, Bajil
Khadeijah school
[email protected]

Language as a tool of communication

Language is a means of communication of ideas, emotions and desires. A foreign language facilitates interlanguage communication.

English is decidedly the world's most important and most widely used language. Undoubtedly, it is the lingua franca of the world community, because the world is getting smaller and smaller and we are no longer only citizens of our own country; we are citizens of the global village. Communication between various countries is increasing quite rapidly. Furthermore, English is the language of science and technology.

Learning English subsumes learning of both form and function. In order to speak a language correctly learners need to learn its grammar, lexis and phonology. But mere correctness will not help them, they must know how to use it with different people in different situations and how to pronounce the words in the correct way. Thus learning English is not to master grammar, but to speak the language correctly and to use it appropriately. Therefore, we should focus on the correct pronunciation of the English speech sounds in speaking and listening.

Now, let's shed some light on the two skills: speaking and listening, because these are the skills most practiced by the majority of the learners in so far as most Yemeni students learn English not to write English articles or compositions, but rather for the purpose of communication with others.

In this context, the questions which must be exacerbated here are:

* Why most Yemeni students find difficulties in pronunciation of some English words?

* Why are our students at the bottom of the list of world's students?

* Why are our teachers so relaxed despite students' atrocious mispronunciation affecting the intelligibility of their spoken English?

* Why do our teachers usually underestimate the gap between our students and the students of the developing world?

* What are the reasons contributing to the overall weakness of our students?

In my opinion, this weakness can be attributed to several reasons, I will try to mention the most important reasons which I notice as a teacher in a secondary school.

1) The first one, absence of focus and opportunity on pronunciation during the teaching of English, because most of our teachers in the secondary schools focus on grammar. Some of them are still fond of grammar – translation method. It aims at teaching rules of grammar and translation of sentences and passages. The method focuses learners' attention on the written language, but they fail to acquire oral fluency and spontaneity. Moreover, translation is itself a specialized skill. Everyone doesn't want to be a translator. In this method there is emphasis on creating a framework in which rules can be applied. This emphasis may lead to stilted and unnatural use of the language. So the teachers should focus on speaking more than other skills in an EFLclassroom.

2) The second reasons is absence of audio – visual aids in the classroom such as: computer, TV, video, CD, …etc. The fluent use of a language is essentially a set of habits which can be developed with a lot of practice. Much of this practice involves hours spent in a language laboratory in repeating oral drills.

3) The disparity between the source language Arabic and the target language English is also a reason for weakness in pronunciation of English words. There is no doubt that English phonetics constitutes a major problem for the Yemeni students. For this reason many learners can't pronounce some English speech sounds correctly. For example, they pronounce the sound / ch / as / sh / because the Arabic language has no / ch / sound. Also, most Yemeni students find it difficult to differentiate between / p / and / b /, / b / and / d /, / f / and / v /. They sometimes pronounce / sh / as / s /.

4) Teachers' poor proficiency in English is also a reason for mispronunciation of some English words. A lot of empirical research has been conducted to study the learner's performance in the field of second language learning. The researchers have analyzed the pronunciation errors made by learners in order to identify strategies which learners use in learning English as a foreign language. Our syllabus doesn't focus on pronunciation or practice in phonetic symbols in the courses of secondary schools (Crescent English Course For Yemen). As a result of this, our teachers in the secondary schools don't focus on pronunciation during the teaching of English. The physical properties of sounds and their manner of articulation should be the basic thrust in teaching English. It is common knowledge that the English language has 24 consonants in all, fifteen of which are voiced, and the other nine are voiceless. Native speakers of Arabic should know and differentiate between them clearly to avoid mistakes when pronouncing them, and this must be emphasized from the early stage of EFL learning.

Some suggested solutions:

1. We should focus on pronunciation of English as much as our focus on English grammar.

2. Teachers should use audio- visual aids because it isn't easy to grapple with the pronunciation of an English word by looking at its spelling. Students should be taught the correct pronunciation, so all the necessary facilities should be available in the classroom.

3. We should give the students some idea about the differences between the English and the Arabic phonetic systems.

4. Teachers should be given adequate in – service and pre- service training.