Common Pronunciation Issues in ESL
English is not an easy language to learn Even ESL students who have a background of two or more languages often find English to be rather confusing and difficult to learnEnglish is not an easy language to learn. Even ESL students who have a background of two or more languages often find English to be rather confusing and difficult to learn. However, it is the pronunciation that trips most students up.
The good news is that there are some very common pronunciation issues that people face when learning English as a second language. Often these are based on the student''s mother tongue. For example, nearly all Spanish speakers will have the same pronunciation problems, while Asians have a different type of difficulty.
Why Pronunciation is Difficult
As babies, our mouths and vocal cords are completely adaptable. Babies are literally capable of learning to speak any language without an accent. However, as we learn one particular language and use it more and more, our entire speech system, from lips and palate to vocal cords, becomes accustomed to the sounds needed to use the language and it becomes more difficult to produce "foreign" sounds.
This isn''t the only obstacle, though. Even our ears change and while a baby is completely capable of hearing the difference between sounds in any language, as adults, we lose that ability. For this reason, a baby born in Malaysia but raised in the US will not have problems pronouncing "r", but if he or she were raised in Malaysia, after a decade or so, the child would no longer be able to hear the difference, let alone pronounce it. The good news is that you can retrain your ears and your mouth.
Knowing what you are up against is a huge help in learning correct ESL pronunciation. If you are aware of which words you will likely pronounce incorrectly, you can be conscious of this and make sure that you work to say the words correctly.
Stress and intonation: One of the biggest problems that every ESL student faces is putting the right emphasis on the right part of the word. This is something you can learn by listening carefully and marking written words.
Consonant blends: If you are not accustomed to putting "t" and "h" together to form "th", this can be a very difficult sound to reproduce. There are many consonant blends that are difficult for ESL students. Again, this tends to depend on what their mother tongue was.
Vowel blends: Sounds like "ou" and "ea" can be confusing to the ESL student, as well. Native English speakers usually speak so quickly that it can be very difficult to pick up the subtle blends of two or more vowels, making it even harder to repeat.
Depending on the student''s original language the following can also be issues:
Certain consonants: Japanese, Koreans and other Asian nationalities often have difficulties pronouncing or distinguishing "l" and "r". Arabic speakers may confuse "z" with "j" and Spanish speakers frequently use "b" when they are trying to say "v". German speakers find it difficult to use the "d" sound, usually substituting "t" instead.
Adding or removing sounds: For some students, new sounds slip into words. For example, French speaking students often add an "r", saying "hurt" instead of "hut". Both Russians and the French tend to drop the "k" in blended endings, such as with "link". Instead, they might say "lin" or even "ling".
Understanding which pronunciation problems are most common will help ESL students focus on correcting these issues in their own speech. It is something that takes time and concentration, but a determined student should be able to master the correct method of pronouncing commonly misspoken words in the English language.