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How a Learner of English as Second Language (ESL) can Overcome Pronunciation Problems

Updated on September 27, 2018

As a Second Language Learner of English, you can Overcome Pronunciation Problems

Non-native learners of English would want to sound at least close to native in their accent maybe because the prestige that goes with speaking English is believed to increase with the proficiency of the speaker. The challenge of acquiring proficiency is higher for those living outside native English environments; even though some learners may have lived with native speakers, yet do not get to learn much. However, it is still true that some have not had much encounter with native speakers yet have been able to learn and speak the language well almost like the native speakers. One question I wish to attempt answering in this discussion is 'Why do non-natives learn the grammar and semantics of English well to some extent but find pronunciation assimilation a serious problem?'

It is important that we first see what problems are there before going for solutions.

Mother-tongue Interference

The most obvious of the challenges non-native learners encounter is the influence of their mother-tongue (their local languages) on their speech manner. As an L2 learner of English, one definitely has his first language whose sounds one’s organs of speech would have over time been trained to articulate, and these sounds are definitely the ones absent in the English sound system. and on the other hand there are speech sounds of English that don't exist in the sound system of such person's first language. In such case, one would always replace such sounds with sounds in his L1 (first language). The alophonic variations may be quite absurd but language users could not have figured out the problems on their own. If for instance one's first language does not have the vowels in cart and cat (as in the case of most African languages); one is likely to pronounce cart and cat the same with any related sound they have learned from their local dialects. Also pick and peak will not be differentiated if one's L1 does not recognize the deference between /I/ and /i:/ beyond just the difference in length. Learners often wrongly think that the difference is only that /i:/ is longer than /I/. Imagine if a person you meet on a plane says to you “to die is good for you,” what will be your reaction? Whereas he actually means to say “today is good for you”. This is the result when /ei/ (as in say) is replaced with /ai/ (as in sigh).

Social Influence on Language Learning

Language use can hardly be separated from one’s behaviour except with conscious effort by the language user to separate his/her speech manner from the social behaviour around. The circle of linguistic influence a person is exposed to goes a long way in determining his language proficiency. If for instance one is discussing with friends in an informal setting where the friends are non-native speakers of English, the speech manner will most likely be casual and highly colloquial. In a formal setting, one is quite likely to be more coordinated in his speech. Those moments of casual discussions can go a long way reducing one’s concentration on the correct articulation of sounds thereby impeding the person’s adoption of the native English accent.

The English Variety that One is Exposed to

This is another big challenged learners most overcome. This may to some extent relate to social influence discussed above. To a large extent, you can decide what you give attention to and what you allow to interest you. Though you have a group of socially influential people around you, you can still be more interested in something more private. The problem here is that the dominant accent you hear often gradually sticks in your memory without you deciding it, you just one day find yourself exhibiting them. So your speech manner eventually is not what you decidedly learn but what has taken over you. This means that if you have to listen to utterances in the poor varieties, you must critical evaluate the utterances so that you will be guided by your assessment of what you call right or wrong.

Solutions

Develop your speech organs through constant practice

You can get rid of this problem by ensuring that you improve your ability to use your speech organs to produce all the sounds of English correctly, and also mindfully use them in pronouncing English words. When you say a word in a way that you realize is not correct, you should immediately say it in the correct way; with that, it will gradually become part of your subconscious linguistic ability and you won’t have to think hard to say the same word correctly.

Internalize the speech skills

I suggest you deliberately coordinate yourself and not get too casual when speaking English, particularly when you are learning to improve your English. After you have internalized the speech skills, you can always speak conveniently in any situation. The diagram of the speech organs can help hear. Get it and learn the places and manner of articulation. Keep trying to do what you see on the diagram as many times and as often as you can. This method has helped me greatly.

Be sure you really intend to learn

Another way out is that you need to define your interest . Be interested in hearing what you want to imitate. Listen to documentaries and news, and watch movies that will help develop your ability to speech well. You can decide to consider English spoken differently as substandard and judge it in your own way. For example, a news caster pronounces success with stress on the first syllable; you should be able to tell yourself within you that the proper pronunciation of the word places the stress on the second syllable. Whatever goes contrary to what you consider correct should attract some personal criticism within you, that makes you conscious when you speak and hepls you improve with time.

Record your speech and listen to it

You can also do a personal practice by recording your speech and then listening to it and noting areas you need to work on. This can be done when you are either alone in your room (maybe you read a passage) or during a discussion with someone. When this is done, you can listen to yourself over and over again. When you notice areas you are not satisfied with, you can correct it in subsequent recordings. You can start by speaking slowly and later increasing your speed until you can say the chain of words with ease.

Teach someone what you learn

This is one very good learning skill It will help a great deal if you teach someone what you have learned. If a person pronounces a word wrongly, you should be able to kindly tell the person that the word is pronounced this way and not that. This is good because what you teach someone sticks more to you.

Look up word pronunciations you are not certain about

Use your dictionary to look up words whose pronunciations you are not certain about. This will require that you always have your dictionary with you. Make your pronunciation dictionary your good companion. You can installed it on your mobile phone.This is more dependable than asking people because sometimes you may ask someone who will give you an answer he is not quite sure of, and could be incorrect. This is why it is very important you learn the different English sounds and their symbols.

Don't give in to steriotyping

This is one very common proplem that could discourage learners in non-native English learning environment. You must learn to ignore them. At the start they may give you unpleasant names, but in the future, they will look out for you begging to get your help.

Conclusion

This is just a few areas that you can work on to improve your proficiency in English pronunciation and be over with pronunciation challenges and sound much like a native speaker. If you can use them, you will experience a change in your sound pronunciation; then you can proceed to other areas like intonation and stress. This implies that you may not learn everything one time.

The speech organs

© 2014 Jacob Ado Ama

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    • Fred Arnold profile image

      Fred Arnold 

      4 years ago from Clearwater, FL

      I liked this article. It is very informative on the issue you picked, however, it is very wordy haha. Not a bad thing. But with what you are outlining there are definitely some videos and possible pictures to go along with it! Videos might also help someone reading who might not speak and read the language well!

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