TEFL Pronunciation Problems for Chinese Students of English
As a global language, English has been popularly taught as the second language in China for quite a few years. Now there are more Chinese people learning English on various purposes, such as applying for a higher paid job, studying and living abroad, or establishing business with western countries.
According to my experience of learning and teaching English, it is harder to master English pronunciation than English grammar for Chinese students. Chinese grammar may appear quite simple compared to that of many highly-inflected Western languages (e.g. Russian, Latin, etc.), or even the low-scale verb conjugations, for instance, of English (e.g. "swim, swam, swum") because of the lack of inflections. (1)
Even though there are similarities between English alphabet and Chinese one ? Han Yu Pin Yin, which was adopted in 1979 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as the standard romanization for modern Chinese (ISO-7098:1991) (2), it is still difficult for Chinese students to make right sounds of some specific English phonetics. One of the reasons is all consonants in Chinese phonemes are voiced, such as roman letter ?t?, some of Chinese students make the sound like /te/ and about the sentence ?what is your name??, some Chinese students will say / wate iz yor namme/. They tend to insert vowels between English consonant clusters, or put a vowel after the final consonant so that it will take them a long time to remember the voiced and unvoiced English consonants. Based on my experience, I have used the same way as I was learning English phonetics at school, which also made it easier for my students to self-correct these consonants. I asked them to put their hand on the neck and feel movements from their vocal chords. Obviously, the vocal chords will not move when the students do unvoiced sounds. The feedback from my students was pleasant.
The pronunciations of some vowels are confusing to English learners in China. /I/, /e/, and /ae/ do not distinguishably make any difference to the most of Chinese students. Words like ?bit?, ?bet? and ?bat? will be pronounced in the same sound by them. We used to draw mouth diagrams to show the students the different width of the mouth and notice them that the mouth opens as wide as the index finger when they make /e/ sound and the mouth should open enough as long as they could put in their index finger and the middle one for /ae/ sound.
There are a few solutions to correct Chinese students? pronunciation, which I have mentioned a couple in the article. However, Chinese students have other troubles of their pronunciation.
Consonant /r/ and /l/ are just impossible for some students to pronounce, especially students from Eastern China, because there is not any sound like /r/ in their dialect. There is /r/ in mandarin, which means students make mistakes on this sound even when they learn mandarin. In this case, they will say ?lat? instead of ?rat?. Therefore, without context, ?right? and ?light? will sound the same. Moreover, the Long and Short Features of English vowels pose a problem for the Chinese learners when pronouncing English vowels because Mandarin does not have this feature. A learner is often confused over words like these: ship - sheep man - men fit - feet pat - pet chip - cheap bad ? bed.
Nevertheless, the diphthongs will not be difficult for Chinese students to learn because they are similar to mandarin ones. The only problem is the students may not open their mouth wide enough to make accurate sound, thus sometimes when they say /aI/, it will sound like /eI/.
EFL teachers in China have been working on these problems, meanwhile, there are dozens of methodologies have been proposed. For example, the length of voice onset time (VOT) in uttering Chinese aspirated sounds. (3) Hope the new methods will be helpful with Chinese students? English pronunciation.
Chinese students have a desire to improve their intercultural communication abilities. Better English skills will be the key to access to their goals.
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinyin#History (3) http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/freeabs_all.jsp? tp=&arnumber=1409601&isnumber=30548
Author: Zhou Yin
Date of post: 2007-04-18