Pronunciation Problems North American English Pronunciation:
North American English Pronunciation: Difficulties of the Spanish Speaker
The variety of English spoken in North America not only has particular grammatical structures, vocabulary, slang, and orthography, but it also comprises a unique system of pronunciation. Improper pronunciation can render a word unintelligible and yet the main goal of learning a language is to be able to communicate. While native-like pronunciation may never be attainable for some learners, it is important for teachers of English to identify potential problem areas so that their students will at least be able to communicate competently.
The Spanish speaker will encounter several phonetic difficulties upon learning North American English (NAE). First, I will discuss the phonetic differences between Spanish and NAE consonants. See charts 1.1 and 1.2 that map the phonemes that are found within each language. The first issue that is immediately apparent after comparing the two charts is that the phonemes /v/ is missing from the Spanish chart. While the Spanish alphabet includes the written letter , it is pronounced as a voiced bilabial fricative. The NAE /v/ is a voiced labiodental stop. Another sound missing from the Spanish chart is /h/ as in [haws] and [ho.tℇl]. This sound is similar, but not identical, to the Spanish /x/, a voiced velar fricative. The phoneme /h/ may be especially challenging for Spanish speakers since it is represented by the letter in North American English, and in Spanish this letter is never pronounced.
As most people are aware, the Spanish /r/ is very different from the one in North American English. In chart 1.1 it is located in two places, vibrante simple and vibrante multiple meaning simple or multiple roll and is alveolar. A simple roll is when there is a brief period of alveolar flapping of the apex of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth. For the multiple roll, the period of flapping is longer. As can be seen in chart 1.2 the common pronunciation (not within parentheses) of the NAE /r/ is described as a voiced alveolar liquid. While the /r/ in both systems is voiced and alveolar, the tip of the tongue never touches the roof of the mouth in NAE.
Apart from these more obvious differences, there are also a few subtle divergences between the two languages, such as the placement of consonant sounds. The NAE phonemes /t/ and /d/ are listed as alveolar whereas in Spanish they are dental. Though the chart does not show this, these two letters are most often transcribed with a dental marker beneath them, like the markings beneath the dental /l/ and /n/. Further examples of a shift in placement can be found with the phonemes /ʃ/, /ʧ/and /w/. While these phonemes differ slightly in place of articulation they should not result in any communication issues, rather their pronunciation will indicate the presence of a foreign accent.
In regards to NAE vowel sounds, Spanish speakers may not only have trouble pronouncing the vowels, but also seeing written words and translating them into the correct sounds. Charts 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3 describe the vowel phonemes in Spanish and English respectively. Again, there are some obvious variances between the two languages. Spanish has only five vowel phonemes whereas North American English has fourteen. “In comparison with English vowels, those of Spanish are: shorter, more pure (without diphtongization), and more contrastive (without central middle vowels). ” Generally, in Spanish a vowel is pronounced the same way in every instance, no matter where it is located. This is not true of English. Let’s look at the vowel : boo [buw] , book [bʊk], boat [bowt], bought [bɔt], bough [baw], boy [bɔy]. Each of these words contains the letter but none of them are pronounced in the same manner. This can be very confusing and overwhelming.
There are many ways that a teacher can help their students to overcome these pronunciation obstacles. Some examples are to use tongue twisters, minimum pair exercises, and charts. It may be difficult to incorporate many pronunciation activities within a multi-skills classroom, but knowing where potential troubles lie will help the teacher to create effective lesson plans to aptly address these issues. 1.1 Spanish Consonant Allophones 1.2 Classification of NAE Consonant Phonemes 2.1 Spanish Vowel Phonemes 2.2 Classification of North American English Vowels
2.3 English Vowel Chart
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