Pronunciation problems in Thailand During my first week at the TEFL course


During my first week at the TEFL course in Phuket, Thailand, I began to notice that the pronunciation of the Thai students was lacking a bit. I do not blame this condition on the teachers, nor on the students themselves, but the pronunciation predicament immediately stuck out to me as a problem for which I would like to find some resolution. For this reason, I decided to look further into the difficulties Thai students have when learning such a widely- used foreign language as English.

What I found was that most of the pronunciation problems stem from the vast differences the two languages contain. For many teachers and students alike, the dissimilarities become so numerous that they easily begin to overwhelm everyone involved in the process of learning a new language. But there are a few ways to avoid the devastation of unsatisfactory results. Realizing that the problems with pronunciation have been an issue for ages, and will continue to cause confusion well into the future, is the first step to tackling the huge task you have set before yourself.

Problems with pronunciation is a age-old tale that probably goes back to a caveman grunting the wrong way, causing a 'battle between the cave-clans' over an innocent mistake. Today I think it is safe to assume that the problems don't reach these levels, but many confusing situations have certainly arisen. Take for example a narrative I recently read on the internet (I. http://effortlessacquisition.blogspot.com/2006/09/wat-struggles-with- pronunciation.html). In the beginning of the conversation, the reader is made aware that Wat, a Thai person, has moved to San Francisco, California to live with his girlfriend, Kristin. Wat wishes to fix something in the kitchen and is trying to ask Kristin where the tools are. But instead of saying 'tools', Wat keeps asking where the 'two' are. Mildly confused, Kristin repetitively asks Wat, 'two what'' to which Wat just keeps repeating 'two, two!' This goes on for sometime until Wat finally decides to mention screwdrivers and hammers. Finally, Kristen understands. This is one of the most common mistakes Thais make with pronunciation. They chop the ends off of the words. In this circumstance, the reason Wat was not pronouncing the /l/ or the /s/ at the end of the word was because these sounds do not exist in the Thai language. The Thai language has only eight syllable-ending sounds and all of them are non-explosive (http://www.clt.cornell.edu/campus/itadp/profiles.htm ).

A learner of any language is going to encounter pronunciation problems. These problems include individual sound or syllabic pronunciation, tone, and rhythm. Usually, all of these problems are faced at some time. Thai is a tonal language with five separate tones, whereas English is considered a stressed language. This means that we give stress to certain words while other words are quickly spoken. The stress is usually given to the 'important' words in the sentence, while the other words are mumbled through. Therefore, while each word in a Thai sentence is spoken in varying tones, the stress remains the same throughout. On the contrary, the tone in English is rather mono, but the stress is varied (http://www.btinternet.com/~ted.power/l1thai.html ).

I am of the thought that pronunciation should be one of the first things you learn in English. You can live without advanced vocabulary by using simple words to get your point across. You can also live without advanced grammar and use only simple grammar structures. But there is no such thing as simple pronunciation. If you don't have good pronunciation, you just have bad pronunciation.

There are several methods that are being used to battle the pronunciation war. The easiest solution is for the student to surround themselves with the language they are learning as much as possible. This means watching television and listening to talk radio programs with native speakers, and making friends with many native speakers as well.

I also read about a woman who used hand movements to emphasize word-stress and sounds that the Thai students tend to drop, like /l/ and /s/. She also played up tougher-ending words by exaggerating the syllable-ending sounds (i.e. tool-luh instead of just tool) (I.).

Once this practice is down, it is also a good idea to focus on the 'stress-timed' quality of English. Students often get so caught up in pronouncing each word correctly they tend to pronounce the sentences in an unnatural manner. By focusing on the stress- time factor in English, students begin sounding much more 'authentic' as the cadence of the language begins to ring true.

Overall, the key to helping the Thai students develop good pronunciation is to ensure that they understand why it is important, and care enough to want to improve it themselves. Pronunciation is not easy to come by, but with some time and effort, the skill can be mastered