Teach English in Boli Zhen - Huai'an Shi

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Living in Bangkok, Thailand for the past 10.5 years has given me a unique opportunity to interact with many Thai families at the school my children attend. I have also had the opportunity to take Thai language lessons which have helped me gain a better understanding of how one’s native language can interfere with second language acquisition, and better identifying some of the problems that native Thai speakers have with English. The difficulties stem from several English phonemes not existing in the Thai language, or the phonemes existing but the position of the phoneme or syllable is different than in Thai. This paper focuses on some of the most common English language pronunciation problems for Thai people and the role the Thai language plays in the interference. The Missing S The missing final s is a three fold problem. First, an /s/ is never used as a final sound in Thai. Second, verbs are not conjugated so there are no plural forms of verbs in the third person. And lastly, Thai language does not pluralize nouns either; instead, it indicates plurality by specifying the quantity of the classifier of the noun (student—two person, watermelon—3 slice). While this perhaps makes learning Thai more simple for an English speaker, the reverse is much harder, as a Thai English speaker often forgets to add the final “S” when necessary. Production often sounds like, sick apple (six apples), I (ice), gat (gas), fok (fox), how (house) Starbuck (Starbucks). The Missing /Id/ Similarly to the missing S, language interference happens again when it comes to the past tense of verbs simply because the Thai language doesn’t have a similar pattern. Thai language does not indicate past tense by changing the verb, it is marked by the adverbial word แล้ว, which means “in the past, completed, or to make done”. Production often sounds like literal translation from Thai to English, “She play soccer yesterday.” /l/, /r/ and /n/ /l/ exists in the Thai language, but only at the beginning of a word (such as ลิง—monkey), so while Thai speakers can pronounce beginning sound /l/ words, middle and final sounds prove more difficult. The written letter “R” technically exists in Thai, but is really pronounced as an /l/ as an initial sound (as in the word boat— เรือ) Thai words that have a written /l/ or /r/ at the end of a word are pronounced as /n/ because neither of those two letters can be final consonant sound in Thai. (อาหาร—the word food terminates in an /r/ but pronounced as an /n/). This translates over to English words, so central becomes centron, global becomes globon, football becomes footbon. Non-existent sounds in Thai: /z/, /v/ and “th” These three non-existent sounds make English words with these sounds hard to pronounce, and language learners will use what sounds most similar in their language. For Thais, the /z/ becomes an /s/, so zoo becomes soo, and Oz becomes Os. Depending on the placement of the /v/ in an English word, Thai speakers will pronounce it as an /w/ (beginning sound) or as an /f/ (middle sound). Vegetable becomes wegetable, and very becomes wary. Five becomes fife, and stove becomes stofe. The “th” is often pronounced with a /t/, s/ or an /f/ so think becomes tink or fink, thermometer becomes sermometer or termomometer. Fricative “th” often is pronounced as a /d/ or /z/, so the becomes da, that becomes dat or zat. Consonant clusters Many English consonant clusters do not exist in Thai and therefore present a challenge for Thai speakers. Learners tend to add vowel sounds to separate the sounds for easier pronunciation. Criminal becomes ca-rim-inal, steak becomes sa-take, sport becomes sa-port, place becomes pa-lay (no final /s/), drive becomes da-rive, twelve becomes ta-wel (no /v/ in Thai). When clusters are found at the end of a word, consonants will usually just be dropped. Stress and intonation While English is a stress-time language, Thai is a tonal language (5 tones) so stress of words is not an important factor in word differentiation. Stress of a word is usually on the middle or the last syllable in Thai, and varies much more so in English. These factors make it challenging for Thai English speakers to sound very expressive in English, and their lack of stress and intonation make their English more monotonous sounding. This is by no means an exhaustive list (and does not touch on grammatical challenges), but it gives and indication of some of the pronunciation challenges of native Thai speakers and how their native tongue can interfere with fluent language learning of L2 English. Often, knowing the reason behind a challenge help teachers find ways to better help or teach to the challenge.