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Teach English in HAke Zhen - Hulunbei'er Shi — Hulunbuir
Pronunciation according to https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary is the way in which words are spoken. It refers to how quickly, slowly or correctly each sound in a word is produced. English overall is a complex mixture of different sounds, stress, intonation, and rhythm, so it isn’t a surprise that many foreigners have difficulty with pronunciation, specifically Japanese learners of English. As an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan, there are many factors, that I have observed, which contributes to this pronunciation difficulty. These are the diverse writing system and their relation to the influence of the Japanese phonology on English pronunciation, the teaching dynamics, and English language exposure. The writing system in Japan is completely different from that of the English-speaking world. Whereas the English world uses the alphabetic writing system which comprises of vowels and consonants, in Japan three writing systems (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) are used. These writing systems are symbols which when converted to the alphabet system reflect a combination of consonants and vowels (ra, ka, ya, gyo, shu, kya). This is a problem when learning English because there is a huge difference in the way that Japanese words are pronounced which spills over into the target language English. When analyzing the core issues of the writing system and its influence of the Japanese phonology on learning English pronunciation there are two underlying points that surface. First, there is the fact that some letters or sounds that are in the English alphabetic system do not exist in the Japanese writing system. Therefore, Japanese learners of English find it hard to accurately reproduce these sounds as they have no pre-existing exposure or vocal practice of using these. Two examples are the letters ‘L’ and ‘V’, L in the Japanese society is typically produced as an ‘R’ while ‘V’ is pronounced as ‘B’. Japanese people pronounce ‘V’ as ‘B’ because ‘V’ simply does not exist in English. Natsuko Tsujimura describes the sounds of ‘l’ and ‘r’ to be liquid sounds in English. Consequently, ‘l’ is produced with the tip of the tongue touching the alveolar ridge and ‘r’ is produced with the tongues curled back. However, in Japan ‘l’ is vocally produced as ‘r’ and ‘r’ as the letter'd'. Hence Japanese speakers of English pronounce my name Olivia as Oribia and the words ‘glue’ and ‘lion’ as ‘grew’ and ‘rion’ (An introduction to Japanese linguistics, 2013). Secondly, the vowel and consonant combination in Japanese makes it harder for Japanese learners of English to pronounce English sounds. As pointed out earlier the Japanese writing system converted to the alphabet system typically equates in a vowel being paired with a consonant (ro, ra, ka, ki, ke, kyo, kya, ki). Essentially, there is no single alphabet for Japanese characters because the characters are a combination. So, although the English alphabets can be paired in any which way to produce a variety of sounds Japanese people are already phonologically practiced in the use of a consonant and vowel combo. Based on this it’s not a surprise that the pronunciation of fricatives (th) is an issue when speaking English, as the consonant combination does not exist in Japanese. There is also the addition of ‘o’ at the end of consonants that Japanese learners of English tend to use. So, the word ‘friend’ becomes ‘friendo’ to mimic the Japanese language of being syllabic and having a consonant/vowel combo. In addition, there are many similar words in the English language with minimal differences in pronunciation and spelling. However, the nuances are the softer or unvocalized (silent) sounds, for example, the English word ‘computer’ is ‘konpyuta’ in Japanese. It is mispronounced as ‘kompyuta’ when a Japanese speaker of English speaks, as the combination of the consonants ‘er’ is unfamiliar. The vowels used in Japanese are the same as that of English however, the sounds produced are typically harder sounds so the ‘e’ in the word telephone becomes ‘telephon’ as the soft sound of the 'e' is not familiar to the Japanese pronunciation. These issues outlined typically lead to word linking and word changing in English, simply because Japanese learners are unable to pronounce these words. In fact, this is something that is encouraged in the classroom. The teaching dynamic is a complex one in Japan where learners of English simply memorize English words and follow a coursebook rigorously in order to pass the exam. Pronunciation practice is minimal and is typically the repetition of new words two or three times. There is an absence of language drills or focus on individual sounds instead the closest thing to English is what is accepted. Furthermore, most Japanese teachers of English tend to be reluctant to speak or teach English classes in English, so students don’t hear English being spoken much so there is no reinforcement of English pronunciation. Intonation is also not a focus in English classes so the English produced mimics that of Japanese speech and sounds monotonous with no real indication of whether the sentence was a question, exclamation or statement. In the repetition of vocabulary teachers themselves make the same common errors in pronunciation and so students tend to do the same, causing the pronunciation challenges to persist. Pronunciation is the most neglected aspect of English in Japan and the biggest cause of acquisition issues among Japanese speakers. English pronunciation is influenced by the patterns of Japanese phonology that has already been ingrained in the learner. This transference of Japanese pronunciation to English pronunciation interferes with its accuracy and clarity. Based on my experience in Japan, the use of drilling, focus on accuracy, stress on the fall and rise of speech, use of mouth diagrams showing how words are spoken in English and encouraging pronunciation practice, the pronunciation problems will decrease drastically.