Teach English in Huagang Zhen - Taizhou Shi

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37. How to Help Japanese Students with English Pronunciation Problems From my own personal experience with teaching Japanese students in Japan over the past few summers as well as my own personal knowledge of both the English and Japanese Language, I am familiar with pronunciation problems in both directions. Specifically, there are a distinct set of phonemes that are present in English but not in Japanese, in addition, there is also the problem with words such as "desert" and "dessert", which essentially have the same phonemes but with stresses on different parts of the word. Lastly, in native spoken English, there are several instances when words become shortened or combined during a conversation and if non-native speakers are not aware or used to hearing the words pronounced in this way, they might not be able to understand the spoken version of the sentence. The most well-known pronunciation problem for Japanese people speaking English is the R/L sound. Japanese has a similar sound in their language but it is more like a combination of the English R/L sound. This sound is made at the front of the mouth by placing the tongue behind the teeth where they meet the roof of the mouth. In English, the R and L are distinct (although the English L has similarities to the Japanese phoneme) and are made by placing the tongue in different places in the mouth. Because these phonemes are not present in the Japanese language, it is not only difficult for Japanese speakers to hear and distinguish between these two sounds but also to form them themselves. This is often present in mis-spelled words where R/L are mixed up. When I was working with students in my class, I first demonstrated example words with R and L at the beginning of the word such as "Road" and "Load". I asked the students to listen carefully and see if they could hear a difference. Luckily many could recognize that they sounded different. Then we would play a guessing game and I would ask the students which word I was saying "Road vs Load" and other similar sounding words. I also showed the students through demonstration and diagrams where to put the tongue in the mouth to make the sounds. Then I asked the students to try to pronounce the words themselves. I listened to each student and gave them feedback. Many students were trying to pronounce the words using the Japanese R/L and I had to tell them to put their tongue in a different place in their mouth. After practicing a lot, the students improved their pronunciation and felt more confident and less embarrassed about using certain words with native English speakers in conversation. Another example of a hard to pronounce English phoneme for Japanese speakers is "Th". The next topic that I am going to talk about it is the use of "stress" on certain syllables of words in English. The example that I was asked to demonstrate for my students was the difference in pronunciation between "desert" and "dessert". On the first word, which means a barren land usually covered in sand, the stress is placed on the first syllable. On the second word, which is a sweet usually eaten after a meal, the stress is placed on the second syllable. I would then say each of the words and have the students try to guess which one I was saying, I would ask them to say either "sand" or "sweets" to distinguish which of the two I was referring to. This is just one example of how the English language uses stresses on different syllables. It is difficult for students to study the correct pronunciation unless they are able to hear native English pronunciation. Lastly, when people speak in almost any language, a lot of words get smashed together and sloppily enunciated based on the difficulty of the mouth maneuvers required for the phonemes. English has this too. For example, "want to" often becomes "wanna," "what are you" becomes "whatcha". Contractions are formal examples of English speakers shortening words to make them easier to say, but these shortcuts are often difficult for non-native speakers and have to be taught. In order to help students with this, I would say sentences in a slow clear manner at first and then repeat them again at a normal speaking speed so that the students can hear which parts of the words run together or get lost in native speech. I also go the other way, first saying a phrase quickly and see if the students can guess what I said and then say it slowly and clearly. Native speakers do not always talk and sound like the robotic voices that are used for many of the listening practice sections available in textbooks and listening comprehension tests. Exposing students to native speed English and common, sloppy pronunciations can be really useful to get students to be able to recognize the variation of different words and phrases depending on the speed at which they are said. Teaching students native pronunciation and helping them achieve more native English pronunciation is helpful to students in many ways. Students gain confidence that they can better follow native speakers' conversations as well as participate in conversations themselves and be better understood by the native speakers. These are just some of the things that I work on when I am working with Japanese students, but many of these things are applicable to other students studying English as well. Gabrielle Hodges