Mohammed is a thirty years old Saudi-Arabian student who currently studies English in the UK before joining the university there. He considers learning English as an international language to be very practical for a couple of reasons: he would like to be an English teacher, he enjoys learning new things about other cultures, and he generally wants to master this language to be successful.
Mohammed has been learning English for about six years starting doing that in his country at the age of twelve. In the UK, he had been studying it for about nine months. The respondent summarizes that when he started learning it for first time back in his home school he found it very difficult; since it is the second language he was struggling with grammar and pronunciation. He states that he improved it by reading advertising and newspapers in his country, and now he is improving by practising with other people. The question on a conversational topic about his last summer activities proved his intermediate English language level proficiency.
Murcia et al. (1996) state about the pronunciation of the second language speaker is never solely a linguistic matter as such indicator as age of the learner, type and extent of prior pronunciation practice, general attitude towards the language, and the role of the learner’s first language meaning its frequency of usage, are to be considered as well . Barros (2003) adds that understanding of all those factors will both enable teachers to determine the nature of the student’s phonological performance and will help them regarding structuring their lessons.
The exploration of the topic on the problems with English grammar and vocabulary experienced by Arabic speakers started about three decades ago (Sayed 1983, Radwan 1988, Fakhri 1994, Diab 1996). In this case, Mohammed’s intention to study in the UK for at least four years before going back to Saudi Arabia, and his use of English with both NS and NNS have influenced this phonological selection based on Jenkins’ analysis of NS / EIL positions (Jenkins 2002).
Although Mohammed wanted to sound assured in his words stating at the end of his answer: “That’s it,” his hesitancy in the recording was still noticeable. As a result, there is a potential to make an analysis of suprasegmental features possibly difficult.
Phonemes [r] and [%u014B]
Most of the students that come to study English from Arabic countries face a problem of pronunciation of certain phonemes because their vowel system is very simple. Thus, the learners can read easily an Arabic word not without any confusion.
Although the voiced post-alveolar frictionless continuant [r] is present in both Arabic and English, it has a different phonetic realization, which provokes difficulties to pronounce the phoneme correctly. Kharma & Hajjaj (1989) state that “the English [r] is a frictionless retroflex continuant,” and “the Arabic [r] is an alveolar trill.” The scholars agree that the English sound of [r]usually is not familiar to the Arabic speakers, thus they tend to pronounce it the way they produce it in Arabic.
All of the above mentioned examples on miscommunication problems could impede Mohammed’s performance in speaking, which can lead to misunderstandings between the interlocutors in prospective. As every sound differs, more attention shall be paid to practising the correct pronunciation, with the combination of the phonemes and certain pausation that the speakers can compare.
English and Arabic are the representatives of two different language families, Germanic and Semitic. For that reason, they have tremendous grammatical differences, which, as a result, also influence pitch and intonation of the speakers.
Both of the languages are stressed-time and the time lapses between them are approximately equal. However, almost every Arabic word has a primary or secondary stress, whereas in English there is one primary stressed word. As for the intonation, the Arabic one also uses falling and rising pitch patterns. However, compared to English, it does not fall as low. Word stress is also based on totally different principles in Arabic compared to English, as it is much determined by the word structure compared to the latter. English word stress rules are considered to be more complicated because of the history of the words and roots they originate (Germanic, Latin, etc).
For the reason explained above, it would be important for Mohammed to improve the pitch. It should be started from the simple word stress, combination of words with pausation and learning and integrating them it into the sentences and text.
The integrated teaching of phonology as part of the language system can be very successful if the aim is to demonstrate the place for this part of science in the whole language skills area. At the same time, it can be taught separately making more accents on the in-depth analysis of certain features explored.
In the case of Mohammed’s, it is important to use both methods to achieve quick and efficient results. At the same time, as it very difficult to control all the factors interfering in the pronunciation training and acquisition, it is important to remember that his accent shall not be lost as well.
Teaching the correct pronunciation shall be supported not only with the illustrations or video materials. It is also important to involve other objects, for example, small mirrors. Usually they are used for both practising the aspiration (e.g. phonemes [b] or [p]) and for following the speaker’s own alveolar apparatus while producing certain sound. In the first case, the learners shall put the mirror closer to his or her mouth: when the learners pronounce phonemes with the correct aspiration, they will see the steam from the mouth on the mirror, if there is no steam, the phoneme is pronounced incorrectly. In the second case, the learner can use the mirror to observe their own phoneme pronunciation process based on general alveolar apparatus illustrations demonstrated by the teacher.
Besides the objects and illustrations, the learners can invite other NNS who have progressed in English language learning and to demonstrate their different levels of progress. That would be useful for the separate teaching of phonemes when, for example, Mohammed would be able to see the difference between different stages of phonemes [r] and [%u014B] pronunciation.
As it was mentioned above, in the case of this respondent, both of the methods would be successful drilling and repetition of some of the tongue-twisters would be useful as well. For example, “Red lorry – yellow lorry” in the case of the practicing of the phoneme [r] and pausation games in the case of improving the articulation of the [%u014B] pronunciation in various places in the sentence.
Self-monitoring is also very encouraging in this case. It is not only meant the communication with NS and NNS but listening to the phonetically corrects text and learning to repeat it analogically with all the intonation scales and pauses. Mohammed should also be encouraged not only to listen to those texts, but try to learn them by heart. However, it shall be done only after the checking for the correct phonetic reading by a supervisor.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that phonological competence does not come naturally to all the students at the same time. Thus, individual approach, physiological and psychological peculiarities of each individual shall be taken into the consideration.