Pronunciation Problems for Arabic Speakers of English
English as a Second Language for Arabic English Speakers
In this blog post, we will talk about the Arabic English Speakers. In other words, the native Arabic speakers who are learning English as their second language (L2). Like any other SL learner, Arabic speakers of English try to apply rules of their first language (L1) in which they already have competence in while speaking and comprehending L2.
There is little doubt in Second Language Acquisition or SLA literature that native tongue of an individual interferes with second language acquisition. Sometimes, there is a negative transfer of rules and information from L1 to L2. This is most evident at the level of phonology (Odlin 1989).
Of course, other factors like age group of the learner, motivation, degree of exposure to L2, etc. are also very important.
How do we Help Arabic students learn English?
To help Arabic English Speakers get near-native proficiency in English, there is a need to first understand the exact challenges for arabic speakers learning English. This can be done by studying Arabic English characteristics. After that, using these Arabic ESL characteristics, we can design teaching aids specific to this particular L1-L2 pair.
The differences in sound systems of English and Arabic can be used to fully understand the likely errors made by language learners during learning English. And those areas can be focused better by the teacher while teaching and helping the Arabic ESL learners. This will also help the teachers or trainers not get distracted by other areas of little possible difficulty.
Common pronunciation problems for Arabic Speakers of English:
Now we will list some of the common pronunciation problems faced by Arabic Speakers of English:
1. Problems pronouncing Consonants
Consonants, as compared to vowels, are core to the word meaning in Arabic. While speaking English, Arabic speakers of English try to unnecessarily emphasize consonants and add extra stress to the syllables.
Arabic speakers learning English tend to fully and clearly articulate consonants even for those English words where written consonants are omitted in speech. Reading English is specifically challenging for Arabic learners. This is because they are reluctant to drop consonants even at places where they must be.
Arabic English speakers are used to speak words that only begin with consonants. When they come across English words beginning with vowels, they add glottal stops before them. This results in the production of somewhat unnatural words in Arabic English.
Arabic speakers learning English find it difficult to make a distinction between voiced and voiceless sounds. Hence, there is a confusion in case of voiced and voiceless plosives. For example, in words like /pɪn/ and /bɪn/. The same thing happens for voiced and voiceless fricatives. For example, in words like /fan/ and /van/ in English.
Arabic learners of ESL articulate the /h/ phoneme in English words with greater aspiration. Consequently, they pronounce this phoneme in a quite harsh way.
The articulation of post-vocalic, rhotic consonant /r/ of English is another challenging area for Arabic learners of English. Arabic learners tend to over-pronounce it.
Arabic students of English language try to approximate the velar nasal sound /ŋ/ in English words by articulating either a /n/ or by breaking it as /ng/.
2. Problems pronouncing Consonant Clusters
Arabic speaking learners of English language find it difficult to pronounce Consonant Clusters. This is especially true for those CCs occurring in the word initial position, which is quite common in English. While speaking such words, Arabic learners break the Consonant Cluster by adding epenthetic short vowels in between the consonants, which leads to unnecessary pauses in between the words. This also interferes with the natural intonation of the language.
Another area that poses challenge for learners of English with Arabic background is Consonant Cluster reduction or simplification. CC is a frequent phenomenon in English free flow speech. While speaking English, Arabic learners are reluctant to drop consonants, leading to clear articulation of all the consonants in the Consonant Cluster.
3. Problems pronouncing Vowels
In Arabic, the short vowels are not that significant. The meaning comes from the combination of consonants with the three long vowels and the two diphthongs. Arabic speakers learning English face problems in distinguishing the short English vowels. During articulation, they skip short vowels completely, leading to the production of elided and shortened word forms. Although articulation of English vowels like /ʌ/, /ə/, /ɒ/, etc. can cause greater difficulty for Arabic learners, some degree of confusion is caused by all English vowels.
Apart from the length of the vowels, quality of English vowels is also compromised. Arabic has velarized consonants that interfere and affect the quality of vowels. Arabic learners learning ESL confuse the phonemic status of vowel pairs like /æ/ and / ɑə / in English.
Some Arabic English speakers break English diphthongs and add a syllable in between to maintain gliding effect. Hence, they articulate the English word / fʌɪn/ as /fa:jin/. There is an inclusion of /j/ in between the diphthong.