Teach English in LongwAntun Zhen - Beijing

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Pronunciation Problems in ChinaOf the many difficulties chinese students face while trying to learn English, one of the most serious and hardest to overcome is poor pronunciation. It can stop even a student with perfect grasp of the mechanics from effectively communicating in English and because there is a dearth of native English speaking teachers in china for it's hundreds of millions of English students, the problem seems destined to continue. This paper will offer a brief survey of the various problems of pronunciation that infect chinese English and include insights I have gained while teaching english in china. Hopefully, by clearly defining the nature of pronunciation problems, it will be easier to correct them. Perhaps the pronunciation difficulties most easy to understand are problems with pronouncing specific sounds. These problems occur when the student encounters sounds that are not natural to her in her native language. In Fachun Zheng and Pengpeng Yin's overview of the topic, they divide this lack of knowledge into two categories. First are sounds that simply don't exist in a speaker's native language. One of the most common examples of this as it applies to chinese esl students is the /?/ sound. This phoneme is completely absent in chinese and so almost all chinese students experience great difficulty in pronouncing it and often substitute an /s/ or /z/ phoneme. The only way to correct this problem is to show students how the phoneme is formed with the mouth and continue to practice it, sometimes for years. From personal experience, presenting step-by-step instruction on how to form words is seldom very helpful at first but with a constant process of close listening and revision, the correct way to pronounce a sound can be gradually perfected. Teachers can help this process by talking to students regularly about the ways their pronunciation misses the mark. The second category of pronunciation difficulties includes those where a near analogue of the sound exists in the native language and so it is unconsciously substituted for the correct phoneme in English. An added problem in chinese is the tendency to read English words using sounds from pinyin, the phonetic romanization of chinese words. Since students have encountered the roman alphabet before in the form of pinyin, they will often carry over the sounds they have originally associated with letters in pinyin, to those same letters in English, with the obvious problem that sounds in the two writing systems are not the same for each letter. For example, although both pinyin and English writing contain a 'w,' in chinese this sound falls somewhere between the English pronunciation of 'w' and 'v.' Although the consonants 'd' and 'b' both have very similar sounds in the two languages, in chinese they are always unvoiced consonants while in English these letters can denote voiced or unvoiced forms of the phoneme. Because these letters are the same in both languages the mispronunciation may go undetected by the student. For this reason, this category is often the more insidious of the two and harder to correct. Problems of intonation are often a glaring problem in chinese English speech. chinese is a tonal language that gives as much time and clarity to almost every syllable when spoken and intonation is necessarily restrained in order to maintain the meaning that is conveyed by different tones. By contrast, English is a language that depends vitally on intonation to convey meaning, nuance, and focus in speech and clarity and time are allotted according to the placement of stresses. When chinese speak English the problems expected from this difference often occur. They give equal time to every syllable or they speak in what English speakers would think of as a very flat tone. My personal experience is that chinese speakers often sound angry or brusk when using English and again this is due to the inability to establish a rhythm of speech that relies on stresses and varied intonation. These problems are all best solved through continued exposure to the language combined with a continual process of self-correction. This was confirmed by Laina Ho in a study that found students in coastal cities with more international contact on average had much less problems with pronunciation than those in regions with less contact. The job of the English teacher is to act as a model of good pronunciation that the students can use even if no other conduit exists to perfect pronunciation. Works Cited Ho, Laina. Pronunciation problems of PRC students in NUS. Reflections on English Language Teaching, 1, 74-90. 2001. Zhang, Fachun; Yin, Pengpeng. A Study of Pronunciation Problems of English Learners in china. Asian Social Science, Vol. 1, No. 6. June, 2009.