TSL485 Project


Scope: Investigating the pronunciation of a selected speaker and identify the pronunciation difficulties of the particular speaker (Ie. native language effects).

Download: Report


1.1       Background

Our class, 220U3D had been assigned by lecturer Mr. Suthagar Narasuman to conduct a project which is an in-depth assessment of an English non-native speaker’s pronunciation as part of our assignments for TSL485: Applied Phonetics and Phonology. We, Mohd Sirhajwan Idek, Ahmad Taufik Mohd Tahir and Ibrahim Ismail decided to choose a local Malaysian student as our subject for the assignment. The submission week of the assignment is on week 10 of our course.

1.2       Purpose

The aim of this project is to investigate the pronunciation of a selected speaker and identify the pronunciation difficulties of the particular speaker. With that, the segmental and suprasegmental aspect of the difficulties can be analyzed and the factors of these pronunciation difficulties can be identified. This will help us to recommend pronunciation activities which are helpful in overcoming the difficulties in teaching pronunciation as part of language teaching.

1.3       Procedure

We chose our subject based on background of Malaysians which consists of diverse ethnicity, culture and language. The subject was required to read a particular passage and the reading was recorded using record sound software of a mobile phone. The data, which was the recorded oral reading, was transcribed and the identification of pronunciation difficulty was conducted. The discussion of the factors affecting the pronunciation was made with support of relevant literature from secondary data. The subject that we had chosen was from the North Malaysia. She is 16 years old and comes from a very educated family background. She is an Indian-Malaysian. Although her native language is Tamil, English language is the language spoken at home. She is currently pursuing her education in a boarding school.


The recorded oral reading was analyzed and the phonemic transcription was made. Several findings could be elicited from the analysis.

2.1       Transcription

Sample passage

As I was walking down Stanton Street early one Sunday morning, I saw a chicken a few yards ahead of me. I was walking faster than the chicken, so I gradually caught up. By the time we approached Eighteenth Avenue, I was close behind. The chicken turned south on Eighteenth. At the fourth house along, it turned in at the walk, hopped up the front steps, and rapped sharply on the metal door with its beak. After a moment, the door opened and the chicken went in.

Transcription of the speaker’s pronunciation

es ai wɒ:s wɔ:kɪŋ daʊn stantən strɪt ɜ:li: sʌndeɪ mɔ:rnɪŋ, ai sɔ: ə tʃɪkɪn ə fju ja:ds ahɛd of mɪ. ai wɒ:s wɔ:kɪŋ fɑ:stə dɛn də tʃɪkɪn, sɔ:  ai grəduəlɪ kɔ:t  ʌp. bai də taim wɪ əprɔ:tt eʃɪti:nɵ evənju:, ai wɒ:s Klaus bɪhaind. də tʃɪkɪn tɜ:nd sauɵ  ɒn eɪti:nɵ. ət də fɔrɵ haus əlɒŋ, ɪt tɜ:nd ɪn ət də wɔ:k, hɒpt  ʌp də frʌnt stɜps, ən rept ʃɑ:rpt ɒn də mɜtəl stɔ:m dɔ:  wiɵ its bi:l, aftər ə mɔ: mənt, də dɔ:  ɔ:pənd   ən də tʃɪkɪn wɛn ɪn.

2.2       Factors affecting pronunciation

The incorrect pronunciation of certain words might be derived from several factors which need to be considered. Among those prominent factors are cognitive, environment and biological factors.

2.2.1   Cognitive factor

In learning a language, an individual’s capability of understanding the language does play a role in affecting the physical articulation of the speech sound.            Native Language Effect

Native language of a speaker may exert influence on the pronunciation. The effect from the first language can be a virtue as it assists the acquisition, and it can also be a setback as it interferes. Brown (2001) asserts that ‘while the native system will exercise both facilitating and interfering effects on the production and comprehension of the new language, the interfering effects are likely to be the most salient’. In the transcription, the speaker’s pronunciations of particular words are affected by the pronunciation of the first language. They assume that the target language operates like the native language Brown (2001).         Consonant /s/

The orthographic consonant s in the words ‘as’ az, ‘was’ and ‘yards’ is  pronounced as [s] when actually it should be enunciated as [z]. The speaker is transferring the fixed pronunciation of consonant ‘s’ in the first language as [s] to the second language.         Long vowels /i:/

The vowel iː in the words ‘early’ ɜːliː, ‘gradually’ grædʒuəliː and ‘sharply’ should be pronounced longer than vowel “ɪ”. It is the result of the absence of long vowels in the first language of the speaker, Malay language.         Vowel /æ/

Vowel æ in the words ‘avenue’ and ‘rapped’ is pronounced as e only. It is due to the absence of such diphthong in the first language which influences the speaker’s pronunciation when she or he encounters such words.            Stress

Certain words especially words consisted of two syllables such as chicken, behind and approach, and even three syllables such as avenue, require primary stress at one of the syllable usually the final syllable. The uncertainty of syllable can be clearly noted as the first language, Malay language, does not emphasize stress but the second language, English, prioritizes stress in speaking.            Interlanguage

Yule (2006) believes that L2 learners produce errors which are not inextricably linked with the forms of L1 or L2. In the transcription, it is transparent that the speaker contrived to pronounce many words correctly to the exclusion of certain words which are pronounced rather queer. The errors are the results of interlanguage as the speaker is progressing towards the mastery of the language. Brown (2001) states ‘second language learners tend to go through a systematic or quasi-systematic developmental process as they progress to full competence in the target language’. The speaker probably knows or capable of how to pronounce the words correctly but is still in the process of grasping the competence.         Consonant /ð/

The pronunciation of “ð” itself can be deduced from the spelling ‘th’. This phoneme exists in the second language, English language, but it is not available in first language, Malay language. The errors produced do not correspond any of the two languages but somewhere in between. The speaker has not gained the full competence of enunciating the phoneme efficiently. The orthographic spelling ‘th’ already suggests the pronunciation is not similar with t but it requires conscious effort to enunciate the sound. Consequently, the word ‘the’ and ‘then’ should be pronounced as and dɛn, instead of ðə and ðɛn.         Final consonant /t/

The consonant t as the post final consonant in a syllable seems to be silent when it comes to the articulation of the word “went”. The speaker knows it has to be articulated but still in progress of gaining unconscious competence of the pronunciation.

However, interlanguage should not be viewed negatively as it betokens an improvement in the mastery of the language. Brown (2001) asserts that interlanguage error is a sign of language development and internalization of a coherent system.

2.2.2   Environment factor

The surroundings of the speakers exert influences on the aptitude of the speaker in the production of the speech sound.            Exposure

The degree of the speaker’s exposure towards the language being spoken in the environment affects the pronunciation. Kenworthy (1987, p.4-8) supports that the quality and intensity of exposure are more significant than its period (as cited from Brown, 2001). In Malaysia, the pronunciations of some English words had undergone changes from the correct pronunciation as the sound system varies between languages (Chitravelu, Sithamparan and Choon, 1995:81). As a result of these sound modifications, a new entity in pronunciation emerges and continues to persist. These phenomena seems to correspond to the features of fossilization as stated by Yule (2006), the process whereby an interlanguage, containing many non-L2 features, stops developing toward more accurate forms of the L2. Thus, the pronunciation seems to differ from the BBC English. This reduces the exposure of the speakers towards the Received Pronunciation as these oddities of the articulation prevail. Consequently, it impairs their pronunciations without them realizing it since such pronunciations has gone prevalent in the country.            Diphthong əu

Diphthong əu in the word ‘approach’, ‘moment’, ‘so’ and ‘open’ is pronounced as ɔː. This pronunciation is derived from the spelling of the words and has been deeply entrenched in the English Language spoken by Malaysians.            Consonant /r/

Consonant r in the words ‘morning’, ‘yards’ and ‘sharply’ is silent as they are not pronounced when the full word is uttered. BBC speakers do not utter r in final position. However, the speaker is inclined to pronounce the consonant r.

2.2.3   Biological factor

Genetic determinants of an individual also play a role in shaping the articulation.            Innate phonetic ability

A perceived natural aptitude of grasping the correct articulation is claimed to exist in certain people. Kenworthy (1987:4-8) believes that some people exhibit a phonetic coding ability that others do not. He adds that the unconscious ability emerges during childhood if a person has been exposed to the language.

2.3       The Importance of the Correct Pronunciation

If we refer to our Malaysian English pronunciation, the incorrect pronunciation is evidently ubiquitous nationwide. This problem is detrimental to the use of the language as our second language.

2.3.1   Content

Incorrect pronunciation of certain words may hinder the effective relay of the literal message as the meaning derived by the received may differ.            Allophones

It is crucially vital for the pronunciation of the words to be correct to the extent of palatable appropriacy as the meanings probably vary if the words are articulated differently. The phoneme in any word represents a single sound type that is the meaning-distinguishing sounds in the language (Yule, 2006). Thus, the incorrect realizations of the phoneme in a word will probably culminate in a word of a different meaning or meaningless utterances. For example, if the consonant s in the word ‘rise’ is articulated as [s] and not [z], the utterance will not be raɪz but raɪs, which represents the word ‘rice’ that has an utterly different meaning.

2.3.2   Context

George Yule (2006, p-112) asserts that communication clearly depends on not only recognizing the meaning of words in an utterance, but recognizing what speakers mean by their utterance.

2.3.3   Stress, rhythm and intonation

Stress, rhythm and intonation are among the most crucial characteristics of English pronunciation since English is a stressed-time language (Brown, 2001: 254). The stressed-timed rhythm of spoken English and its intonation patterns convey important messages. For certain words, if the intonation and stress differ, the meaning probably differs.

Intonation enables us to express emotions and attitudes as we speak (Roach, 2000:183). From the message imparted by the passage, the situation it implies is a surprising situation as the speaker does not expect the chicken could outwit her. Thus, the speaker’s intonation has to be ‘surprise’. The pitch range of the speaker should be rise-fall to indicate surprise or being impressed as what has been highlighted by Roach (2000).


Several activities are recommended in teaching the pronunciation to the students in order to overcome the difficulties.

3.1       Teaching pronunciation

Brown (2001) states that ‘at the stage of beginning level, pronunciation work (on phoneme, phonemic pattern, intonation, rhythm and stress) is very important to be taught’. Thus, several specifically-designed activities that focus on pronunciation have been contrived.

3.1.1   Jigsaw

Jigsaw is a special form of information gap in which each member of a group is given some specific information and the goal is to pool all information to achieve some objective (Brown, 2001). The activity is implemented in group work as the class is divided into groups.

Each member of the group is given a card containing a word. The cards are from various colours and they are distributed randomly to the students. The students have to find their own members by matching the colours of the cards; all groups have their own respective colours. As they form the group, they have to combine the words to create a sentence. The words in each sentence consists of words which the students have the difficulty to pronounce that derive from the same source of pronunciation difficulty such as the consonant ‘s’ in the word ‘rise’ which must be articulated as [z], producing raɪz. For example:

I was surprised that the raisings rise!

The tomato is so cold

Is the heather withering?

3.1.2 Role-play

Brown (2001) believes that role-play involves giving a role to a group and assign an objective that participant must accomplish. In this case, the group has to perform a sketch based on their creativity but they have to insert all the sentences given by their teachers to their lines. The purpose of this task is for the group to practice their pronunciation.

3.1.3   Sing- along

The students can also create rhythmic songs with the sentences they have been taught and present it to the class in groups. According to Chitravelu, Sithamparam, and Choon (1995:220), one of the reasons of why songs are very popular in grammar teaching because it promotes the achievement of the integration of pronunciation, intonation, stress and rhythm among students.

3.2       The Principles of Approach

3.2.1   Drilling

Each group can repeatedly pronounce the sentences as they attempt to pronounce the words correctly and become accustomed to the pronunciation.  Brown (2001) agrees that repetition of limited of simple words, phrases and sentences in the practice of the pronunciation at this stage is allowable.

3.2.2   Vocabulary

The students should be exposed to everyday’s vocabulary to the extent that the children are familiar and does not impose difficulty. As children are centered on the here and now, functional purpose of a language, simple vocabulary is essential for the students to be able to incorporate what they have learned from the activity. According to Chitravelu, Sithamparam, and Choon (1995:220)

Phonic only help the pupil to sound out the word. If the word is not in your pupil’s listening vocabulary, then his ability to sound out the word would not result in his understanding of the text and this would be very frustrating.

It is to no avail if the students do not understand what they are saying as learning involves understanding. The students are then required to pronounce the words correctly as the teacher guides them throughout the process.

3.2.3   Intonation and Rhythm

The ubiquitous problem that we usually have is the application of intonation and rhythm in English Language since our first language does not really require intonation and rhythm.  Thus, the emphasis of the suprasegmental aspect of the language should be prioritized. Rita Wong (1987:4) states:

Contemporary views (of language) hold that the sounds of language are less crucial for understanding than the way they are organized. The rhythm and intonation of English are two major organizing structures that native speakers rely on to process speech….because of their major roles in communication, rhythm and intonation merit greater priority in the teaching program than attention to individual sounds (as cited from Brown, H. Douglas. (2001). TEACHING BY PRINCIPLES: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc).

4.0       CONCLUSION

As the conclusion, it is evident that there are inevitable factors that affect pronunciations of second language speakers which consist of cognitive, environment and biological factors. As a result, there are a myriad of pronunciation errors which emerge unconsciously. They impose difficulty on communication in the second language.

Thus, the emphasis of including the teaching of pronunciation in the English Language teaching is essential. As the pronunciation errors do not only occur in English learners, the students, but also in English teacher since the problem prevails in the society. However, this national problem can be overcome through the use of education especially in schools by highlighting the teaching of correct pronunciation.


Brown, H. Douglas. (2001). TEACHING BY PRINCIPLES: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

Chitravelu, N., Sithamparam, S., Choon, T. (1995). ELT METHODOLOGY: PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE. Selangor: Penerbit Fajar Bakthi Sdn.Bhd.

Roach, P. (2000). English Phonetics and Phonology: A practical course. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Yule, G. (2006). The Study of Language. New York: Cambridge University Press.


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