Pronunciation_ProblemsEffective pronunciation is critical to any oral conversation activity inside the classroom and conversations outside the class, yet as noted in “Unit 13 Teaching Pronunciation and Phonology” of the International TEFL and TESOL Training course, phonics is one of the most neglected aspects of english language instruction. Every student learning english faces different difficulties in pronunciation, especially depending on his or her nationality and background. japan
ese learners of english generally have difficulty in two main areas of phonics – suprasegmental, including stress and tone, and segmental, including individual sounds and consonant blends, especially sounds that don’t exist in japanese and those that are similar in english so that they sound the same to the japanese learner. However, with several speaking drilling practices and a focus on phonics in the classroom, these difficulties can be overcome so a japanese student learning english can feel more confident in his or her speaking ability. Learning phonics will also drastically improve reading ability and allow a student to learn more independently.
OVERVIEW OF PROBLEMS
The japanese phonetic writing system consists of hiragana (used for words of japanese origin) and katakana (used for loan words from english or other languages. For example, driving is pronounced doraibu). Katakana does not include all of the sounds in english, nor does it incorporate all of the consonant blends in english (Foxy Phonics, 3). english has many more sounds than japanese and unlike in japanese, there is not a one-to-one relationship between sound and symbol (Bradford, 1). As a result, a japanese student of english will likely face several problems when learning english and will often rely on “Katakana english” when reading and speaking english. For example, it is very common for japanese students to add a vowel at the end of every word since that is the structure of the japanese alphabet (and becomes ando or bread becomes bredo).
Barbara Bradford notes in her publication, “Teaching english Pronunciation to japanese Learners,” that japanese students struggle with several suprasegmental sounds (stress, tone) in english phonetics. For example, they have difficulty knowing when to stress syllables (overall rhythmic sound) because in japanese, all syllables are more or less equally stressed. In addition, linking (for example, “linking the final consonant of a word to the initial vowel of a following word” such as /j/ and /w/) can cause confusion and hinder a japanese student’s pronunciation. In addition, segmental phonology (separate, individual sounds) pose some problems, such as /l/ and /r/; /b/ and /v/; and /w/, especially when followed by a vowel other than /a/. Bradford states that /3:/ is “perhaps the vowel whose mispronunciation causes most misunderstanding, such as “walk instead of work” or “barn instead of burn”). Miki Ikeda points to seven main segmental phonology problems in her publication, “Teaching english to japanese Students.” She notes that, “[l/r], [hw/f] and [y/e] (when followed by [i] or [I] such as wheat/feat, year/ear) are the biggest challenges for the japanese.” Furthermore, several english vowels sound the same to a japanese student, especially [a], [o] and [i]. For example, this might cause them to pronounce hot as hote using the japanese o [???].
In addition these segmental and suprasegmental phonetic problems, some cultural reasons may also hinder a japanese student’s grasp of english phonology. Phonics is rarely taught by japanese teachers and most students are expected to memorize a certain sets of sounds rather than see a phonetic pattern develop between certain blends. Perhaps because of intimidation and a lack of formal training in japanese, a japanese teacher of english will likely focus on reading, writing and memorization. Patrick Bickford, an english teacher in japan
who started teaching phonics in the japanese classroom out of sheer frustration, compares an english class without phonics to “forcing…JHS students to strap on life preservers made of lead and push[ing] them into a metaphorical english swimming pool filled with 946 words.”
The most important thing a teacher can do when introducing phonics is to make a plan. Phonics should be taught in a structured order designated by the teacher, such as introducing single letters followed by consonant-vowel combinations. A common class plan follows this order: single letters; consonant-vowel combinations; consonant-vowel-consonant combinations (dab; tef, giy, etc.); regular C blends; diphthongs, double Vs (ae, ai, oa, etc.) irregular consonant blends (ph, ch, sh, etc.) and magic/silent ‘e’ (cute; tide, tape, etc.). Most educational experts agree that phonics is best taught in short segments rather than for long stretches. Fun games to enforce phonics include tongue twisters, nursery rhymes and word ladders/pyramids.
Bickford, Patrick. “Phonics in the japanese Classroom.” 2007.
Bradford, Barbara. “Teaching english Pronunciation to japanese Learners.”
Ikeda, Miki. “Teaching english to japanese Students.”
Farrell, Mairead & Kannon, Mari. “Phonics” 3-8
Kessler, Erin. “What is Phonics?” Foxy Phonics 3-5
Kreeke, Carlien van de. “english Speaking Problems in japanese Classrooms.” 2010.
Shearon, Ben. “Teaching Phonics in japanese Schools.” 2-12
“Teaching Pronunciation & Phonology.” International TEFL and TESOL Training.