CommonLinguisticProblemsThere are so many spelling, grammatical, and pronunciation idiosyncrasies in english
that it boggles my mind trying to write about linguistic problems for english
Language Learners (ELLs). However, I’ve stuck with this topic because I think it’s important for teachers (everybody really) to appreciate the effort it takes for a person to learn our language. I have narrowed my research down to three specific areas of difficulty.
A. Consonant phonemes can cause some hearing-pronunciation problems for ELLs who often cannot hear and/or pronounce some of our consonant sounds, like [th], [r], [l], and [n]. These are often replaced with different sounds, sounds that are part of the phonology of the learner’s native language. For example, our interdental sounds (the, throat) often become [t], [d], [s] or [z]. Even in German, the word for thousand is tausend. (MediaWiki Foundation, Inc., 2011)
B. Syllable Structure. The relatively complex syllable structure of english
causes many people difficulty also. We can have as many as three consonants before a vowel and four consonants after a vowel, like Christmas ,friendship and difficult. The syllable structures of most other languages are simpler than ours, so many learners have a difficult time pronouncing english
and perhaps even hearing some english
sounds. In japanese
, for example, vowels are preceded by one of 15 possible consonant sounds, so many japanese
learners will insert short vowels into english
words: for example, /st-e-rength/ or /des-u-k-u/ (desk). (Shoebottom, 1996) To complicate matters for some learners, in a few languages (like italian
) most words end in a vowel sound, so learners from those languages have a tendency to add vowels at the end of english
words. As an example, the silent e at the end of the word make is frequently voiced as a short u sound: makuh. (instantREILLY, 2006)
C. Large english
Lexicon. The hodgepodge of contributions from other languages into the english
lexicon makes for a rather large and no doubt daunting vocabulary to the new learner. There are just so many words to learn with so many spelling and pronunciation irregularities. This is due in part to the history of english
which began as a West Germanic language (Old english
with German and Dutch roots) and was later influenced by the Normans from North France (who brought in the Classical Latin and greek
influences of the Roman Empire). (EnglishClub.com, 1997) These multilanguage influences have also created a plethora of challenging spelling patterns, a source of difficulty for ELLs and native speakers alike. (McGuinness, 2004) For example, different sounds for the same letter string (on - once, only, wo - women, worry) and different spellings for the same sounds (leap, people, hear, weird). (Bell, 2004) And of course there those infamous homophones, words that have the same sound (sometimes the same spelling) but differ in meaning: ate-eight, board-bored, cell-sell, and for-four. I think it’s helpful to visualize a word in order to pronounce it correctly; but if you can’t visualize it because you can’t sort out what the spelling is or how it’s meant to be pronounced, then pronunciation and comprehension become problematic.
Of course, all of these issues are exacerbated by the basic differences between written and spoken english
, and the fact that there are regional differences in the spoken word. These last two factors are true no matter what language you are learning. Nevertheless, I am deeply impressed when I hear english
spoken well by a person from abroad, especially one whose first language is not based on the Roman alphabet.
West Germanic languages - below red line;
Scandinavian /North Germanic languages - above red line
Latin-Speaking Roman Empire
Bell, Marsha, Understanding english
Spelling (2004). As posted in “english
EnglishClub.com, “History of the english
Language. A short history of the origins and development of english
MediaWiki Foundation, Inc., 2011. “History of the english
McGuinness, Diane, “Early Reading Instruction” Cambridge:MIT Press 41. (2004), as referenced in MediaWiki Foundation, Inc., Wikipedia “english
as a Foreign or Second Language.” Last updated February 16, 2011.
Shoebottom, Paul, Frankfurt International School, “The Differences Between english
.” 1996 http://esl.fis.edu/grammar/langdiff/japanese
WordReference.com, http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=193500. “Do all [japanese
] words end in a vowel?” instantREILLY response, 2006.