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M.M. - Belgium said:
Pronunciation problems in BelgiumBelgium is a special country in that there are three official languages, french, Flemish (a Dutch dialect), and German. It is geographically divided into four language ‘communities’. The capital, Brussels, is the only officially multilingual area. The language differences have deep political roots and there are many people who refuse to learn a second official language. english is often used as an unofficial fourth language to peacefully bridge the communication barriers. Despite its small size and internal disputes, Belgium is very important on a global scale. The headquarters of NATO and the European Union are in Brussels. It is an international city with many immigrants from all over the world. If I teach in Brussels, my students may not even speak any of the three official languages! For the purposes of this article, I will focus on speakers of the official languages. German and Dutch are closely related and their speakers often consider english to be easy to learn since all three are Germanic languages. Typically, Flemings find english to be easier to learn and pronounce than Germans. Francophones have the most difficulty since french is a Latin language and not closely related to english. Flemings are exposed to english from an early age. Anytime they watch a British or American television show or movie, it will be presented in english with Dutch captions rather than dubbing. They tend to be very willing to learn english as Dutch is not widely spoken and english is much easier for them to learn than french. While pronunciation differences certainly exist between the languages, few are very problematic. Many Flemish speakers report that their worst pronunciation errors are with /a:/ and /?/ as they are slightly different than the equivalent Dutch sounds. German speakers in Belgium are a minority. They tend to have many pronunciation problems in common with Dutch speakers. Most German speakers find that the /?/ and /ð/ sounds are the most difficult to learn as they don’t exist in German. German also lacks the /w/ sound so many people substitute a /v/. It is difficult to identify Germanophones outside of their community because when they leave their community they speak french. Due to the small size of their community, they are nearly required to be bilingual in order to function. Their community is engulfed by Wallonia, so french is the logical L2 choice. They are a minority of the Belgian population and the chances of teaching monolingual German-speaking Belgians are much smaller than the chances of teaching monolingual Arabic or Turkish students. One of the biggest challenges that I’ve noticed with Francophones versus other Belgians is that they find english very difficult and intimidating to learn. Instead of captions on their movies and television shows, Walloons watch the versions dubbed by France. It is understandable. While french may not be the most widely spoken language in the world, it is common enough to be one of the official languages of the U.N. Walloons in the business and technology sectors really must speak some english to succeed and are often the most motivated Walloon students. The most difficult sounds for Walloons to master are not too different from those that cause the most problems for Germanophones and Flemish. The /?/ and /ð/ sounds are incredibly difficult because they do not exist in french either. The english /r/ is difficult since it is not rolled like the french equivalent. There are also frequent confusions of hard versus soft vowels. One pronunciation problem for french speakers that I often notice involves words that begin with a vowel sound. Often, a Francophone will aspirate a /h/ before these words to make them easier to pronounce. The language communities of Belgium have surprisingly similar challenges. The Flemish are, typically, the most highly motivated and successful english speakers. German-speaking Belgians would have more ease with english than Walloons if french wasn’t so often their L2. They tend to have additional pronunciation difficulties that are in common with the Walloons. Walloons are often intimidated by english. Personally, I find it reassuring to know that speakers of the official languages have similar pronunciation difficulties as I won’t have to focus on three vastly different sets of problems. Common english Pronunciation Problems for Dutch Speakers english SOUND - COMMON ERROR - /v/ "van" /f/ "fan" /e/ "set" /æ/ "sat" /æ/ "man" /e/ "men" /?/ "not" /?/ "full" /u:/ "fool" /?/ "cup" /?/ "London" (1st syllable) /?/ "London" (2nd syllable) /?:/ "bird" /e?/ "late" /a?/ "light" /??/ "boy" /??/ "note" /?/ "not" /??/ "tour" /?/ "sit" /i:/ "seat" /a??/=/a?/+/?/ "flour" /w/ "west" /v/ "vest" /?/ "thin" /ð/ "they" /d/ "day" /ð/ "clothe" /z/ "close" /z/ /d/ "made" /t/ "mate" /z/ "rise" /s/ "rice" /?/ "push" /?/ "confusion" /?/ "Confucian" /?/ "cherry" /?/ "wage" /?/ + /g/ "thing" /?/ + /k/ "think" Silent "survivor" /r/ "Sir Ivor" /a??/=/a?/+/?/ "fire" *Language pronunciation difficulty charts modified from those offered on: http://www.btinternet.com/~ted.power/index.html Common english Pronunciation Problems for German speakers english SOUND - COMMON ERROR - /d/ "made" /t/ "mate" /?:/ "nought" /?/ "not" /?:/ "bird" /?/ "the" (schwa) /e?/ "late" /e/ "let" /a?/ "cow" /??/ "bone" /?:/ "born" /b/ "bill" /p/ "pill" /v/ "of" /f/ "off" /v/ "vet" /w/ "wet" /?/ "thin" /d/ "din" /?/ "thin" /s/ "sin" /æ/ "man" /e/ "men" /ð/ "clothe" /z/ "close" /z/ /w/ "west" /v/ "vest" /z/ "rise" /s/ "rice" /?/ "sherry" /?/ "cherry" /?/ "confusion" /?/ "Confucian" /?/ "cherry" /?/ "sherry" /?/ "chin" /?/ "gin" /?/ "Jerry" /?/ "sherry" /?/ "job" /j/ "yob" /?/ + /g/ "thing" /?/ + /k/ "think" /?/ + /k/ "think" /?/ + /g/ "thin" + k or g Silent "survivor" /r/ "Sir Ivor" /j/ "yam" /?/ "jam" /ð/ "they" /d/ "day" *Language pronunciation difficulty charts modified from those offered on: http://www.btinternet.com/~ted.power/index.html Common english Pronunciation Problems for french Speakers english SOUND - COMMON ERROR - /e?/ "bear" /?/ "not" /?:/ "bought" /??/ "boat" /?/ "full" /u:/ "fool" /?/ "cup" /?/ "hut" /?:/ "hurt" /?/ "the" (schwa) /e?/ "late" /e/ "let" /a?/ "buy" /??/ "boy" /a?/ "cow" /?/ "sit" /i:/ "seat" /??/ "beer" /e?/ "bear" /h/ "hot" "ch" in "loch" /??/ "tour" /a??/=/a?/+/?/ "fire" /a??/=/a?/+/?/ "flour" /?/ "thin" /ð/ "they" /d/ "day" /ð/ "clothe" /z/ "close" /z/ /?/ "sherry" /?/ "cherry" /?/ "cherry" /?/ "sherry" /?/ + /k/ "think" /?/ + /g/ "thin" + k or g Silent "survivor" /r/ "Sir Ivor" /j/ "yam" /?/ "jam" /??/ "note" /?/ "not" *Language pronunciation difficulty charts modified from those offered on: http://www.btinternet.com/~ted.power/index.html