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Coursework 1a: Essay Writing

Non-native speakers face many social and academic transition issues when studying
abroad in the countries of native speakers. Discuss the problem areas and suggest
ways to overcome these problems identified. Provide relevant examples to illustrate
your answer.
English is now an international language of communication, diplomacy, business,
medicine, science and technology. The use of English in international contexts has
increased dramatically, such that the interaction is more likely to take place between two
non-native speakers of English than between a native and a non-native speaker (Jenkins,
2000). This can be seen through the practice of English as a second language in non-
English speaking countries like Malaysia, Singapore, India, and Nigeria. In this context, it
cannot be denied that English plays a vital role in peoples lives, especially if they wish to go
around the world for business or education purpose. The desires to study abroad in English
speaking countries can only be realised with the good mastery of English. However, non-
native speakers (NNS) often encounter many problems in the aspects of pronunciation,
intonation, and other features of connected speech when they go further their studies in the
countries of native speakers. Therefore, in this paper, I am going to look into the problems
faced by NNS and some ways to overcome it.
Pronunciation is the very first highlighted problem area among NNS. In this aspect,
pronunciation is a fundamental part of foreign language learning since it affects speakers
communicative competence as well as performance. Good pronunciation is very important
for good communication. However, there are varieties of English pronunciation around the
world. Even native English speakers like Britons and Americans pronounce certain words
differently due to the difference in using different vowel sounds or by stressing the word in a
different place. As an example, tomato is being pronounced /tmt/ (tomarto) for British
English whereas /tmeto/ (tomayto) for American English. Occasionally, a letter that is
associated with a particular sound in first language may be linked to a different sound in
second language (Kelly, 2000). For example, Dweik (1986) as cited in Hamada (2010)
mentioned that Arab speakers often have difficulty producing English /p/ as a separate
phoneme from /b/ sound. This is because English /p/ sound does not exist in Arabic. Hence,
they pronounce park as bark. Another example is that, in German, the written letter v is
pronounced as /f/ (leading to very being pronounced /feri:/). Due to the limited pronunciation
skills and different accents they possess, NNS face problems in producing proper English
words; therefore, they are not able to produce clear sound patterns of English. As a result,
the meaning cannot be effectively conveyed and misunderstanding could have happened.
In order to overcome pronunciation problem, NNS must articulate the speech sounds
correctly and clearly. In this part, drilling is an important tool in pronunciation work as it helps
them to build confidence so that they can achieve better pronunciation of language items
(Kelly, 2000). NNS have to refer to International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) chart and practise
every sound of the phonetic symbols through constant repetition, as the saying goes,
Practice makes perfect. Another effective way to have correct pronunciation is by doing
English language pronunciation practice with minimal pairs. Examples of minimal pairs
(words or utterances which differ by only one phoneme) are soap /sp/ and soup /sup/,
and paper /pep(r)/ and pepper /pep(r)/. This will indirectly help them to recognise
different phonemic sounds of English, and therefore make it comfortable for listeners. To
sum up, being able to speak English with proper pronunciation not only makes their speech
intelligible, but also builds up close rapport with the listeners (Abbas, 2012).
Another problem that arises among NNS is intonation. Intonation is crucial in
signalling the speaker meaning, particularly interpersonal attitudes (AMEP Research Centre,
2002, p. 2). Fromkin (2011) stated that speakers of all languages vary the pitch of their
voices when they talk. The effect of pitch of the voice on a syllable differs from language to
language. Spanish speakers tend to use a noticeably narrower pitch range than English, and
emphatic stress is expressed in extra length rather than in extra pitch variation (Coe, n.d,
p.96). As a consequence, Spanish speakers may sound bored to English ears. In English,
on the other hand, the intonation nucleus can fall on any stressed syllable in the sentence,
depending on what is being emphasised. For example, a native English speaker will
emphasise John (an an answer to the question Who kicked the ball?). This emphatic stress
helps the listeners to indicate that John is the one who kicked the ball, not the others.
However, in Spanish, the nucleus falls on the last stressed syllable in the sentence as it is a
syllable-timed language. Spanish people can approximate to John kicked the ball (as an
answer to the question What did John do?), yet they will find it difficult in producing or even
recognising the pattern of J ohn kicked the ball (as an answer to the question Who kicked
the ball?). Subsequently, when Spanish speakers speak English, they fail to put stress
where a native English speaker would, which indirectly lead to disruption in communication.
The best way to achieve an accurate intonation is by reading aloud. Reading aloud is
very important because it aids the acquisition of suprasegmental features of English (Gibson,
2008). With proper intonation, the same thing may be said in different ways, at different
times and for different reasons. In this aspect, NNS should practise reading aloud with
relevant CD and check them as frequently as possible so that they get to know where to put
stress and intonation in an utterance. Slowly, they will be able to speak with proper
intonation and expressiveness instead of using monologue tone all the time. Another method
to overcome intonation problem among NNS is by recording their utterances and comparing
it to native speakers one as well. By recording and playback utterances, NNS will be able to
analyse and visualise intonation, intensity and rhythm patterns of recorded utterances; thus,
they will try to sound as close to native speakers of English. In brief, reading aloud and
recording utterances are among the efficient ways to have a proper intonation.
There are various features of connected speech in English like assimilation and
elision which make it even harder to be understood by NNS. Assimilation happens when a
words pronunciation is affected by sounds in a neighbouring word (Ferdinand, 2013). As an
example, the phonemic symbols for the utterance Has your letter come? are supposed to
be / hz j let km/. However, it is being pronounced as /h let km/ after the process
of assimilation in English. This is because the fricative /z/ has similar reciprocal assimilation
with /j/, which results in a diphthong //. Besides, English spoken by native speakers is also
influenced by elision. Elision is defined as the omission of a sound segment which would be
presented in the deliberate pronunciation of a word in isolation (Yule, 1996, p.59). For
example, in the utterance He leaves next week. Native speakers will generally leave out
the /t/ in next saying /neks wi:k/. Accordingly, when native speakers are delivering a natural
and fluent speech, some NNS will not be able to understand what they have said due to less
understanding of the features of connected speech. To conclude, the process of assimilation
and elision in English speech has indirectly caused problems for NNS to hear the
Listening skill plays an essential part in order to overcome the problem above. In this
context, NNS should be selective of the listening materials. They should only listen to the
authentic materials like BBC news, or any other related radio broadcasts. While listening,
NNS should pay fully attention to every single word spoken and try to familiar themselves to
the regular patterns of assimilation and elision used in English. Other than that, they can get
together with friends who are also learning English and arrange a meeting where they can
practise and listen to each other (Lightfoot, 2010). Undeniably, this is another great way to
improve listening skills and develop confidence as well. With the advanced of technology,
there are many English exercises available online where NNS can learn and practise. They
can even download and install some useful software such as pronunciation training software
in their mobile phones so that they can practise in anytime and everywhere. NNS can also
try to watch English movies with no subtitles to train their ears. At the same time, they will
think about and figure out what characters in the movie are talking. In short, NNS have to try
everything in English so that they will be able to somehow like survive in the native
In conclusion, NNS find English phonology difficult and encounter many problems
when studying abroad in the native countries because English is not their first language and
they do not often speak it. However, these problems can be solved if NNS take the initiatives
to learn and most importantly, do not give up learning. In order to become English proficient
speakers, NNS should keep their eyes open to the opportunities although they may make
mistakes and face hurdles in the process of learning. Making mistakes like mispronouncing
English words and being laughed by for committing the mistakes is not the end of the world.
Instead they should view this as a stepping stone to move forward and always keep in mind
that Success is not the final, failure is not the fatal; it is the courage that counts. NNS must
be confident in speaking English and do not feel embarrassed when making phonological
errors. Through constant practice and with strong determination, surely NNS will be able to
speak as fluent as native speakers one day.
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