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Two distinct problems of transfer between Spanish and English

Mercedes Viola, 2011

INTRODUCTION Before discussing two distinct problems of transfer between Spanish and English - Spanish speakers with English as the target language - which I consider to be obstacles to efficient communication, I think it is important to point out what features of pronunciation are considered crucial for mutual understanding. What needs to be learned, however, is not English as a native language but communicative effectiveness in English as a business lingua franca, whichas an international contact languagebrings together nonnative as well as native Englishes from various lingua-cultural backgrounds spoken with varying degrees of proficiency. (Ehrenreich, S. 2010) This new role of English, as the common language among speakers of different languages, has key implications when teaching pronunciation. Users of English communicate successfully in accents that differ significantly from either Received Pronunciation (RP) or General American (GA). Many linguists have questioned the use of these models given the fact that native speaker accents are not necessarily the most intelligible or appropriate accents when a non-native speaker is communicating with another. Jennifer Jenkins conducted some research into the pronunciation of global English studying spoken exchanges between non-native speakers of English. She found a number of pronunciation features that were important contributors to mutual intelligibility. These features are known as the Lingua Franca Core. All the consonant sounds are important except for voiceless 'th' //, voiced th //, and dark l. Consonant clusters are important at the beginning and in the middle of words. The deletion of a consonant from a cluster at the beginning of a word can seriously compromises intelligibility. Certain deletions in medial position can also cause problems in intelligibility. On the other hand, the addition of an extra vowel seems not to be a problem. Vowel length contrast. For example, the difference between the vowel sounds in pitch and peach. It is also important to shorten all vowels when placed before a voiceless consonant.

Production and placement of nuclear (or tonic) stress is also essential. Choosing the correct word for prominence is very important since it can change the meaning of the sentence. Robin Walker (2001) states that mastery of these four features means being

intelligible to over 1,000 million people globally. 1. Pronunciation problems of Spanish native speakers which can be obstacles to efficient communication. Robin Walker (2001) put together a chart with the most common difficulties in pronunciation Spanish speakers encountered when learning English.
Priorities for Spanish Speakers of English, based on Kenworthy (Teaching English Pronunciation), OConnor (Better English Pronunciation) and Taylor (Pronunciation in Action).

Many of these features lie outside the lingua franca core; e.g. consonant items 3,10,11 and 13.Good vowel length, good pronunciation of most of the consonants, good handling of clusters, the avoidance of incorrect deletions, prominence and good tonic stress - these are the focus of our work on pronunciation, together with one area which did not come up in any traditional list, but is a priority in the Lingua Franca Core, namely the appropriate use of tone groups. (Walker, 2001). I will focus on one segmental and one suprasegmental feature that are included in the Lingua Franca Core. No length variation in vowel pronunciation is a segmental problem most Spanish speakers have. In Spanish the length of the vowel is not significant in distinguishing between words while in English the length of the vowel sound plays an important role. Some clear examples are words such as cart/cut, live/leave or taught/tot.

Besides that, there is no significant tense-lax distinction for Spanish vowels, and this together with problems of length, is the source many problems of intelligibility. The other feature I will focus on is a suprasegmental one, and that is nuclear stress production which has no equivalent in Spanish. Nuclear stress in English conveys differences in meaning, putting nuclear stress on the wrong word in an utterance, will direct the listeners attention to the wrong place, leading to confusion. (Walker, 2001). Many meanings which are conveyed in English through sentence stress are conveyed in Spanish through the use of particular words. One clear example is when a Spanish speaker says I need them .By stressing the word them, it almost sound as I need ten, whereas competent users would pronounce I need them /nid m/ English is a stress-timed language which means that the length of an utterance depends on the placement of stressed sounds in words and the stress of those words in the sentence as a whole, while Spanish is a syllable-timed language. The rhythm of stress-timed languages may well exhibit a musical quality, while the syllable-timed languages tend to have a predictable meter. David Crystal (2010) states that English makes use of the stressed syllables produced at roughly regular intervals of time (in fluent speech) and separated by unstressed syllables a stress-timed rhythm. In Spanish the syllables are produced in a steady flow a syllable-timed rhythm. When Spanish speakers transfer their rhythm patterns into English, the result can be unintelligible to other speakers of English. This is because the meaning or information usually conveyed in English by the combination of pitch, loudness and tempo rhythm, in a sentence is flattened by the Spanish speaker. 2. Activities to approach these features. Taking into consideration the five variables Brinton proposes, I will be discussing how we can approach these problems in a group of business English learners, between 35 and 45 years old who need English in order to exchange and enrich knowledge, to generate and produce new knowledge; to present new ideas, participate in meetings and negotiate contracts. Most of these students need to use English with either colleagues from the same organization or clients; who may be native speakers of English or who may not. Anyway, either with native or with nonnative speakers of English, they use English as the common language for communication; English as the Lingua Franca. Their English levels range between B1 and B1+ of the Common European Framework. The courses are designed based on their needs and interests and they are delivered at their premises. These are

monolingual groups; all of them share the same mother tongue, Spanish. A communicative approach is generally used and the main goal is to provide the students with the communicative competence they need in order to fulfil their job related tasks. Segmental Problem vowel length. Suprasegmental problem nuclear stress. A bottom-up approach would begin with the articulation of individual sounds or phonemes and works up towards stress, rhythm, tone and intonation. On the other hand, the top-down approach starts with patterns of intonation and brings separate sounds or phonemes into sharper focus as and when required. Dalton and Seidlhofer (1994) explain that the bottom up approach to teaching pronunciation rests on the idea that if the segmentals are taught first, the suprasegmentals will then be acquired while the top down one is based on the assumption that once the suprasegmentals features are learned, the segmental discriminations will follow accordingly. Jenkins (2002) Jenkins (2002) proposes starting holistically from voice quality and then moving to work on segmental features since suprasegmental features contribute more to intelligibility than segmental ones. Pronunciation as a speaking activity and pronunciation as a listening activity are two end of the same stick. Underhill (1998). So, exposure, as Dalton & Seidlhofer (1994) state, is crucial. Spoken language occurs contingently in the context of some task or other activities which motivates the use of language...The assumption is that because the use of language is motivated by some communicative purpose, sounds will be heard as significantly and will be learnt as such. (Dalton & Seidlhofer 1994: 72). After exposure, noticing is a necessary to draw the students attention towards those features they have more difficulties with, either the segmental or suprasegmental one. Using some authentic business spoken texts we can focus on nuclear stress or vowel length. In these cases and for this specific group of students, explanation would really help in the learning process, e.g. explaining the different circumstances that govern the place of prominence new information, emphatic stress or contrastive stress. Then, some exercises can be done to practice and recognize different nuclear stress. For instance, conscious raising activities like pronouncing the same sentences placing the stress on different words and checking intended meaning Im WATCHING TV (Im not doing anything else) vs. IM watching Tv (dont change the channel). Some guided and communicative practices can be designed to focus on this. For vowel length and tense/lax difference, making pronunciation a physical activity and a visible one, as Underhill suggest, is a good strategy.

3. Conclusion As Adrian Underhill (1998) states the primary aim must be to help learners to communicate successfully when they listen or speak in English. To help my learner develop the awareness that will enable them to model their own pronunciation in any direction. Many people argue that with good pronunciation despite some accuracy errors a speaker is usually more intelligible than with poor pronunciation but more accuracy. Many teachers Monolingual groups may not be the ideal context in which to improve pronunciation skills, but they are a reality for most of us, and one, which will not change, in the immediate future. However, as Donna Brinton indicates, ... the task of the EFL pronunciation teacher is simplified by the homogenous first language background of the learners since knowledge of this language can generally be brought to bear in constructing the pronunciation syllabus. If we cease to see the learners L1 as an obstacle to be overcome en route to achieving our goals, and view it much more as the basis on which to build our progress, and as a means of access to the new pronunciation goals... we reduce the negative psychological effects of always stressing what students lack, and highlight the value of their own language as a tool for learning English. (Walker, 2001) BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brumfit, C.J. (2001) Individual Freedom in Language Teaching: Helping Learners to Develop a Dialect of their Own. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Crystal, D. (1987, 1997, 2010). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (Third Edition). New York: Cambridge University Press Dalton, C. & Seidlhofer, B. (1994). Pronunciation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ehrenreich, S. (2010) English as a Business Lingua Franca in a German Multinational Corporation: Meeting the Challenge. Journal of Business Communication vol. 47 no. 4 408-431

Jenkins, J. (2002). The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Underhill, A. (1998): "Get an ear for pronunciation". In EL Gazette, Issue no. 223, August 1998 Walker, R. (2001) Pronunciation for International Intelligibility. English Teaching Professional. Issue 21 Walker, R. (2001) Pronunciation priorities, the Lingua Franca Core, and monolingual groups. Speak Out! Pronuciation SIG