Masaryk University Faculty of Arts

Acquisition of a foreign language

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1.2. Acquisition of a foreign language

1.2.1. English as a foreign language

Mastering a foreign language involves a long process of studying its grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. English is nowadays taught at most schools as a compulsory subject. However, based on the authors own experience from Slovak schools and the information gathered from Czech students, teaching of English pronunciation at primary and secondary schools in both Slovak and Czech Republics often seems to be underestimated by teachers. Attention is given mostly to grammar, vocabulary and other features, but not to pronunciation (Tichý, 2014, p.6). Due to this, those who try to achieve a good level of English often do not realize how important correct pronunciation can be.

1.2.2. Pronunciation

Pronunciation is a very noticeable aspect in oral communication. With improper pronunciation speakers lose a certain degree of understandability and thus often the purpose of the utterance is lost as well. For this very reason, even more attention should be paid to pronunciation when a person is learning a foreign language. As the well-known English phonetician A. C. Gimson (2008) at the beginning of his work suggests, for the acquisition of spoken language skills of ones mother tongue a long process consisting in imitating the recurrent sound patterns is needed (p. 5). That implies more difficulties and often only a partial success in mastering a foreign language learnt later in life (Gimson, 2008, p. 6). The different sound systems contain sounds often hardly distinguishable for learners and not giving enough attention to correct pronunciation when learning a second language can easily lead to misunderstandings. A different meaning can easily be conveyed without the speaker having realized the mistake just made.

With the increasing number of people learning English as their second language all over the world, the importance of correct pronunciation of English should be taken into consideration more intensively. Studying the sound system of the second language properly, focusing on both segmental as well as on suprasegmental aspects, is a necessary step in order to achieve the highest possible level of good pronunciation, and thus also a chance of efficient and trouble-free conversations.

Apart from making it more difficult for a listener or not passing a correct message when speaking a foreign language with faulty pronunciation, there is another disadvantage that may occur on the part of the speaker. It is generally known that the way a person speaks can produce certain attitudes in a listener. These attitudes sometimes happen to be negative when some kinds of prejudices against the speaker are being formed. Unintelligibility, inarticulate speaking skills and a lack of confidence in oral communication often result in speakers being judged as lacking knowledge or intelligence, unable to make decisions, or lacking in reliability (Morley, 2005).

1.3. About the thesis

The thesis deals with non-native speakers problems with acquiring English as a second language pointing to pronunciation mistakes made while they are speaking. Attention is given to three Slavic nationalities. As a student of Slovak nationality attending University programmes in English and Russian in the Czech Republic, the author of the thesis analyses the most frequent pronunciation errors of Czechs, Russians, and Slovaks when speaking English. The work then compares these errors and since a mother tongue is naturally what from a big part influences the pronunciation of a foreign language, the basic differences in the sound systems of these languages are presented. Before anything else the theoretical section provides a chapter which gives a short description of the English phonetic system. The main secondary sources used for this chapter are Gimsons Pronunciation of English and English Phonetics and Phonology by Peter Roach which provide a detailed characterization of the system, including its sounds and suprasegmental features, all described within the standard accent of Received Pronunciation. These books serve as a pattern according to which a comparison can be made and possible errors recognised.

The practical section focuses on native speakers perceptions of foreign pronunciation of English. The research is carried out to find out if they can hear any differences when the respective Slavic accents are spoken and if the accents give any undesirable impressions. The methodology of the practical section is as follows: taking short recordings of representative speakers of each nationality, then giving recordings, together with a questionnaire, to volunteer assessors (native speakers of English) and analysing their answers.

The aim of the thesis is to identify possible common and different mistakes in the English pronunciation of Czech, Slovak and Russian speakers, which can help respective students to realize their specific errors and improve their language skills. Another very important goal is to learn about native speakersperceptions of non-native pronunciation of English and their attitudes towards these accents.

2.English phonetic system

This section examines the English phonetic system on its basics, at first on segmental and then also on suprasegmental level. The pronunciation described in this work is the Received Pronunciation, RP. Despite the fact that RP itself can nowadays be perceived also as a disadvantage, since in the past it was used only by higher classes and it can be taken as an attempt to show social superiority, it has traditionally been used as a model of pronunciation for learners of English (Gimson, 2008, pp. 77-79). RP is often used in formal situations and its forms are usually most generally accepted and understood, even by those who themselves do not speak it (Gimson, 2008, p. 77). RP form is also the one used by authors of textbooks, educationalists and scientists as it is a standard for the basic linguistic research (Melen, 2010, p. 9).

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