Masaryk University Faculty of Arts



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3.3. Comparison of the errors


If the errors of Czech, Slovak and Russian learners are compared there is not so many differences observed. Despite a few distinctions, all three nationalities seem to have similar pronunciation problems when speaking English.

The errors which seem to be common for the speakers of all respective languages can be listed as follows:



  • Confusion of timbre differences of the vowels, especially the contrast in vowels /e – æ/

  • Incorrect length of vowels

  • Final consonant devoicing

  • Lack of aspiration

  • Problems with dental fricatives /θ, ð/

  • Consonant contrast in /v – w/

  • Mispronunciation of /ŋ/

  • Location of word stress

The other errors might occur in speakers of all three nationalities too but appear to be significant problem areas just to some of them. These include the vowel reduction in unstressed syllables, which makes difficulties to the Czechs and the Slovaks (frequent pronunciation of vowel /e/ instead of /ə/) but it is supposed not to be a substantial problem for the Russians since the reduction occurs in their own language as well. Based on this and on the characteristics of the particular languages, weak forms and rhythm cause less trouble to the Russians than to the Czechs or the Slovaks. On the other hand, Russian learners have problems with the /h/ sound which they tend to mispronounce as /x/ while it does not cause any troubles to the Czechs or the Slovaks. The Russians also tend to substitute the alveolar approximant /ɹ/ for the rolled /r/.

All these errors can be summarized and according to the Collins and Mees (2008) table put into a simplified overview (p. 211):

Table 8: English pronunciation errors in three respective Slavic languages




e – æ

Vowel Length

Final fortis/ lenis

Aspir-

ation of p,t,k

θ, ð

v w

ŋ

e ə

r articu- lation

h

Stress and rhythm

Czech

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x



-

x

Slovak

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x



-

x

Russian

x

x

x

x

x

x

x



x

x



x Highly significant problem areas

• Although some difficulties may arise, these errors are (in general) less significant problem areas

- No problem in this area


4.Practical section

4.1. Procedure


The question about possible errors in Czech, Slovak and Russian pronunciations of English was analysed and answered in the theoretical section. The practical section now focuses on the other aim of the work, which is to find out about native speakersperception of the three respective Slavic nationalities when speaking English. Several questions arise in connection to the matter. These are whether the native speakers perceive different nationalities speaking, to what extent they perceive their foreign accents and whether any of the respective nationalities have better pronunciation skills than the other two. To answer the questions the following steps were taken.

At first the recordings of Czech, Slovak and Russian students were made. Total number of six volunteer students (two of each nationality) participated in this part of the survey. All the students were given the same short text which they were asked to read aloud while they were recorded. The text was adopted from the internet page. The attempt was to choose a text which would be neither too long nor boring and which would include the specific English sounds that differ from the phonetic systems of the other languages and thus are often mispronounced by foreign speakers. The full text is included in the appendices. To get the most plausible results the students saw the text for the first time when they read it and read it without any preliminary preparations.



The next step was formation of a questionnaire which was together with the six recordings given to native speakers of English. The questionnaire was designed with the aid of Google Drive and delivered to respondents electronically. At the beginning personal info part about their gender, age and country where they come from was involved. Respondents were then asked to listen to the recordings and to individually rate each speaker. In the questionnaire recordings of the speakers were put in a scattered order and subsequently they were given names “Speaker 1”, “Speaker 2”, “Speaker 3” etc. as follows:

Speaker 1 = Czech Speaker 4 = Slovak

Speaker 2 = Russian Speaker 5 = Slovak

Speaker 3 = Czech Speaker 6 = Russian

In the questionnaire there were six sets of the same questions asked (one set for each recording) and to each set the corresponding title of the recording was assigned. The sets included four closed questions in which respondents could choose an answer on the scale from 1 to 5 where numbers indicated the intensity of the aspect mentioned by the headword. The better the evaluated aspect was, the lower the number was. For instance in the first point with the headword accentedness number 1 was determined as “native-like” and number 5 as “very foreign”. The questionnaire included one open question where the respondents could write their comments, impressions and recommendations for the speakers pronunciations to improve. In the last question of each set participants in the survey were asked to guess the nationality of individual speakers heard from the recordings. They could choose from three options (Czech, Slovak or Russian). Finally at the end of the whole questionnaire questions about the best and the worst speakers were given. Preview of the questionnaire can be found in the appendices. There were ten assessors who completed the survey. All of them were native speakers of English. This included 4 Americans, 3 English, 2 Irish and 1 Canadian.


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