Masaryk University Faculty of Arts

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The aim of the present thesis has been to explore the specific mistakes that foreign learners of English make in their English pronunciation, with the focus being on the Czech, Slovak and Russian speakers and the mistakes originating from their native languages and to learn native speakers perceptions of these three nationalities speaking English.

At first a theoretical background is established. A concept of English as an important language in the contemporary world is introduced. Afterwards the thesis outlines the importance of pronunciation in learning a foreign language and subsequently communitating efficiently. The sound system of the English language including its segmental and basics of the suprasegmental level is provided, with a focus on particularly specific sounds and features of the language. In order to investigate the most frequent errors of English pronunciation of the Czechs, the Slovaks, and the Russians, a brief analysis of the main differences between English sound system and the sound systems of the respective languages has been carried out. The errors have shown to be almost identical in Czech and Slovak speakers, while in Russian speakers a few different pronunciation mistakes have been identified. These occur mainly at the segmental level while at the surpasegmental level the Russians appear to have fewer difficulties, in particular with the reductions and the rhythm, than the Czechs or the Slovaks.

The practical section consists in research which was carried out in order to determine whether native speakers distinguish between the respective foreign accents of English and how they perceive them. The results, due to a relatively small number of participants with slightly different levels of English, do not aspire at being representative. They serve as a springboard for possible further research.
After the evaluation and comparison of the results, several observations can be deduced. As for the questions on accentedness and intelligibility, Slovak speakers have come out as the ones with the weakest foreign accent and the most understandable pronunciation. The Czechs were evaluated similarly as the Russians which is quite surprising since the Russian language differs from the very similar Czech and Slovak languages and thus the Russian speakers were expected to be perceived as distinctly different. In the questions on phonaesthetic evaluation and general overall assessment the Slovaks have attained the best scores too. The Czechs were behind them and the Russians came last. However, it has to be said that even though the Slovaks have come out as those with better pronunciation skills in English than the other two nationalities, generally the differences in the ratings between the respective nationalities were not substantial and thus the results cannot be taken as unequivocal. Moreover similar ratings indicate that the speakers were perceived by the respondents as a group of foreign speakers which were evaluated rather as six individuals and no differentiation among their nationalities was recognized.

The answers to the open question have shown that the assessors were not overly critical of the speakers pronunciations. Some of the errors were identified and these were mostly related to the vowel quality and the pronunciation of ‘th’. However, no specific comments which would indicate that the speakers perceive any distinction between the nationalities were found. The outcomes of the respondents guesses of the nationality of each speaker also show that the assessors did not distinguish the three different nationalities speaking and perceived all the speakers as similarly accented.

Last, according to the advice that assessors gave to the speakers, high speed of speech has proved not to be the way to better pronunciation. The advice was, above all, to do more practice of vowels and other sounds and to slow down the pace of speech. This observation leads to an interesting conclusion that it is not a high tempo that makes a foreign speaker sound better and also that besides the appropriate pronunciation of sounds, it is suprasegmental features, namely stresses, reductions and consequent rhythm that constitute an intelligible speaking performance.

Reference list

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Collins, B., & Mees, I.M. (2008). Practical phonetics and phonology: A resource book for students (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Comrie, B., & Corbett, G. G. (2002). The Slavonic languages. New York, NY: Routledge.

Cruttenden, A. (Ed.). (2008). Gimson´s pronunciation of English (5th ed.). London: Hodder Education.

Foley, J. (2007). English as a global language: My two satangs worth. Regional Language Centre Journal, 38 (1), 7-17.

Havránek, B., Barnetová, V., & Leška, O. (1976). Příruční mluvnice ruštiny pro Čechy 1: Hláskosloví a tvarosloví (3rd ed.). Praha: Státní pedagogické nakladatelství.

Jones, D., & Ward, D. (1969). The phonetics of Russian. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Kráľ, Á. (1996). Pravidlá slovenskej výslovnosti. Bratislava: Slovenské pedagogické nakladateľstvo.

Kráľová, Z. (2011). Slovensko-anglická zvuková interferencia. Žilina: Žilinská univerzita.

Krčmová, M. (1999). Fonetika a fonologie: Zvuková stavba současné češtiny. Brno: Masarykova univerzita.

Marren, A. (2011). Phonetic perception and pronunciation difficulties of Russian language (From a Canadian perspective). The Arbutus Review, 2 (1), 75-93.

Melen, D. (2010). Výslovnost angličtiny na pozadí češtiny. Praha: Big Ben Bookshop Prague.

Mocova, L. (2012). Comparison of Slovak and English word stress. Communications, 1, 37-39.

Morley, J. (2005). Issues in teaching phonetics/ pronunciation at advanced levels of instruction in English as a foreign language. Journal for Distinguished Language Studies, 3. 9-14.

Oliverius, Z. F. (1974). Fonetika russkogo jazyka. Praha: Státní pedagogické nakladatelství.

Pavlík, R. (2000). Phonetics and phonology of English: A theoretical introduction. Bratislava: Pedagogická fakulta Univerzity Komenského.

Roach, P. (1991). English phonetics and phonology: a practical course (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Romportl, M. (1973). Stručná fonetika ruštiny (3rd ed.). Praha: Státní pedagogické nakladatelství.

Schenker, A. M. (2002). Proto-Slavonic. In B. Comrie & G. G. Corbett (Eds.), The Slavonic languages (pp. 60-121). New York, NY: Routledge.

Short, D. (2002a). Czech. In B. Comrie & G. G. Corbett (Eds.), The Slavonic languages (pp. 533-592). New York, NY: Routledge.

Short, D. (2002b). Slovak. In B. Comrie & G. G. Corbett (Eds.), The Slavonic languages (pp. 533-592). New York, NY: Routledge.

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Skaličková, A. (1961). Základy anglické výslovnosti. Praha: Státní pedagogické nakladatelství.

Skaličková, A. (1974). Srovnávací fonetika angličtiny a češtiny. Praha: Academia nakladatelství Československé akademie věd.

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Summary (English)

This bachelor thesis deals with the question of foreign speakers pronunciation of English, with the focus on commonly made typical pronunciation errors of Czech, Slovak and Russian learners. Its aim is to find out what the differences between the English pronunciation mistakes of Czech, Slovak and Russian learners are and what the native speakersperceptions of the respective nationalities speaking is.

The theoretical section gives a description of English phonetic system on both segmental and suprasegmental levels. Afterwards short descriptions of Czech, Slovak and Russian sound systems are presented, focusing on the main differences when compared to the English phonetic system. Further on, common errors of the speakers of these nationalities are characterized. It is established that between Czech and Slovak pronunciation there are minor differences while in Russian speakers certain distinctive errors occur.

Finally, in the practical section, responses obtained via questionnaire are analysed. From the results it can be established that native speakers do not distinguish between the three different nationalities speaking English. Moreover it has been discovered that although they hear a foreign accent in the speakers, they perceive the speakers pronunciation in rather positive way.

Summary (Czech)

Tato bakalářská práce rozebírá téma anglické výslovnosti u nerodilých mluvčích a speciálně se zaměřuje na časté výslovnostní chyby, kterých se dopouštějí Češi, Slováci a Rusové. Jejím cílem je charakterizovat rozdíly mezi těmito chybami a také zjistit, jak tyto národnosti, když mluví anglicky, vnímají rodilí mluvčí.

Teoretická část popisuje anglický fonetický systém a to jak na segmentální, tak i na suprasegmentální úrovni. Následně je podán stručný popis českého, slovenského a ruského zvukového systému se zaměřením na hlavní rozdíly ve srovnání s anglickým fonetickým systémem. Dále jsou definovány časté chyby ve výslovnostech těchto mluvčích. Prokazuje se, že ve výslovnosti Čechů a Slováků jsou rozdíly minimální, zatímco ve výslovnosti Rusů se objevuje několik specifických chyb.

Na závěr praktická část analyzuje výsledky dotazníků. Výsledky prokazují, že když příslušníci těchto tří národnosti mluví anglicky, rodilí mluvčí mezi nimi nějakých rozdílů nerozeznávají. Kromě toho se ukázalo, že i když je cizí přízvuk u nerodilých mluvčích slyšet, jejich výslovnost je rodilými mluvčími vnímána spíše pozitivně.

Appendix A

The text which was read by the speakers:

"When Beethoven passed away, he was buried in a churchyard. A couple of days later, the town drunk was walking through the cemetery and heard some strange noise coming from the area where Beethoven was buried. Terrified, the drunk ran and got the priest to come and listen to it. The priest bent close to the grave and heard some faint, unrecognizable music coming from the grave. Frightened, the priest ran and got the town magistrate. When the magistrate arrived, he bent his ear to the grave, listened for a moment, and said, "Ah, yes, that’s Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, being played backwards." He listened a while longer, and said, "There’s the Eighth Symphony, and it’s backwards, too. Most puzzling." So the magistrate kept listening; "There’s the Seventh… the Sixth… the Fifth…" Suddenly the realization of what was happening dawned on the magistrate; he stood up and announced to the crowd that had gathered in the cemetery, "My fellow citizens, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s just Beethoven decomposing."

Appendix B

Contents of enclosed CD-ROM

This CD contains six recordings, used in the survay. The excerpts are in mp3 format. (CD is attached at the end of the thesis).

The order is as follows:

  1. Speaker 1 (Czech)

  2. Speaker 2 (Russian)

  3. Speaker 3 (Czech)

  4. Speaker 4 (Slovak)

  5. Speaker 5 (Slovak)

  6. Speaker 6 (Russian)

Appendix C

The questionnaire designed to learn native speakers perception of the six respective speakers

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