Pronunciation Problems of the Turkish EFL Learners


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This study examines the causes of the problems in pronunciation that Turkish EFL learners experience as English language learners. The participants in this study were freshman students studying in the ELT Department of Dicle University. In total, 43
    Elektronik Sosyal Bilimler DergisiElektronik Sosyal Bilimler DergisiElektronik Sosyal Bilimler DergisiElektronik Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi Electronic Journal of Social Sciences ISSN:1304-0278   Bahar-2011 Cilt:10 Sayı:36 (094-107) Spring-2011 Volume:10 Issue:36 ĐGĐLĐZCEYĐ YABACI DĐL OLARAK ÖĞREE TÜRK ÖĞRECĐLERĐKARŞILAŞTIKLARI TELAFFUZ SORULARI PRONUNCIATION PROBLEMS OF THE TURKISH EFL LEARNERS Yrd. Doç. Dr. ilüfer BEKLEYE Dicle Üniversitesi, Ziya Gökalp Eğitim Fakü   Abstract This study examines the causes of the problems in pronunciation that T   urkish EFL learners experience asEnglish language learners. The participants in this study were freshman students studying in the ELTDepartment of Dicle University. In total, 43 students participated in the study and their English proficiencylevels ranged from intermediate to upper-intermediate. In order to collect data, ten class sessions of the Listeningand Pronunciation course were recorded and after the transcription of the data, the mispronounced words werelisted by the researcher. Finally, an interview was conducted with the students, to learn the causes of their mispronunciations. It was found that, among other factors, English spelling played an important role in thestudents’ mispronunciations. Because of the irregularities, students are unsuccessful when they try to guess thecorrect pronunciation of words. Another reason of the mispronunciations is the students’ tendencies to makeovergeneralizations. The results of the study may be useful for teachers trying to teach English to Turkishlearners. Key Words : EFL learners, English spelling and pronunciation Öz Bu çalışmanın amacı Đngilizce öğrenen Türk öğrencilerin karşılaştıkları telaffuz sorunlarının nedenleriniincelemektir. Çalışmaya katılanlar Dicle Üniversitesi, Đngilizce Öğretmenliği Anabilim Dalı, birinci sınıf öğrencileridir. Çalışmaya Đngilizce yeterlikleri orta ve üst-orta seviyeler arasında değişen toplam 43 öğrencikatılmıştır. Veri toplama amacıyla, araştırmacı tarafından Dinleme ve Telaffuz dersinin işlendiği 10 ders saatikaydedilmiştir. Daha sonra bu derslerde öğrenciler tarafından yanlış telaffuz edilen kelimelerin dökümüyapılmıştır. Son olarak, öğrencilerin yanlış telaffuzlarının nedenlerinin öğrenilmesi amacıyla kendileri ilegörüşmeler yapılmıştır. Başka nedenlerin yanı sıra öğrencilerin yanlış telaffuzlarında Đngilizce kelimelerinyazımının önemli bir rol oynadığı sonucuna varılmıştır. Đngilizcenin yazımındaki düzensizlikler nedeniyleöğrenciler kelimelerin gerçek telaffuzunu tahmin etmekte zorlanmaktadır. Telaffuz hatalarının diğer bir nedenide öğrencilerin aşırı genelleme yapma eğiliminde olmalarıdır. Bu çalışmanın sonuçlarının Türk öğrencilereĐngilizce öğretmeye çalışan öğretmenler için faydalı olacağı düşünülmektedir. Anahtar kelimeler: Đngilizce öğretimi, Đngilizcenin yazımı ve telaffuz  Bahar-2011 Cilt:10 Sayı:36 (094-107) Elektronik Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi Spring-2011 Volume:10 Issue:36 95 1.   Introduction The emphasis on pronunciation has varied in language teaching due to various factors, such asthe needs of the students or the teaching method being used. Teachers who use the Audio-Lingual or Direct Method pay extra attention to pronunciation (Jones, 2002). On the other hand, in methods such as Communicative Language Teaching, students are expected to speak fluently, but complete accuracy is not among the main goals of instruction (Larsen-Freeman,2002).Students in Turkey generally learn English as a foreign language. The biggest   difference between a foreign language and second language is that the latter is normally learnt in thecountry in which the target language is spoken, whereas the former is learnt in the homecountry of the learner (Stern, 1983). For example, a person learning English in Britain islearning it as a second language. In a country in which the target language is spoken, thelearners find the opportunity to listen and imitate the words. However, in Turkey, it is not possible for the learners to listen to the foreign language effectively. In fact, the Turkishsystem of language teaching is based on reading. In a study performed by Bekleyen (2007),university students stated that, during their high school education, aural-oral skills wereignored, and their language education was primarily based on reading. That means mostwords are learnt by reading, instead of through listening. Since listening and speaking skillsare not included in some language tests conducted in Turkey (for instance, the UDS, KPDSand YDS), teachers find it unnecessary to spend time on pronunciation (Bekleyen, 2007).However, as suggested by Crystal (1997), pronunciation requires extra attention, since itincludes components such as stress and rhythm. Words that are pronounced incorrectlyimpede communication of intended meanings. In spite of this fact, pronunciation is sometimesneglected and undervalued, in favor of grammar and vocabulary. It is thought that studentsshould make individual efforts to improve their pronunciation, and so class hours are spent for subjects deemed more valuable by teachers.English orthography is known for its irregularity, which makes it difficult for the students toguess the correct pronunciation of words. Yule (1996) stated that there is no reliablecorrespondence between sound and symbol in the English writing system. Therefore, it is not possible to identify regularity within English spelling. In order to understand the causes of theirregularity of English orthography, it is necessary to examine the historical development of the English language. It is easier to understand the importance of linguistic history if it is keptin mind that written languages change more slowly than do spoken languages. English  Bahar-2011 Cilt:10 Sayı:36 (094-107) Elektronik Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi Spring-2011 Volume:10 Issue:36 96orthography has been influenced by the introduction of words from different languages.English words have Anglo-Saxon, Latin and Greek srcins (Henry, 1987). People who areknowledgeable about the rules of Latin and Greek can be more successful in guessing the pronunciations of English words with these srcins. As stated by Henry, if someone knowsthat ch is pronounced as /k/ in Greek, it will be easy for him to guess that chemistry will be pronounced as /ɑkemǺstri / . Another language that has influenced English is French. After theinvasion of England by the Norman French in 1066, French was accepted as the officiallanguage in England for the next 200 years (Yule, 1996). This resulted in the bor    rowing of many French words, which made English spelling more complicated, because –just like theother borrowed words- French words also kept their srcinal spellings (Chrisman, 1996). Theorthography of the English language has also been affected by the mistakes made by the first printers of the language; these mistakes often lingered until they became standard (New,1985).Today, many people agree that English orthography is complicated and deceiving. This fact,which affects everybody trying to learn English, is particularly disturbing for Turkish learnersof English. According to Bayraktaroğlu (2009), “Turkish orthography is to a large extent phonemic, i.e., employing a one-to-one letter-sound correspondence”. Turkish students whoare used to a system like this feel confused when they try to read English words, because inEnglish, a total of 44 phonemes are represented by 26 letters (p. 2).In a study performed by Aro and Wimmer, the reading success levels of English primaryschool students were compared to students with similar educational backgrounds in Germany,the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Spain and Finland (2003). The results indicated thatstudents whose native languages were those other than English were highly successful inguessing the correct pronunciation of pseudo-words in their native languages. Their languages’ regularity, along with other orthographic differences, was shown as the cause of this success. This shows that even native English speakers may find it difficult to guess thecorrect pronunciation of written words.English is a stress-timed language, which means that “English makes use of stressed syllables produced at roughly regular intervals of time and separated by unstressed syllables.” Incontrast, Turkish is a syllable-timed language. In Turkish, “the syllables are produced in asteady flow” (Crystal, 1997: 171). For that reason, some English words have two different pronunciations: the weak  one is used when the word occurs within a sentence, and the  strong   form is used when the word is pronounced alone (Gimson, 1994). Words that have two  Bahar-2011 Cilt:10 Sayı:36 (094-107) Elektronik Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi Spring-2011 Volume:10 Issue:36 97different pronunciations are generally words with grammatical functions such as those of auxiliaries, pronouns or prepositions. A list of these words is given in Appendix.The purpose of the present study is to determine the most commonly mispronounced words by Turkish EFL learners and the estimated reasons for the errors. In this study, pronunciationerrors are limited to the following: a- the omission of a sound, b- the attachment of a soundand c- the usage of a different sound instead of the required sound. Errors that stem from the physical characteristics of the speech organs have been excluded. For example, the soundsthat do not exist in Turkish are difficult to pronounce for the learners (Bayraktaroğ   lu, 2009).However, this study does not focus on the learners’ ability. Instead, it focuses on the errorsthat stem from inaccurate information about the pronunciation, or the errors that may easily becorrected after the awareness is attained.The following research questions are sought in this study.1- What are the words that are mispronounced by Turkish learners?2- What do the students think about the causes of these errors? 2.   Method2.1. Participants According to the curriculum implemented by the Council of Higher Education of the Republicof Turkey, it was determined that a Listening and Pronunciation course should be offered inthe first years of the English Language Teaching (ELT) Departments of the EducationFaculties in Turkey. The participants of the present study consist of ELT students in a stateuniversity in Turkey, who take Listening and Pronunciation course. Freshman students of thedepartment in the educational year 2008-2009 were chosen as participants. The number of the participants was 43, consisting of 11 males and 32 females. 2.2. Instruments In the present study, the researcher used two instruments. First, in the educational year 2008-2009, ten classroom sessions were recorded by the teacher. Then the recordings weretranscribed and the pronunciation errors made by the students were listed. Second, at the endof the year, an interview was conducted with the students. The purpose was to learn why thestudents pronounced the words incorrectly. In the interview, the students were asked which of the listed words they had pronounced incorrectly before they took the course and they wereasked the estimated reasons of their mistakes.  Bahar-2011 Cilt:10 Sayı:36 (094-107) Elektronik Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi Spring-2011 Volume:10 Issue:36 98 3.   Findings As mentioned before, the problematic words were obtained by the transcription of theclassroom recordings. After the interviews with the students, the causes of their errors in pronunciation were determined. The remaining part of this section will summarize thesecauses. The correct pronunciations are based on the British English and Cambridge AdvancedLearner’s Dictionary (2008) is used for reference. 3.1. Phonemes that do not exist in Turkish During the evaluation, students frequently mentioned problems caused by phonem   es that donot exist in Turkish. Phonemes such as /Ǣ/, /æ/, /θ/, /ð/, /ŋ/, /w/ do not exist in theTurkish language. The students found them rather difficult to pronounce. However, theseerrors did not include the focus of the study and for that reason, the problems caused by thedifficult pronunciation of these phonemes were excluded. 3.2. The borrowed words with French, Latin or Greek srcin The examples below show some of the words of French srcin that are mispronounced by thestudents. As noted by the following interviewee:  How can I guess that I should pronounce vague as /veǺg/ ?As this example suggests, it is very difficult for the learners to guess the correct pronunciations of borrowed words, some of which are listed below. mosquetechniquevague   Correct pronunciation/mǢsk//tekɑniək//veǺg/   *Incorrect pronunciation/mǢskjuə//tekɑniəkjuə//vegjuə/ 3.3. Words that may be pronounced in two different ways Some English words are pronounced in two different ways, according to their roles withindifferent sentences. For instance, the same word may be used as a verb and adjective withouta difference in the written form, but the pronunciation will be different according togrammatical function. In a live performance students pronounce live as * /lǺv/ instead of  /laǺv/. As can be seen in the following examples, students should pay attention to themeaning or role of the word in a sentence in order to pronounce the word correctly.
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