The Most Common Problems Students in Russia Face When Learning English
2019-02-14 Jon ITTT Alumni Experiences
It is not a secret for anyone that native speakers of any language always easily identify “non-native” when they hear at least a few words spoken by them. Often native speakers are able to fairly accurately determine the country from which the person came, based on his pronunciation. This happens due to the fact that it is common for all of us to use the sounds of our native language in the pronunciation of words of a foreign language, as well as to use articulation models we know from childhood the position of the organs of speech (lips, tongue, etc.).
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Mariia L.
The "Russian mistakes"
We pronounce words with stress characteristic of the native language and speak with intonations corresponding to the intonational patterns of the native language. All these aspects create a recognizable “national” accent. The so-called "Russian mistakes", characteristic of Russian-speaking people studying English, are due to the discrepancy between Russian and English sounds. It is difficult for Russian-speaking students to use precisely those phonemes that have no analogs in Russian phonetics. Students are simply not used to this type of articulation.
Consider the basic errors in English pronunciation, which have Russian roots. Legendary combination of «th» is the visiting card of Russians abroad. These specific sounds - [θ] and [ð] Russian-speaking people often pronounce as - [f] and [z]. The words "zeriz" (there is), "zera" (there are), "free" (three) and "fenkyu-senkyu" (thank you) are the most common examples. It seems to us that we pronounce similar Russian sounds and there is no harm in that. However, native speakers do not understand us, because words lose their meaning due to the replacement of sound. When pronouncing the sound / θ /, linguists recommend placing the tongue between the teeth and uttering the Russian letter “t”, and for the sound / ð / say the Russian “d”. Keep in mind that you should feel a slight vibration of the air in the throat.
Muting voiced consonants in the endings.
Speaking in Russian, we usually replace the voiced consonants at the end of the word voiceless non-sonorous consonants. This is a feature of the Russian language, but in English, such a replacement can completely change the meaning of the word. Because of the wrong pronunciation, the adjective “bad” becomes a noun “bat”.
Replacing long vowels with short vowels.
There are no long and short vowels in Russian, so for many students, it is not clear how important it is to make this distinction. The length of vowels in the English language has a distinguishing function, i.e. because of the length of the sound, you will understand, they told you about the ship or about the sheep. In some cases, this error is very dangerous, because instead of the word you need, you can accidentally pronounce a swear word or a frankly obscene word only because of an incorrectly pronounced vowel sound.
Replacment of different English sounds
[v] - [w], [s] - [θ], [z] - [ð], [f] - [θ], [w] - [ð], [t] - [θ], [d ] - [ð]. Hence the constant confusion between: thing - sing - think - sink, three - free, this - with, what - that, first - thirst, Zen - then, as well as the universal replacement of English [w] with Russian "V" - "vot" instad of "what", or on the contrary, the use of sound [w] where there should be [v] - "wodka" instead of "vodka", "newer" instead of "never", 'ower" instead of "over", etc.
Using Russian intonation models instead of English ones.
Many people believe that pronunciation refers exclusively to the sounds of speech, but the most important aspects of pronunciation are rhythm, pauses, stress, and intonation. We convey only 7% of the meaning in words, 38% in paralinguistic means, i.e. intonation, rhythm, pauses, and 55% - facial expressions and gestures. The same phrase, uttered with different intonation, can mean completely different things. Intonation patterns of Russian and English differ in many ways. Thus, the use of Russian intonation models when communicating in English can cause misunderstanding, because intonation will not convey the meaning that the speaker wanted to express. Native English speakers say that the Russian intonation sounds rough to them as if the interlocutors are arguing.
These are not the only problems with pronunciation that Russian-speaking students face, but some of the most common. There are a number of special textbooks created to help those who want to get rid of problems in pronunciation and Russian accent: “Tree or Three? An Elementary Pronunciation Course by Ann Baker, "English Pronunciation in Use" Jonathan Marks, New Headway Pronunciation Course [Oxford, 2000 - 2002] and so on. Nowadays on the Internet, you can find a lot of free videos from native English speakers, in which they give practical advice on improving pronunciation and acquiring an American or British accent. Of course, acquiring the correct pronunciation at the initial stages of learning is crucial, correcting mistakes later will be much more difficult.
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