The Most Common Problems Students in Turkey Face When Learning English
2019-05-29 Linda Dunsmore Alumni Experiences
As defined through the units of the course and through many linguistic books, pronunciation is to say a word in a language in the correct way. Although the correct pronunciation of words and even the correct intonation in sentences in English, is thought through course books all over the world and thanks to media students are exposed to the natural and correct pronunciation, numerous mistakes are observed inside the classroom and outside. The reasons for the problems in pronunciation might vary depending on the country. I have been teaching English in Turkey for a while and have witnessed many problems with the students which will be explained through this essay.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Beata K. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Turkish is a phonetic language.
Considering that Turkish is a phonetic language and English is not, one of the biggest problems that occur during a lesson in pronunciation is saying the silent letters in words. As the Turkish students are used to pronounce every consonant and vowel that they see in the written form of the word, this sort of mistakes rise. This might vary from very simple words to more advanced ones depending on the level of the student, it can be a word as simple as “walk” which the correct pronunciation is /wɔːk/ and mistakenly it is pronounced /wɔːlk/. Or it can be a more difficult word such as “comfortable” which is correctly pronounced /ˈkʌmftəbl/ and is often pronounced as /ˈkʌmfɔːrteɪbl/. There are many other examples, but it is important to notice that the case is more severe regarding the vowels, to give some examples these words can be mentioned: Several, Average, Country, etc.
Pronunciation Difficulties with Vowels
One of the biggest pronunciation difficulties with Turkish students in the difference between the sounds /æ/ and /e/ since in Turkish the letter E almost stands for both sounds. Due to that the students' ability to distinguish the two sounds is very low and while speaking it is often hard to understand which sound they are trying to produce. And even when explained they show difficulty taking it in. This pronunciation mistake is revealed through words such as “Man” and “Men” or “Bat” and “Bet”. This problem seems to be almost impossible to fix especially with adult learners.
Pronunciation Difficulties with Consonants
The pronunciation problem with Turkish students goes further than vowels and it includes consonants as well. One of the noticed problems of the students is the clear pronunciation of the sounds /d/ and /t/, especially if they are placed at the end of the word, normally they are both pronounced as /t/. Some examples of this issue could be the words: Had, Bad, Hard, etc. and the problem is very common with pronouncing the past form of some regular verbs such as drilled or played. The reason for the problem could be the fact that both these sounds are alveolar and plosive. The solution might be having the students produce the sounds out of words and in words repeatedly.
One other pronunciation problem that is worth mentioning is regarding the sounds that do not exist in Turkish language and students usually show difficulty coping with them. The most obvious ones are the sounds /ð/ and /w/. The sound /ð/ is normally produced as /t/, /f/, /s/ or /z/ depending on the word and the students' ability to hear. And the sound /w/ is almost always produced as the sound /v/. The latter is easier to be fixed by drilling and repeating some examples, but the sound /ð/ takes more dedication and practice by both students and the teacher.
Two Consonants in a Row
The most common problem with pronunciation happens when there are two consonants in a row. Since in Turkish the order of letters in a word is normally having vowels and consonants following each other one by one, students have problems with pronouncing two consonants after each other therefore they add one vowel in the middle to say the word in the manner that they are accustomed to. To make it more clear with a few examples the word “student” /ˈstjuːdənt/ is normally pronounced as /ˈsu:tjuːdənt/ or the word “ski” /skiː/ is normally pronounced as /s:kiː/. There are even words in Turkish that are borrowed from other languages which follow the same spelling as the mother language, but the pronunciation is changed to clarify the word “film” could be mentioned which even in Turkish should be pronounced /fɪlm/ but it is pronounced /fi:li:m/. This problem seems to be easier to be fixed with younger learners, but with adults takes a considerable amount of time and effort.
Other Problems with Pronunciation
There are some other problems with pronunciation too which are less extreme than the ones mentioned like the wrong intonation in Wh-questions. They are normally asked with a rising intonation with Turkish students. Another common mistake is the stress on the wrong syllable of the words which is usually corrected by repeating the words.
The problems in pronunciation exist as long as there are students trying to learn a language and in this case to be more specific students learning English. There might be a countless number of reasons for Turkish students to have difficulties in English pronunciation, but there is no problem that cannot be solved by investing enough time and energy.
Also read: Guide to Writing Your First TEFL Syllabus
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