Why the Chinese Accent is so Difficult to Minimize in English
As an aspirant teaching English to Chinese children, I chose ‘Pronunciation problems of Chinese people’ as the most attractive and the most useful topic for my summative task at this moment.
As resources of this joyful and useful research on the internet, I have used three videos on Youtube made by the three experienced teachers of the English language. Only one of them works with children. And only one of them (accent coach from London, Luke Nicholson) gave a lot of live examples of the flaws in pronunciation that Chinese people, in general, make when speaking English, by showing the interviews with the Chinese actor Jackie Chan who sometimes manages to confuse his experienced interviewers.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Aleksandra V. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
So let’s begin from the very beginning.
To avoid repetition, I have structured the pronunciation problems in five groups. I gave my examples by using the matrix given by the experienced teachers. With these examples, I have chosen to present the method that appeared to be the simplest in working on the correct pronunciation of problematic sounds. This method is to demonstrate how the pronunciation should be done including some tips and tricks for that.
My work was mainly focused on general areas of pronunciation problems, concerning sounds that are disappearing or are modified in other sounds.
Imagine yourself going to a take-away Chinese food shop and asking for a bowl of rice, and the person who serves it to you says with a smile on his face: here you are sir, your bowl of lice. Instead of the fried rice that you ordered, it turned out to be the ‘flown lice’.
Or you walk with your Chinese girlfriend in the area where she lives. It happens to be near the riverside and she says to you, smiling: Come with me, I want to show you my favorite place near the liver.
If you would have known this first problem (or should I say difficulty) that Chinese people have with the pronunciation of R’s and L’s at the beginning of the word, it would still be funny and amusing but not confusing to you.
The suggested way of working with this difficulty is to demonstrate where the tongue is when pronouncing the letter L, in the very simple words like la, la, la la, or li, li, li, li. Then letting pupils identify where the tongue is when they say these words. Then the teacher asks the pupils to roll the tongue through the oral cavity back along the alveolar ridge and experience how the sound L becomes the sound R.
Some teachers even draw on the board the cross-section of the oral cavity and draw where precisely the tongue touches the alveolar ridge just behind the teeth. In this way, we can also have fun with RIGHT and LIGHT, or with RUST and LUST or ROCK and LOCK or FAR AWAY and FALLAWAY (which Michael Jordan often did when playing basketball matches).
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The Second difficulty in pronunciation is so-called dark L or L’s with no vowel sound after them.
When a Chinese person says a dark L, they may turn it into a vowel sound. Example: bowl becomes bow /oʊ/ or label becomes labor /oʊ/, or gold becomes gow /oʊ/. What a Chinese person then does is to delete the final consonant(s) and turn them into the vowel.
One of the videos gives an amusing example when the Chinese actor Jackie Chan says he “is too owe” for playing a certain role, meaning “too old” and when the interviewer asks him flabbergasted what did he mean by that. Then instead of explaining with the synonym Jackie Chan repeats the sentence and adds: I am to owe, like you.
The suggested solution for this pronunciation problem is to go back to the exercise in pronunciation of la, la, la words, and to stop just before the second sound A.
We are going now to tackle the third trap in pronunciation of English for Chinese people and that is the letters TH. Instead, TH / θ/ Chinese people say S. So thin sounds as a sin, think becomes a sink, thank you appears as sank you.
How can the teacher help students to correct this?
Again, by letting the students observe how the teacher does that and notice that their cheeks are going to inflate a little bit when the airflow is interrupted by the tongue whilst pronouncing the sound TH.
Then ask students to place their fingers around the teachers and then to repeat that exercise with their cheeks so they could feel that his and their cheeks accordingly puff up. Then to let them repeat this until they can pronounce the sound TH correctly.
The same technique is used in pronouncing ending sounds, like K and V when they find themselves at the end of the word, which is the fourth difficulty that Chinese people meet in speaking English.
So I bike becomes I bi, and I am alive becomes I am ali , pronouncing the end of the word with /aɪ / in both cases.
Again, the teacher asks the students to look how he pronounces the sound V by explaining to them that this sound is produced by using the lower lip and upper teeth that touch each other (labiodental sound) and demonstrating it to them closely by pointing to the mouth and what the lips and teeth do. Then he asks them to imitate him and repeat until they produce the correct sound.
In the case of letter K the teacher asks the students to put their fingers on his throat and he lets them feel what happens when he pronounces the letter K.
And then he asks students to do the same with their fingers on their throat and try to imitate that feeling by producing sound K as the stopping sound at the back of the throat. And if the sound they produce is correct, he keeps encouraging them.
The last one from this short, simplified, and very general collection of pronunciation problems of Chinese students in learning English, are so-called ‘stopping sounds’ in the middle of the word or at the end of the word.
China Teacher (pseudonym of the teacher whose video on the Youtube I have used for this summative task) gives the following examples of the ‘stopping sounds’: taxi for the X sound, doctor for the combination of CT sound and lips for the combination of PS sound.
He helps his students pronounce these words by splitting out the word, for example, TAXI into two sounds: sound TAK and sound SI and training students to pronounce them first slowly apart and after each other and subsequently faster and faster, until they sound like a one word.
Luke Nicholson uses another example for stopping sounds which I have replaced with my own, that shows the same principle.
These examples concern two consonants at the end of the word. The Chinese language does not have consonants at the ends of words or multiple consonants together. When a Chinese person speaks English, they may unconsciously keep to these restrictions. If an English word ends in two consonants, the final consonant may be deleted to avoid multiple consonants being together.
For example (examples of Luke Nicholson): * jump becomes jum * Stunt becomes stun * Script becomes scrip
My examples: * Bang becomes ba * Slang becomes sla * Trump becomes Trum
Teacher Lisa Mojsin has her own way of approaching this problem. Basically she teaches how to pronounce the consonant (for example N, as in ‘bean’) at the end of the word by showing the position of the tong in the mouth and by explaining the importance of simultaneously pushing the air through the nose. She also teaches how to pronounce NG sound at the end of the word and what the position of the tongue is in that case.
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The areas I brought to the attention of the reader in this summative task is very broad and I am aware that this summative task only scratches the surface concerning the most common and most general problems that Chinese people have in pronouncing English.
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