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Issues for Speakers of Slavic Languages

Issues for Speakers of Slavic Languages
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Статья написана Крисом Миллером, профессиональным преподавателем по фонетике английского языка (Received Pronunciation) и просто очень хорошим человеком :) Итак, основные ошибки + рекомендации, как избавиться от русского акцента.

Крис Миллер

Of course, ”Slavic Languages” is a large language family and each particular member has its own key issues.

However among those many languages and dialects, the main ones: Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian (East), Polish, Czech, Slovak (West) and Slovenian, Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Macedonian, and Bulgarian (South) do share some issues as they relate to speaking English – and incidentally, a lot of these issues are shared by speakers of the non-slavic languagesRomanian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, German and Greek – so they will probably also benefit from some of the information contained in this article.

What I want to do here, rather than reiterate points I’ve made already elsewhere, is give links to articles I’ve written on some of the main issues facing any English learner. I’d ask each reader to read any of my articles as if it relates specifically to the way you personally speak – therefore please email me if what I’ve written raises questions that I do not answer in the article.

First of all, some vowel issues that may be familiar. This is a short list of the issues I find arising time and time again when I work with speakers of the languages I’ve mentioned above.

There are also a number of consonant issues that affect speakers of many of the above languages….

  • Not using one or other of the L-sounds /l/ and /ɫ/
  • Not using either /θ/ or /ð/, instead using dentalised /t/ and /d/ (or worse, /s/ and /z/!)
  • Not producing a proper /ŋ/ sound, instead saying it as /n/ in most cases.
  • Conflating / confusing /w/ and /v/
  • Not using /ɹ/, instead pronouncing it trilled /r/ or tap-flap /ɾ/ (German speakers uvular /ʁ/)
  • Not using – or overusing – the Glottal Stop.

For extra practice with vowels and consonants, I recommend investing in a book that focusses specifically on phonetics and correct articulation. I’ve written on it and will continue to do so, but there’s really no substitute for a paper book at home and always to hand, which you can open any time and read from. There are some excellent exercise / practise books on the market and two I always point to are:

  1. Ship or Sheep? by Ann Baker (C.U.P). This book focuses on individual sounds and works mainly by contrasting minimal pairs. You can download a free PDF of it from a few places, but not legally – and of course a PDF doesn’t include the 4 CDs of invaluable listening material!
  2. English Pronunciation in Use Advanced by Martin Hewings (C.U.P). This book is the Holy Grail as far as I’m concerned. The explanations are sometimes vague and confusing (probably due to space constraints), but it’s packed with examples and exercises that can easily be re-worded with new content words, essentially providing unlimited practise material.
  • Voicing in final consonants – this is often connected with attempting to pronounce English as it’s written, so it particularly applies to plural / third-person-singular __-s (which is just as often pronounced /z/)
  • Schwa+Stress – again, this relates to the fact that English tends not to sound exactly the way it’s spelled, and that in weak syllables vowels have a tendency to degrade to Schwa /ə/ rather than be the sound of the letter they’re actually spelled with. Learners have a tendency to pronounce English words as per their spelling – which is usually quite wrong.
  • Joining – speakers of many of the above listed languages tend to have trouble joining words naturally when speaking English. Word joining doesn’t happen in every language and if it’s something you personally have difficulty with then have a look (and practise!) with my articles on joining: LiaisonVowel Joining, and Assimilation.
  • Flat intonation – many of the above listed languages do not use intonation in the way English does; in many of them, not as much focus is put on the speaker’s tone when understanding their attitude and intention. This puts speakers of those languages at a significant disadvantage when communicating with native English speakers. I’ve written extensively on the topic of intonation on this blog, a good place to begin is myintroduction to intonation, and specific tones are covered in articles on the FallRise and Fall-Rise.
  • Tenses (especially Simple / Continuous and Future Forms).
  • Articles – most Slavic languages do not use articles at all, and many of the non-slavic languages listed above use their definite articles in ways that differ from standard English use. It’s worth taking a look at definite articles for this reason – and indefinite articles because frankly, a lot of languages simply don’t use one at all, and it can take some getting used to.
  • Prepositions – well, function words of all kinds actually. Not just the words themselves but the way they’re said. Most function words – prepositions as well as articles, auxiliary verbs, pronouns and quantifiers – are pronounced in most speech as weak syllables, and that means weak vowels; namely Schwa and the others.

I hope this article provides plenty of useful material and food for thought. If on reading this, any reader feels they have an issue I haven’t mentioned – or would like more information on a particular point – please do email me or leave a comment.

Chris Miller  – 07854 832701Communication Consultant

Language and Pronunciation Teacher

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