Why Pronunciation of English Matters?

Zubair KhanEnglish is a composite language; various racial elements have come together in its making such as Angle, Saxon, Dane etc. It has borrowed at various stages, words from different languages such as Latin, Greek, French, German and Italian etc. that is why it poses complexity for its learners at various junctures. The English language has some oddities or peculiarities i.e. Spelling and pronunciation. So far the spelling of English language is concerned it follows no rules as most people do complain that why there are silent letters in words? On the other hand the problem of pronunciation had been resolved to a great extent by the IPA (International Phonetics Association) as she had provided Phonetic symbols. Thus we owe a great deal to the IPA because of the Phonetic symbols hence there is uniformity of pronunciation of English words all over the world.  Pronunciation matters a lot now-a-days and the idea of correct pronunciation is gaining grounds as people of English learners are giving prior importance to it. However, the case was the contrary a few decades ago. In Pakistan and other countries, where English language is regarded as prestige among different classes of society especially the elite class considers it as its mother tongue, emphasis was laid too much upon vocabulary, spelling and the learning of English grammatical structures and rules and not the least importance was given at any level to pronunciation. But the person who was well-learned of the rules of English grammar and having a sound vocabulary was esteemed as highly learned person of English language. However, no one can deny the importance of pronunciation in an individual’s speech whereas how much a person is fluent and knows the depth of grammar and has a fairly large vocabulary of English, if his/her pronunciation is not up to  the mark he/she will be at loss while communicating with the native speakers .Pronunciation also plays a vital role in communicating with others in English language__ a well-educated learner of English pronunciation soon recognizes that the person knows the real taste and temper of this foreign language ; it heightens his/her style of speaking and boost his/her confidence level.

    Now the question arises, why the teaching of English pronunciation is necessary?

 The answer is quite simple, we have learnt this language not through direct interaction with the native speakers, rather the books were the main source of learning this language, which our teachers taught to us and they were taught by others who never interacted with the native speakers nor they had listening practice of English. Secondly, spelling always created confusion for the non-native speakers such as…. Chauffeur, chutzpa, chair, choir are ambiguous in pronunciation for a non-native speaker as spelling simply does not provide us with pronunciation. Although, in the beginning of these words letters (ch) come but with altogether different pronunciation eg, Chair/tʃeə/, Choir /kwɑɪə/, Chauffeur /ʃəʊfə/ and chutzpa / hʊtspɑ: /   therefore this problem has been resolved by the Phonetic symbols, a great contribution of the IPA.

   Similarly, how much we know about English language, whenever, we come across the native speakers, we are always brought to bay while communicating with them. For example, take the voiced and voiceless consonant sounds of English.  If we happen to say, sink__ /s /is a voiceless consonant but if we pronounce it in a way where it becomes voiced so definitely he/she would take it for zink. Likewise, fan,/ f/is a voiceless consonant, if we produce it in a voiced manner it would be sounded as van.

   Another very common problem faced by the non-native speakers while interacting with the native speakers is, Stress, Assimilation and Aspiration. Mostly, we put stress in a clumsy way because we do not know which syllable in a word is to be stressed. For example, we cannot differentiate between Object(N) Object(V), Record(N) Record(V) and Conduct(N) Conduct(V). Same is the case of Aspiration, if we say Pan___ and the beginning letter P is not Aspirated, the puff of air is not released with its production so he /she would take it for Ban and similarly Ten for Den, Cap for Gap etc. Next problem is of Assimilation when words are used together in Phrases there are certain words which influence others and take their positions. eg.  Fat girl becomes / fæt gɜ:l/, Flat cap becomes /flæk kæp/ Bad girl becomes /bæg gɜ:l/, Cold call becomes /kɒlg kɔ:l/Open court becomes /əʊpəŋ kɔ:t/, common good becomes /kɒməŋ gʊd/, best man becomes / besp mæn/ and court martial becomes/ kɔ:p mɑ:ʃəl/.

Now keeping in view all these facts, we cannot deny to learn correct and standard pronunciation. The question again arises that at what level pronunciation should be taught to the students? The answer is quite easy, at school levels when the youths are below the age of sixteen. This is perhaps the best time for our youth to learn. At that time, the speech organs are not hard, they can become familiar with this foreign language easily, as the twig is bent the tree is inclined. However, the irony of fate is that our teachers at university and college levels do not know about the Phonetic symbols either, let alone the school teachers. They lay too much stress upon spelling and vocabulary and do not simply differentiate or pronounce correctly the common words or phrases. The result is that once their students get used to the English having a local tint of dialect it is very hard to make these speech organs changed or softened.

  Another drawback of mispronunciation taught at school level is, that the students memorize these words and after getting higher degrees even then they cannot get rid of it, consequently foster causes of embarrassment at later stages of their career e.g.  words such as Extempore, Epitome, Shepherd, Tomb, Determined, Predestined, Indict etc are always mispronounced by the well qualified teachers and hence their students easily pick them up and later on create problems for them.

   Pronunciation of English is paramount for individual’s speech; it has a lot of benefits for both the teachers and the students. It must be taught at Primary and Secondary levels by highly qualified teachers who are soundly footed in pronunciation and know the basic rules, modification, of Phonetics and Phonology only then we shall be able to enjoy and comprehend this language.

Writer: Zubair Khan

The writer is a Lecturer in English, in the University of Science and Technology Bannu. He can be reached at

zubairbn1@yahoo.com

 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED WITH THE PASHTUN TIMES

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