Mispronunciation By Korean And Chinese English Language Essay

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This paper studies the causes of the mispronunciation of English sounds made by Chinese and Korean EFL learners through a survey offered by ''The English Language Centre in Brighton & Hove''. The study has collected data from 100 young adults, who are studying in Tsinghua University. The result explains why Chinese and Korean students mispronounce certain vowels and consonants respectively, which hopefully can shed some light on teaching English as a foreign language.

Chapter one: Introduction

Language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human communication. Now that there are hundreds of languages all over the world, it is essential to find certain ways to classify them into categories in order to achieve a better understanding.

Today, people who speak English as a second or foreign language outnumber those who are native speakers. People need to adjust the methodologies in line with this changing pattern of using English, in which the goal of learning is more often be able to use English in communication with other non-native speakers or native speakers. In order to do that, one of the most important parts of learning English is the pronunciation.

This paper tries to find out the causes of mispronunciation of English between Chinese and Koreans in Tsinghua University through a survey offered by ''The English Language Centre in Brighton & Hove''. This paper tries to suggest several solutions to improve the English pronunciation which benefit both the EFL learners and teachers.

This thesis is an analysis of the causes of English mispronunciation by Chinese and Korean EFL learners through the result of the survey. There are essentially two areas to examine when considering mispronunciation. First off, the phonological systems of Korean and Chinese are different from the English system. Secondly, relations and similarities between the Sounds and their corresponding English counterparts are overlooked despite being a fairly important factor for explaining the pronunciation of some English sounds. If they are pointed out and explained by teachers, it is likely that the mispronunciation of English will be reduced.

Chapter two: Literature Review

2.1 The Chinese Phonological System

The Chinese language belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family. It consists of seven major dialect groups or dialect families, generally classified as Mandarin Wu, Xiang, Gan, Min, Kejia (Hakka), and Yue (Cantonese) (Chen 1999, Defrancis 1984, Norman 1988, Ramsey 1987). Mandarin is the base dialect of the national standard language Putonghua. Mandarin is based on the dialect spoken in Beijing in that the pronunciation and grammar are supposed to be the same as Beijing dialect. Nowadays Mandarin is the most widely spoken Chinese language in China. (Hu 1988:32)

2.1.1 Mandarin Phonology: Phonemes, Tones and Syllable Structure

The Mandarin phoneme inventory contains 22 consonants and 6 vowels /a,o,e,i,u, Most of the letters in Chinese have appeared in the European counterparts, but there are several pronunciation that has notable differences. For example, there are letters that are not pronounced like their European counterparts such as: "c", "ch", "j", "q", "r", "sh", "x", "z" and "zh". ( chui, 2005:19)

Besides segmental constituents, the distinctive feature that the Mandarin syllable has are the canonical tones, which are often referred to as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th tone. In addition, there is a neutral tone, which does not have an intrinsic pitch value. The neutral tone is shorter than the four lexical tones and it is usually shown in grammatical morphemes such as the past tense marker ''le'' or the question marker ''ma''. The sequence /ma/ can be pronounced with 5 different tones in which each of them has a different meaning, this is shown in Table 1. (Goldsmith 1990)

Table 1. Chinese Tones


2.2 The Korean Phonological System

The Korean language is genetically classified as a relative of proto-Altaic or the Altaic language family. Korean is similar to the Altaic languages in that they both lack certain grammatical elements. Some of these include articles, fissional morphology and relative pronouns. Korean has several dialects. With Seoul as the capital city of South Korea, the standard language is based on the dialect spoken there. For North Korea, it is based on the Pyongyang dialect. There are some differences between the Korean Language between the two countries. Despite this, most of the dialects in Korean are so similar that they are mutually intelligible, meaning that people can understand eachother. However, the dialect of Jeju Island is an exception.

2.2.2 Korean Phonology

There are 21 consonants and 10 vowels in the Korean sound system. For the ten vowels, it could be classified in to three positions formed by the vocal organs. The first is the height of the tongue, the second is the front or the back of the tongue and the third is the shape of the lips. Elaborate each position

According to Lee in the book of ''An Introduction to the Korean Language'', the Korean consonants depend on the position inside the mouth. It could be divided into five main groups: velars, alveolars, bilabials, dentals and glottal. When the back of the tongue meets the upper back the throat, the consonants ''(g), ''(gg), ''(k) are formed as velars. When the tip of the tongue meets the front of the roof of the mouth known as the alveolar ridge, the alveolar consonants ''(n),''(d),''(t),''(l),''(dd) are formed. Dental consonants where the tongue is positioned against the upper teeth are consonants such as ''(s),''(j),'' (ch),'' (ss),'' (jj). Bilabial means where the lips come together and are released when they are pronounced, ''(m),''(b),''(p),''(bb).Glottal consontants are produced when the airflow in the vocal tract like ''(i) or ''(h).

Each vowel has different a length of distinction (define) In Korean, there are eight different vowels. In the past, there were two more vowels, (IPA: /''/, hangul: '') and the close front rounded vowel (IPA: /y/, hangul: ''), but nowadays it has been replaced by the diphthongs [we] and [wi]. The linguists had made a survey in 2003 of 350 speakers from Seoul as the target and they have found out that nearly 90% pronounced the vowel '''' as [wi] without length distinction. Some younger speakers can not distinguish between /e/ and /?/, so these two vowels have also become a decreasing element. According to Korean orthography, it is hard to convert a consonant into vowels because speakers usually follow consonants in initial position in a word. /j/ and /w/, semivowels are not considered as separate consonant phonemes, instead it is considered to be elements of diphthongs.

Chapter Three: Data Collection and Analysis

Table 3. The consonant phonemes found in most dialects of English

Place of



Experiment Target

The purpose of this survey was to find out the analysis of materials on mispronunciation of English by interviewing fifty Korean and fifty Chinese Tsinghua University students.

The reason that I have chosen the students in Tsinghua University is because most of the students have learned English for at least three years and have a basic knowledge of English. Second, I chose Tsinghua University because it is a synthesize university, where it has diverse major and variety of students from all over the world.

Experiment Materials

- Recorder

- Pencil and paper

- One hundred survey papers made by ''The English Language Centre in Brighton & Hove''

Common Mistakes in English by Chinese Background


Common Mistakes in English by Korean Background


The survey chose words that Korean and Chinese students usually mispronounce and investigated whether the students can pronounce them accurately. In this thesis I have chosen /z/, /l/, /''/ and /''/ as the object of analysis.

Methods of Testing

This research was done by choosing fifty Korean students and fifty Chinese students in Tsinghua University. Their pronunciation of the words was recorded the in the order that they were given in the survey.

Analysis and Data Collection

The English Language Center was founded in 1962 and is a non-profit making charitable educational foundation. (Brighton & Hove , 1962) The purpose of making this survey was to provide quality English language teaching to international students, since many English teachers are looking for better teaching methods. My survey of the hundred students in Tsinghua University is based off the survey from the English Language Center. While students read the words on the paper aloud, I recorded their pronunciation on a cassette tape. The following are the survey and the results of the experiment:

Chinese Students in Tsinghua Univeresity

Mispronunciation of English

There are many reasons for mispronouncing English. First, it could be the differences between the language system of Korean, Chinese and English. (what differences?)

Secondly, it could be the teaching method of English. The way school teaches phoneme and allophone affect the pronunciation of the students who learns English. Thirdly, the mother language is the cause of mispronunciation. If students retain their culture and langue, then it would be easier for students to identify the mainstream culture and learning the mainstream language of the society. But if the students don''t have a strong base of their mother tongue, naturally it would be difficult for students to learn English.

Jim Cummins stated that the level of development of children''s mother tongue has a significant influence for the children to learn their second language. The child who has a solid foundation in their mother tongue learns faster and develops stronger literacy abilities than the kids who are weak in their mother tongue. For example, if the parents spend more time with the children when they are at home by telling stories or discuss issues with them, in a way that they can enlarge their vocabulary and concepts, then the children will be well-prepared to learn the language at school and succeed educationally. The way that the kids transfer across languages is from the mother tongue they have learned in home to the school language that they are learning, which is the second language. Children''s knowledge and skills of learning two languages are interdependent. In shirt, when the educational environment allows children access to both languages, they nurture each other. (Cummins 2000 :52)

Through the experiment, I found out that there are many sounds that Koreans and Chinese can''t pronounce correctly due to different phonological system. Among fifty Korean students forty of them couldn''t pronounce letter ''z''.

Koreans: /z/

According to the survey, the most difficult pronunciation for the Koreans would be fricative, a hissing sound like s, or z, because there is no such a tone in Korea. Z becomes a pair with S, which is an alveolar. This intonation place in the vocal cords and it vibrates. In Korean consonant sound, there is no problem articulating S sound, which is same with the /''/ sound in Korean alphabet. There is an alphabet /''/ in Korea, which is palato-alveolar, similar to ''z''. But there is no /z/ sound in Korea, so it is hard for Koreans to pronounce ''z'' words. (Ex. Zoo)

Chinese: /l/

The result of the survey shows that the Chinese students especially the Southern Chinese don''t like to differentiate tones and pitch, in a way that Northern Chinese do. Ex) ?(falling rising), which means buy, ?(falling), which means sell. Learning in English, it is more difficult for Southern Chinese to pronounce English words. The most typical pronunciation that the Southern Chinese are having trouble with is /l/ and /r/. From the result of the experiment, it shows that most of the Southern Chinese can''t differentiate ''raw'' and ''law''. The allophone of /r/, which exists in Chinese sound becomes /l/ final position. It is extremely rare in China to position the letter /l/ at the word''s initial, hence, it is mutually confusing for Chinese to pronounce initial /l/ and /r/. When the Korea /r/ is overlapped as in raw, the letter /r/ sounds like the English /l/ sound, pronouncing the word as law. In English actually there are two clearly distinguishable allophones for letter /l/, referring as clear and dark /l/. The clear /l/ is the sound we make when /l/ precedes a front vowel or when it is followed by /y/. It possesses the quality or vibrates the front vowel. It is made with the back tongue higher in the mouth, when the /l/ is in the medial position before an unstressed vowel, in the final position, when it precedes a back vowel or when it is syllabic the sound. It possesses the quality or vibrates the back vowel. Therefore, it is troublesome for Southern Chinese to pronounce the words as in full, fall, child, mike etc.

Problems of both Koreans and Chinese

Through the survey I have found out that the main problem in the pronunciation of individual words lies in the reproduction of consonants. Several English consonant sounds do not exist in Korean and Chinese. Out of nine fricatives of English, /''/ and /''/ as the interdental fricatives do not occur in Korean and Chinese language''which is pronounced between upper teeth and lower teeth. /''/ is the voiceless dental fricative, /''/ is the voiced dental fricative. Therefore, it is easy to predict that the Korean and Chinese learners of English find much difficulty in English fricatives. Ex) this and thing

There are some consonant that bear a phonemic relationship to each other such as /''/ and /''/, where most of the words in English starts with ''th'' have /''/ and also almost all newly created words. Nevertheless, there are also some words that are pronounced /''/, such as '' the'' that we frequently use. There are different patterns and rules for using two pronunciations: other than function words, in initial position we usually use /''/, in medial position we use /''/ and excluding verbs, in final position we use /''/. A more detailed explanation follows.

Initial position

* Almost all words beginning with a dental fricative have /''/.

* The words that begin with /''/ are following:

* 5 demonstratives: the, this, that, these, those

* 2 personal pronouns each with four forms: thou, thee, thy, thine; they, them, their, theirs

* 7 adverbs and conjunctions: there, then, than, thus, though, thence, thither (though some speakers pronounce thence and thither with initial /''/)

* Various compound adverbs based on the above words: therefore, thereupon, thereby, thereafter, thenceforth, etc.

Medial position

* Most native words with medial ?th? have /''/.

* A few native words have medial /''/:

* The adjective suffix -y normally leaves terminal /''/ unchanged: earthy, healthy, pithy, stealthy, wealthy; but worthy and swarthy have /''/.

* Compound words in which the first element ends or the second element begins with ?th? frequently have /''/, as these elements would in isolation: bathroom, Southampton; anything, everything, nothing, something.

* The only other native words with medial /''/ would seem to be brothel and Ethel.

Final position

* Nouns and adjectives

* Nouns and adjectives ending in a dental fricative usually have /''/: bath, breath, cloth, froth, health, hearth, loath, sheath, sooth, tooth/teeth, width, wreath.

* Exceptions are usually marked in the spelling with ?-the?: tithe, lathe, lithe with /''/.

* blythe, booth, scythe, smooth have either /''/ or /''/.

* Verbs

* Verbs ending in a dental fricative usually have /''/, and are frequently spelled ?-the?: bathe, breathe, clothe, loathe, scathe, scythe, seethe, sheathe, soothe, teethe, tithe, wreathe, writhe. Spelled without ?e?: mouth (verb) nevertheless has /''/.

* froth has either /''/ or /''/ as a verb, but /''/ only as a noun.

* The verb endings -s, -ing, -ed do not change the pronunciation of a ?th? in the final position in the stem: bathe has /''/, therefore so do bathed, bathing, bathes; frothing with either /''/ or /''/. Likewise clothing used as a noun, scathing as an adjective etc.

* Others

* with has either /''/ or /''/ as do its compounds: within, without, outwith, withdraw, withhold, withstand, wherewithal, etc. (Brostein, 1960)

Kim the writer of the book ''English Phonetics'' states that they are made with the tongue-tip in contact with the inner surface of the upper teeth or with the tongue-tip between the upper and lower incisors. For example, the word ''third'' and ''three''. The Koreans and Chinese are not used to place the tongue in the position for the th sound, so they will fail to allow time for the making of a continuant th sound, resulting in a hissing /s/ sound or a dentally made /t/ or /d/ sound. Some Chinese pronounce /''/ as /d/, /s/ or /d/. Koreans pronounce /''/ as /'', '', '', '',''/ and /''/ pronounce as /'', '', '', ''/. Differences in syllable structure between the three languages may lead to the addition of a short vowel sound to the end of English words that terminate with a consonant or within words containing consonant clusters. (Kim 1973: 53)


In Korean language individual word stress is insignificant since it is a syllable timed language. Korean syllables usually don''t have onset/rime structure instead it has a body/coda structure. These results contrast sharply with those of previous researches using English syllables and are consistent with the view that the structure of syllables and their role in perception and production of speech may vary from language to language. If we consider the complexity of syllables, the difference in syllable structure between Korean and English may be explained. Syllables in Korean are simple compared with English.

Apart from having tones, the composition of its syllables also contributes to sounds in Chinese. The make-up of syllable (syllable structure) basically refers to the sounds in a language and their arrangement within the frame. There are two distinctive characters making Chinese syllables unique. The first important fact about the Chinese syllable is that no consonant cluster is allowed. In contrast, English may have up to three consonants in a row. For instance, the words such as splash, spring, facts, helped show some examples of three consonants together; clusters with two consonants are even more common: play, pray, floor, stand, clue, kept are but a few examples. In other words, the beginning of a syllable may be inconsistent with the end of a syllable. Many sounds occurring at the beginning of a syllable cannot take place at the end of a syllable. This is not quite the same way we see in English. [l] can occur at the end of syllables just as easily occurred at the beginning of syllables. Although Chinese has both [s] and [l], they can only occur at the beginning of syllables.

Chapter Five: Conclusion

The contrasts in phonology alone between English, Korean and Chinese apart from the differences in lexis, syntax, cultural patterns and history, the most significant problem to solve is the suitability and value of the pronunciation. In this study I have attempted to predict the problems of pronunciation that often arise because of the phonetic differences between the three languages.

The resulting comparison shows not only there are differences between the three languages, but also how they are perceived and acquired by the Korean and Chinese learners of English.

In Korean there are 21 consonant phonemes, while there''s 24 in English. 14 English phonemes such as b,d, g, j, f, do not exist in Korea. In Chinese there are 22 consonants, but ''l'',"c", "ch", "j", "q", "r", "sh", "x", "z" and "zh" are not pronounced in the same way as English. I have presented the problems of pronunciation arising from these differences between two sound systems. Learning these differences occurs more slowly, and difficulty with them is more persistent.

I hope this study will be much helpful to the Korean and Chinese learners of English who try to predict the problems of pronunciation that will arise in this area and to meet them more intelligently. The currently available supply of materials of English, tape, CD, textbook tend to transfer the Chinese and Korean students'' native speech habits directly into pronunciation of English. In order to meet the needs of the students who are learning English, English teachers in Korea and China should produce the recordings and a mastery of spoken English. A prime need is a suitable recorded pronunciation drills and a text book which it only arranges English phonology, including consonant sound, method of pronunciation, length of sound and intonation.

Any teacher who thoroughly understands the complexities between their mother language and English will have a renewed respect for the challenges that students have when they are learning English. If they do so, they would know the areas that the students are having trouble with and the cause of difficulties, focusing specifically on the areas where students need the most support.