The Importance Of Pronunciation In Learning English Language Essay


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According to the Oxford Dictionary pronounce is defined as 'make the sound of (a word or part of a word) in the correct or a particular way'. 'The way in which a word is pronounced is known as pronunciation'. Pronunciation can be defined as a way in which a language is spoken, especially the way in which it is generally accepted or understood. Pronunciation means production and utterance of sounds of a language.

"English pronunciation has various components such as sounds, stress, and variation in pitch, and the learner needs to understand the function of these as well as their form", (Kenworthy, 1987). Once the learners are aware that English words have a stress pattern, that words can be pronounced in slightly different ways, that the pitch of the voice can be used to convey meaning then they will know, that to pay attention to can build upon this basic awareness", (Kenworthy, 1987: 27). Sounds are the part of a code in a language. These particular sounds make a language. Due to this code we can distinguish between different sounds and different languages. In this sense pronunciation can be defined as production and reception of sounds of speech.

According to Dalton, et al. (1994), language is a speech act. Its code joins hands with other factors to make sense of communication. In this study researcher has tried to explore the pronunciation of diphthongs with special reference to the physical features of diphthongs that is of prominence to the English language learners.

Since all second language learners belong to one or other group of language, their pronunciation of second language is very different of their origin. The teaching of a foreign language always deals with changing of learner's pronunciation as learners find it difficult to pronounce the diphthongs. The pronunciation of one person depicts his geographical identity; hence a person's pronunciation reveals his complete personality including origin and his social background. The pitch of the voice, the speed and the utterance all indicate the background and the linguistic knowledge of that person. It is an acknowledged fact that the speaker of the second language utters the sounds through the basic knowledge that he has built up in his mother tongue. It is through the pronunciation that we distinguish between American, British and Cambridge speakers. Although all these use a Standard English accent yet they are different from one another in terms of their accent and pronunciation.

Therefore what is needed and what we are concerned within Pakistan is the achievement of a comfortably intelligibility. It is very important for second language learners to pronounce correctly and follow a particular accent. There is a need to train the second language learners to pronounce the phonemes correctly. In teaching correct pronunciation we shall be able to draw inferences to determine and overcome the factors that hinder our speech. Joanne Kenworthy (1987) states, "Learner needs to develop concern for pronunciation. They must recognize that poor unintelligible speech will make their attempts at conversing frustration and unpleasant both for themselves and for their listeners".

Vocal cords become hardened by speaking the native language. It needs proper training to speak the second language as the learners grew older. Unfortunately despite it being a language of teaching, English is very seldom used as a medium of speech in our day-to-day transaction. Despite that teachers do not know how to produce acceptable sounds hence learners also speak what they hear. Therefore we need to concentrate our efforts in teaching an acceptable pronunciation to our learners who ultimately might seek admission in the English speaking countries. Attitude and motivation shall intermittently guide the learner to produce the sounds, which are acceptable to the native Learners. That is why the teachers of English Language must have the knowledge of phonetics of English and they should know different techniques to teach pronunciation so that the learner's pronunciation would be nearer to the Received Pronunciation and also having characteristics of a distinctive Pakistani pronunciation of English. Certainly this is an uphill task. Since Urdu is the mother-tongue, the learners are in the habit of using Urdu sounds. The sounds of Urdu and English are certainly different from each other. The Pakistani speakers mix up the sounds of English with that of Urdu sounds and try to shape their speech organs according to sounds of Urdu while pronouncing English. The teacher of English language in Pakistan needs to build a uniform system of speech, which should be closely and implicitly nearer to the Received Pronunciation.

Ur (2000) explained the following pronunciation errors:

A particular sound may not exist in the mother tongue, so that the learner is not used to forming it and therefore tends to substitute the nearest equivalent he or she knows.

A sound does exist in the mother tongue, but not as a separate phoneme: that is to say, the learner does not perceive it as a distinct sound that makes a difference to meaning.

International Phonetic Association

On the international scene, after 1950s, when new superpowers emerged the problem of pronunciation came to surface. There was no standard variety of English. Australia and New Zealand were fully colonized so the problem of accent also increased. In 1886, in Paris, a small group of language teachers formed an association to encourage the use of phonetic notation in schools to help children acquire realistic pronunciations of foreign languages and to have a common accent. But this was not an easy task since English-speaking people themselves were spread in Europe, America and Australia, not to speak of the persons using English language in thickly populated countries of Asia and the British colonies in Africa. This naturally diversified and proliferated the problems with regard to the IPA since each local language has its own ways of articulation which are hardened with the passage of time and therefore make it doubly difficult for the second language learner to imitate successfully the accent of native speakers. This and such lie problems further accentuated the problems and pitfalls in pronunciation more so in the area of diphthongs.

For this difficulty, language teachers should know how to use IPA symbols and how to teach English language by using IPA symbols. Teachers should help students to become aware of the correct pronunciation. If IPA symbols are introduced to the English language learners at the beginners' level, they would not have the pronunciation problem as much as they have.

Phonetic transcription

It is a noticeable difficulty in pronunciation that there are many letters and combination of letters which produce numerous sounds at different places. According to Hornby (1978) the students of English are aware of the problems created by the English alphabet, unlike the oriental languages where each alphabetical letter stands for a distinctive sound, not all the English alphabets represent the phonetic sounds. For example letter 'c' sometimes gives the sound of 's' as in 'ceiling' while on the other occasion it stands for the sound of 'k' as in 'class'. 'ch' gives three sounds, sound of 'ch' as in 'chain', sometimes it gives sound of 'k' as in choir'' and sometimes it gives sound of 'sh' as in 'chef'. Sometimes we combine two letters to form a new sound as 'th' in 'thin' gives the sound of 'th o' ;while in the word 'then' it gives a new sound of 'd'. The sound 'sha' is obtained by joining 'sh' as in 'she' and the sound 'cha' is formed by combining 'ch' as in 'chin'. Therefore the phonetic transcription is of utmost importance. The experts in English language all agree on International System on Phonetic Alphabet IPA which assigns each English sound a special symbol. Phonetic transcription is usually given in brackets, like this.

Stage /steidz/

Ich dien /ix'di:n/

Bulge /b^ldz/

Special attention shall therefore be paid to provide correct forms of transcriptions.


Diphthongs are regarded as a sequence of two vowels within the nucleus (Bernhardt & Stemberger 1998). Bernhardt 1992 suggested that diphthongs have two Root nodes.

Writing on diphthongs Roach, P. (1983), goes on to say that diphthong in the BBC pronunciation are the sounds which consist of a movement or glide from one vowel sound to another. The most common mistake in pronunciation that is visible in the speech of learners of English is the production of pure vowels where a diphthong should be pronounced.

Roach (1983) further writes that in terms of length, diphthongs are like the long vowels. In diphthongs the first part is much long and stronger than the second part. A common example of a diphthong is formed in ai (as in bite) where we noticed that the vowel "a" is uttered loudly and a glide from ai to i results in a decreased loudness. Foreign learners must remember that the last part of the English diphthong must not be uttered too strongly. According to Roach (1983) there are eight diphthongs which we divided in three groups as shown in the following diagram.

Tree diagram Roach, (1983) P 21-23

There are several varieties of diphthong: wide and narrow; closing and opening; centering; falling and rising. A wide diphthong has a marked change in quality: in RP, the vowels in high, how, which move from open to close. A narrow diphthong has less movement: in RP, the vowel of day, which moves from half-close to close. The vowels of weave, groove are narrow diphthongs, because they move slightly within the close vowel area, but this movement is usually disregarded and they are treated as monophthongs. A closing diphthong ends closer than it begins, while an opening diphthong ends more open than it begins. The diphthongs of English tend to be of the closing type: in RP, say, sigh, soy, so, sow. A centering diphthong moves towards schwa: in RP, here, there. A falling diphthong is stressed on the first element, and a rising diphthong is stressed on the second. The diphthongs of English tend to be of the falling type, with the exception of the vowel sound in view, which can be interpreted as rising.

Eight diphthongs in English

Connor (1967) says, "Vowels are made by voiced air passing through different mouth shapes; the difference in the shape of the mouth are caused by different positions of the tongue and of the lips". He further says that, "English speakers vary quite a lot in their vowel sounds i: sound used by an Australian, an American and a Scottish are all different, but they are all recognized quite easily".

English language does surely have many vowels, the sounds of which are not very much different from those of the Urdu vowels. The following chart explains our argument.

According to Connor (1967), all the English diphthongs are divided in three groups.

Their respective positions are

File:RP English diphthongs chart.svg

THE first three diphthongs ph16.gif,, the neutral "shwa" vowel sound, which occurs in grunting noises and the weak forms of "the" and "a", as the FINISHING POSITION. as in beer (the drink), pier, hear. The starting position is as in "if" or "pit" with tongue front and high and lips relaxed. as in bear (the animal), pair and hair. The starting position is as in "egg" or "bed" with tongue in mid position at front of mouth.

To make the diphthong, using a small controlled movement, pull your tongue slightly back from mid front to the mid central position in your mouth. as in tour, poor, and moor. The starting position is with tongue pulled back but small mouth aperture as in "hook", "book" or "look".

To make the diphthong, this time the small controlled tongue movement goes from the back position to the mid central position, losing the lip rounding and relaxing your mouth from the tight starting position.

2. THE next three diphthongs,, have the vowel sound "pit" or "if" as the FINISHING POSITION. To make this sound, the tongue has to be high and towards the front of the mouth and the lips kept relaxed.

a. as in day, pay, say, lay. The starting position is with tongue in mid position at front of mouth as in "egg", "bed" or "Ted". Therefore the tongue is moved up to make the diphthong.

b. as in sky, buy, cry, tie. The starting position is, the same sound as in "cat". To make the diphthong there is a need of big jaw movement, moving the tongue from front open to and front close.

c. in boy, toy, coy . The starting position is, the sound in "door" or "or". The tongue needs to be low, but there is a need to pull it back and make the mouth round. To make the diphthong, relax the lip rounding and move the tongue forward and up.

3. The last two diphthongs, have the back vowel pulled back but small tight mouth aperture as in "hook", "book" or "look") as the FINISHING POSITION.

a. as in "oh", "no", "so" or "phone". The starting position is the neutral vowel sound, also known as "shwa", which sounds like a grunt, as in the weak form of "the" or "a". To start in this way, the tongue should be fixed in mid central position in the mouth with lips relaxed. To make the diphthong, it is a short controlled movement in the opposite direction from the centre to the back moving the relaxed lips into a tighter small round aperture. The cheeks should move in a bit.

b. as in all the words of "How now brown cow!". The starting position is the vowel sound in "at" "bad" or "rat" with tongue front but also low (i.e. mouth open). To make the diphthong the journey for the tongue from front low (mouth very open) to back high (small tight mouth aperture) is a very long excursion. The jaw will move a lot too.

Importance of diphthongs

As diphthongs are vowels the main difficulty lay in the production and adjustment of the vowel length with special emphasis on diphthongs. The learners and the teaching community both belong to the same social class; they produce and commit uniform and similar mistakes in uttering diphthongal sounds. Both English and Urdu languages have diphthongs, whereas English vowels have different articulations system, nearly all the Urdu vowels are lax and unstressed. It is here that we notice the main difficulty for the Urdu speaking learners to understand and produce the exact phonetic realization of the English phonemes. As Urdu does not have the vowels that English has so it is very difficult for the Pakistani learners of English to articulate English diphthongs. When they pronounce English diphthongs they articulate it the way they use their speech organs in the articulation of Urdu diphthongs. Hence, the pronunciation of diphthongs is almost incorrect. The listeners find it difficult to comprehend this incorrect pronunciation of diphthongs and hence the meaning is hampered. Along with various other considerations our main attention was therefore focused on diphthongs the main consideration was to evolve and try to bring about a Pakistani way and style of pronunciation, which is properly proliferated in the country, shall be universally accepted and understood.

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