Pronunciation is Key: The Importance of Corporate ESL Programs
The speech of non-native English speakers, like that of ESL students, may have characteristics that are results of imperfectly learning the language and the absence of English language training. Some speakers also apply knowledge of one language on another (a language transfer also known as ‘linguistic interference’) and some automatically transfer phonological rules of their own language(s) because that’s what’s familiar to them. However, clear communication is important and pronunciation is a vital area to improve for communicative success. This is especially true in the workplace, where meetings, conferences and conversations take place constantly. Some of them require knowledge of business English. Oftentimes, a language barrier like mispronunciation is one of many factors that conceal an employee’s true potential and capability.
Speaking a language is a physical skill that requires practice, and obviously there are no instant shortcuts to perfect pronunciation. Practice is key and any extra training is well worth the effort! There are many ways employees can improve on their English, but one of the most common is customized language training for companies, like in-company ESL classes. These courses effectively kick start ESL students to become better prepared for any day-to-day situations in the workplace.
1. The “th”
The combination of letters “th” remains the hardest one to pronounce for non-native speakers. The combination of letters can sound differently depending on the word which makes it even harder for ESL students. In some cases, “th” can sound like “t,” like “Thailand.” It can also sound like “d” (/ð/) in “these.” Or it could even sound like “th” ( /θ/) at the end of “mouth” or in the middle of the word like “father.” This sound is challenging for native speakers of Europe and Asian languages like German, French, Japanese or Mandarin, which completely lack the sound.
How to handle/overcome it: You should start by learning how to differentiate the sounds of “th” by spending time listening to audiobooks, watching movies with subtitles and keeping a lookout for the combination. In addition, study the differences between these types of pronunciation. If you still struggle with pronouncing “th,” try placing your tongue between your teeth and force the air out.
2. The Schwa
Another interesting sound is “schwa” (/ə/), which is found in unstressed syllables. For example, veg(e)table, which is pronounced in three syllables rather than four (ignore the e!), or a(l)mond, where the ‘l’ is ignored. The common mistake is to pronounce the words syllable by syllable: ve-ge-ta-ble and al-mond.
How to handle/overcome it: In English classes for companies, students are given many examples of words like this. Study the examples and listen to native speakers whenever you can. Remember that English is a stressed, not a syllabic language!
3. Silent Consonants
Some English learners might have a problem with silent consonants like the “d” in the word “Wednesday” where you keep the “d” silent, the “c” in scent” or the “g” in “foreign.”
How to handle/overcome it: Create a little memory trick that helps you to remember those silent consonants. Some people may use writing the word to remember silent consonants. Meanwhile, for some, visual images or mnemonic devices are more helpful reminders.
4. Confusing the “l” and the “r”
“r” and “I” are sounds that are often mistaken by Japanese students, because the sounds don’t exist in Japanese. Speakers of other Asian languages often have a difficult time hearing and producing them.
How to handle/overcome it: Practice pronouncing the sounds. Practice the “r” after the “I,” in order to eradicate the confusion. Learn how the tongue and teeth should be placed while pronouncing those sounds, and even practice with tongue twisters! A great example is “red lorry, yellow lorry.” If you master this, then you’re all set!
5. The “e”
The “e” is less commonly found in words, but could cause difficulties in pronunciation. The “e” sound can be found in word pairs like “not” and “note” or “bit” and “bite.” Notice how the addition of the “e” changes the sound of the words entirely.
How to handle/overcome it: The first step is understanding the “e” and why it’s not usually pronounced. The “e” changes the pronunciation of the vowel by lengthening it. Also, every syllable needs a vowel in the English language. For instance, the word “bit” wouldn’t make sense as “bt.” The second step is to practice more with word pair examples. Like the schwa, it’ll be easier to learn the “e” if you avoid dividing the words into syllables.