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The Biggest Problem When Non-Native Speakers Use English…Phonemes!

            I’ve been told that my posts are too long and too academic. It has taken awhile, but I’m starting to get it. This will be shorter and sweeter.


           The biggest cause of communication breakdowns when two non-native speakers communicate in English is mispronounced or misunderstood phonemes. This claim was made by Jennifer Jenkins and is based on her research into intelligibility problems between non-native English speakers. The findings were published in, Phonology of English as an International Language. This book laid down the principles that have become known as the “lingua franca core,” a list of pronunciation features that need to be produced accurately for intelligible English communication.


            What needs to be kept in mind is that Jenkins is not prescribing what should be taught, but describing what is actually taking place when non-native speakers use English. While teaching foreign students in England, she was struck by how her students, despite their struggles in the classroom, successfully communicated outside the classroom, in the corridors, the cafeteria, the library etc. Curious, she decided to change her focus from telling students what they should say, to finding out what they were actually saying.


            Jenkins found that when two non-native speakers use English it is quite different from when one of the speakers is a native and, as I said, she discovered that the biggest cause of communication breakdowns is mispronounced or misunderstood phonemes. That is, problems on the segmental level cause more problems than grammar, vocabulary or any of the other possible pitfalls when English is used by non-naive speakers. She said the focus on supra-segmentals may be overstated because these elements of spoken English only come into play when one of the conversation partners is a native speaker.


            Given the status of English as a global language, and that our students are as likely to use English with non-native as they are with native speakers, we need to consider the importance of training them to perceive and produce the difficult sounds.



That is what Aka-Kara English does.



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