Eyes are blind: what you see is not what you say.

2019 edition

Irene Dols Rodríguez

Why do Spanish/Catalan speakers find it so difficult to pronounce English?

We often hear Spanish/Catalan native speakers who are learning English complain about why in English the letter -u- is not always pronounced /u/ or -j- is not /ʒ/. Catalan and Spanish are considered to have a narrow grapheme-morpheme correspondence (shallow orthography); that is, there is a high predictive correlation between spelling and sound. Therefore, it could be said that “what you see is what you say”. However, English has more complicated grapheme-phoneme rules (deep orthography), which means that one letter can be pronounced in different ways.

This difference in the spelling-sound correlation affects Spanish/Catalan learners of English in their communicative skills, since they expect to listen to words as they think they should be pronounced, and they pronounce them according to these same preconceived rules that they have. In other words, they transfer the rules of their native languages (L1s) to English.

My study tries to demonstrate that Spanish/Catalan learners of English can improve both perception and production of English by introducing some formal phonetic teaching with the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) in an English as a Second Language (ESL) class. In order to achieve this goal, a pronunciation module of ten 40-minute sessions was designed.  This module focused on affricate and fricative sounds. The experimental group was taught some basics phonetic rules and was introduced the IPA symbols of these sounds. The control group was not given any formal phonetic training. In the results of the post-tests, the experimental group is expected to have improved pronunciation skills more than the control group.