Ethiopian Learners' Pronunciation Difficulties and Intelligibility of Their Spoken English: Speakers of Amharic as A Native Language in Focus

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Addis Ababa University


The study diagnosed difficulties of English pronunciation that Amhoric native learners might be experiencing from the influence of their native language and exposed the global impact of these difficulties in global communication contexts. To this end, the study employed three distinct but related approaches: 1} phonological contrast; 2} phonological error analysis; and 3} intelligibility test. Contrastive analysis being the frame of reference for this study, phonological contrast both at the levels of segmental and suprasegmental was initially conducted between Amharic and English; and those areas which are lacking in Amharic were identified and predicted as potential problem areas. The speech perception test that investigated the subjects' detection and recognition of foreign items showed that contrastive-origin problem areas still restrict university students' successful perception of English pronunciation. The result also showed that not all novel sounds presented equal amount of perception difficUlty for the subjects with weak forms, sentence stress, and intonation being the most difficUlt areas. The production test identified segmental level pronunciation tendencies for Amharic native participants in their sample speeches elicited from reading aloud texts. Global error measures showed that the subjects' speech production is largely restricted by Ll characteristics, with vowels presenting more systematic problems than consonants. Mispronounced phonemes were further evaluated for two additional criteria depending on their frequency and functional importance in the target language. As a result, not all mispronunciations should be given equal priority for the Amharic speaker subjects. Accordingly, some errors were given precedence in the final inventory as 'high priority' (HP) problems while others were scaled down as 'optional alternative' (OA) and 'low priority' (LP). The intelligibility test measured the extent that Amharic native learners were understandable in their speeches to native English speakers living in Addis Ababa. Based on correct word transcription scores, it was possible to conclude that overall intelligibility measures university level subjects gained was not encouraging. Native speakers' familiarity with the way Ethiopians pronounce English seems more detrimental factor than the subjects' pronunciation goodness. Findings of this study support the focus on the role that native language plays in English pronunciation, the importance of balancing perceptual as well as productive skills, and the need for developing Ll-based and empirically informed syllabus than using generic and intuitively based approach. Recommendations are made for future research to extend the current study to a number of other dimensions.



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