(English pronunciation PD = Paul Dummett IT = Ian Thompson PD: OK, so could you tell me first what any learner finds difficult about English pronunciation? Is there one particular thing um ... which is difficult for all nationalities? IT: I think one problem with English is simply that we've got so many sounds; that if you look at the vowel chart of many languages, you get languages with as few as three vowels. Um ... as you know Spanish and Japanese are a fairly typical pattern with five vowels each plus a few diphthongs perhaps; eight, eleven is another common number, but English has got this huge vowel count. I won't put a figure on it because it depends on how you count them: whether you count the triphthongs like /aiə/ and / o iə/ as vowels or whether you consider them combinations, but we really have got a lot of vowels and ... PD: We're talking now about standard British pronunciation? IT: Well, that's another problem, of course. Yes, if we take RP as the standard ... British RP ... things like bud, bed, bid, bad. For many speakers of many languages these seem hopelessly close together and easy to confuse and I think another point is ... although we haven't got a desperately complex consonant system, we've got, we get quite cruel clusters of consonants at the end ... at the ends of words. Lots of languages seem to have clusters at the beginning ... and we have them in English: /str/ as in strong, /spl/ as in splay; rather odd ones like /θw/ as in thwart, /dw/ as in dwindle. But English has very tricky ones at the end like judged, sixths, strengths, some quite unusual clusters of consonants, many of which only occur in two or three different words. I think probably lengths and strengths are the only two common words, at least which have got /q6s/ at the end; and particularly having the /θ/ and /s/ following each other and of course - I should say particularly having /s/ following /θ/ is difficult, although I admit that even English speakers simplify them. Um, another thing I think is the stress, intonation, linking system, the question, the presence of the /ə / vowel, the so-called schwa vowel, the neutral vowel; the distribution of that is quite tricky. I think speakers of, say, languages like Portuguese and Russian, which have also got a system where you have very heavy stresses on the stressed syllables and very light stresses on the unstressed syllables and a tendency to lengthen the stressed syllables and to crowd in the unstressed ones - speakers of those languages find less difficulty, whereas, as you know, for French speakers um ... it really is a challenge because I wonder whether any two languages could have a more different system of stress, intonation, length, vowel quality than English and French. PD: Right, I see. And is there ... we touched earlier on RP and so on. What is recognized now as the standard for English? I take it it's no longer RP, that seems to be the preserve of...
Now answer these questions: <ul><li>Why might Portuguese and Russian speakers have less difficulty? </li></ul><ul><li>Why might Spanish and Japanese speakers find English especially difficult to pronounce? </li></ul><ul><li>What does Ian Thompson say about French and English? </li></ul>
From a railway carriage <ul><li>From a Railway Carriage </li></ul><ul><li>Faster than fairies, faster than witches, </li></ul><ul><li>Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches; </li></ul><ul><li>And charging along like troops in a battle, </li></ul><ul><li>All through the meadows the horses and cattle: </li></ul><ul><li>All of the sights of the hill and the plain </li></ul><ul><li>Fly as thick as driving rain: </li></ul><ul><li>And ever again, in the wink of an eye, </li></ul><ul><li>Painted stations whistle by. </li></ul><ul><li>Here is a child who clambers and scrambles, </li></ul><ul><li>All by himself and gathering brambles: </li></ul><ul><li>Here is a tramp who stands and gazes: </li></ul><ul><li>And there is the green for stringing the daisies! </li></ul><ul><li>Here is a cart run away in the road </li></ul><ul><li>Lumping along with man and load; </li></ul><ul><li>And here is a mill, and there is a river: </li></ul><ul><li>Each a glimpse and gone for ever! </li></ul><ul><li>Robert Louis Stevenson </li></ul>