Updated on December 23, 2017 Paul Richard Kuehn morePaul has spent many years teaching EFL and ESL. He taught EFL in Taiwan during the 70s, ESL in the U.S., and most recently EFL in Thailand. Native language interference is a major problem in EFL and ESL teaching and learning. In my years of teaching ESL and EFL, I have seen so many students with pronunciation and sentence structure difficulties. Most of these problems stem from interference from the native language when speaking and writing English. This is because it is a natural tendency to think that sounds and sentence structure in English are the same as those characteristics in one’s own native language. Interference from a student’s native language is mostly in the form of pronunciation and sentence structure errors. Pronunciation mistakes are due to the fact that spoken sounds or phonemes differ from language to language. Since I have had experience teaching both Taiwanese and Thai ESL and EFL students in my life, I will focus on those phonemes in English which give these students trouble.
Examples of final aspirated consonants would be the “p” and “b” in pop and Bob; the “t” and “d” in test and did; the “k” in coke; and the “ch” in church. This is a problem because the Thai language doesn’t have any final aspirated consonants. The final aspirated consonants in English are all pronounced as glottal stops in both Taiwanese and Thai. Examples of these consonants are found in the words: gas, mouse, English, and finish. In the Thai language there are no final “s” and “sh” sounds; therefore, when Thai pronounce these words, they chop off the final sound and it becomes “gat” for gas; “mow” for mouse, “Englit” for English, and “finit” for finish. In the Thai language, the final “l” consonant is pronounced like an “n” sound. Most Thai will pronounce my name Paul as “Bawn” and central as “sentawn”. Many Thai have difficulty distinguishing the pronunciations of “ch”, “sh”, and “s” as beginning consonants in both Thai and English.
For example, Charles will be pronounced as “Sao” and Chiang Mai as “Siang Mai”. Although some beginning consonant blends like “bl” and “pl” exist in Thai, they are hard for a lot of Thai to pronounce, especially if standard Thai is not their first dialect. What happens is that the second consonant in the blend is dropped and the sound “bla” in Thai is pronounced as “ba”. In Thai, not all beginning consonants are aspirated. This could be a problem when trying to distinguish between these minimal pairs in English. Many Taiwanese students have difficulty hearing the difference between beginning “n” and “l” sounds. Sentence structure errors in English are also caused by interference of the native language. When I write, “The girl fat.” on the board, most students can find nothing wrong with this sentence. I can’t believe the number of Thai students whom I have seen write, “game computer” instead of “computer game.” In the Thai language, adjectives follow nouns instead of preceding them as is the case in English. In the Chinese Mandarin and Taiwanese spoken languages, there is no distinction between the pronouns “he” and “she.” I once had a college Chinese history professor who often misused these pronouns when lecturing.
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