Pronunciation Problems Native Arabic Speakers have with Spoken English

 In Accents and Pronunciation, Grammar

Arabic is spoken in many countries so there are a wide variety of dialects, 4 in Saudi Arabia alone—Gulf, Hijazi, Najdi, and the Standard Arabian dialect.  English pronunciation problems can vary from dialect to dialect but there are some common stumbling blocks that trip up almost every Arab ESL student.

arabic-pronunciation-problemsEnglish Pronunciation Problems for Arabic ESL Students

The top 4 pronunciation problems are: “b”/ “p” and “f”/ “v” sounds; pronouncing silent letters; adding vowel sounds to words; and proper intonation and word stress.

“B”/ “P” and “F”/ “V” Sounds

There is no “p” sound in Arabic.  Arab ESL students will often substitute a “b” sound.

parking becomes barking

pepper becomes bebber

There is also no “v” sound in Arabic, and Arab ESL students can end up using an “f” sound instead.

voice becomes foice

very becomes fery

Practice voicing the consonant sounds individually, and side by side to tune into the subtle differences.  The “p” sound requires you to blow a puff of air out with some force—hold a piece of paper in front of your lips, it will move when you pronounce the letter correctly.  The “b” sound doesn’t require the same explosion of air.

“F” and “v” sounds are more similar but you can feel the difference in pronunciation mechanics when you place a hand on your throat.  Exaggerate the sound of the consonants in the words, “fan “and “van”.  The “v”in the word “van” will vibrate your throat, and the “f” in the word “fan” will not.

Pronouncing Silent Letters

Arabic spelling is pretty much phonetic—letters stand in for their sounds.  Arab ESL students will accidentally try to use the same pronunciation rules when speaking English.

foreign becomes for-i-gen

sign becomes si-gen

Adding Vowel Sounds to Words

There are far fewer consonant clusters in Arabic, and “sp”, “gr”, “spl”, and “str” all contain sounds that are either not made in Arabic, or are pronounced differently.  English words like “stress”, “split” or “gray” result in errors.

stress becomes e-set-ress

split becomes e-spi-lit

gray becomes gi-ray

Native Arabic speaking ESL students have a habit of inserting vowel sounds before and between consonant clusters resulting in more syllables, and wild pronunciation errors.  Perhaps students are trying to break the sounds up and make the spelling and pronunciation adhere to Arabic language rules.

Closer study of consonant clusters and English Syllable patterns will help students let go of this habit.

Intonation and Word Stress

Before babies ever learn a single word, they react to language.  Intonation and word stress tell them what your mood is and what’s the most important part of all those sounds you’re making at them.  Proper intonation and word stress communicate as much information as words, sometimes even more.

Arab ESL students tend to use a narrower range of intonation and voice stress resulting in a very monotone way of speaking.  Questions sound like statements, and completion signals are so lacking as to make everything end inconclusively…

Try exaggerating the stresses and intonation.  You may feel foolish but I bet people understand you better!

Arabic ESL students face many pronunciation problems as they work to improve their English language fluency.  There are linguistic differences between Arabic and English that affect how easily a student can learn to form the English letter sounds.  Pronunciation problems can be difficult to correct if students rely on their native Arabic language rules for guidance.  Proper English pronunciation requires learning new sounds and new rules.


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