Phonological Problems of Secondary School Students in English Language

Phonological Problems of Secondary School Students in English Language


This study attempts to find out the phonological problems of Edem Secondary School students in the English Language. In achieving this goal, 61 students out of a total of 242 students were sampled using descriptive survey design, because it is aimed at collecting data on features and facts about a given population and describing it in a systematic manner.

A self-made competence test (Phonological reading passage) was used as instrument for data collection.

The findings reveal that Edem students have phonological problem of using /t/ sound for /q / sound, /d / sound in place of / ð/ sound and /n/ sound for /l /

sound. Hence London is pronounced Nondon. In Edem dialect of Igbo it has been discovered that both /l/ and /n/ are found in their dialect but they cannot make the distinction between the two.

Again, they insert vowel sounds in between consonants, and each word with consonant ending they put a final vowel.

Finally, the irregularity in English pronunciation affect Edem students greatly.



Background of the Study

Language is the major tool of communication in human society and speech occupies a major position in most discussions of language as a communicative medium. One of the major characteristics of man, according to Mgbodile (1999), is his ability to use language to send messages about objects, events and situations around him. Speech is what distinguishes man from other animals. Speech is paramount to any language and knowledge of the English Language cannot be appreciably good without effective manipulation of the speech sounds, for linguistics competence, according to Chukwuma,H and Otagburuagu,E(1997), is based mainly on oracy. So, the mastery of English is highly connected to the mastery of the spoken form of it.

From the early age, a normal child responds to the sounds which his elders use to communicate with him. In his bid to communicate and get his needs identified and satisfied, the child begins to imitate the sounds which he has heard from his elders. His dire need to communicate with the adult community and his constant hearing and imitation of the language make it possible for him to acquire his mother tongue or his first language. Ogbuehi

(2003) asserts that every normal child acquires the sound system and the speech patterns of his mother tongue in a normal way through imitation of sounds from adult group.

On the other hand, learning to speak a second language or foreign language usually involves some rigours and challenges because the learner has to learn the sound systems and the prosodic features of the second language against the already firmly consolidated first language in the mind of the learner. The problem is partly that some languages are tonal and syllable-timed and others are stress-timed and various speech sounds have distinctive acoustic properties. The adjustment to these differences may lead to a mismatch and therefore the learner may produce sounds that cannot be understood by other users of the same language. Onuigbo (1990) asserts that learning to speak a second language is psychologically demanding because the learner already feels comfortable towards the phonological systems of his native language. Mackey (1965) agrees that a person who has been using only one language since early childhood has habits and thoughts which are closely tied to his habits of language, and that language is a part of his experience. He concludes that in learning a second language, the learner has to adjust his speech habits to accommodate those of the target language. This according to Otagburuagu and Okorji (2002) is because languages have their individual peculiar phonological and phonemic features which must be mastered and used by the learner for mutual intelligibility with the native speakers and other users of the language.

Many learners of a second language cannot make this adjustment successfully. They approximate the phonological features of the second or target language with those of their mother tongue. Put in another way, they allow the speech habits of their mother tongue or their first language to interfere with the speech habits of the target language. This phenomenon, according to Akindele and Adegbite (1999), is known in the language register as phonological interference.

Phonological interference is a term which refers to a linguistic occurrence in which two different languages over lap and the linguistic system of one of the languages is transferred into the other in a process of producing the latter which is the second or target language. Interference, according to Baldeh (1990) is the major obstacle in the teaching of the English language and it constitutes a great problem to the learning of a second language for it can hinder mutual understanding and intelligibility and consequently affects performance in target language. This has resulted in the variety of English language in Nigeria called “Nigerian English”. Mgbodile (1999) is of the view that mother tongue interference is a great problem to second language learners of English. The Nigerian child should be taught to perceive and produce correct pronunciation, stress and intonation in the target language, which in Nigeria is English.

Teaching correct pronunciation, stress, and intonation to Nigerian children may be difficult as Nigeria is a multilingual country. William (1990) observes that teaching English to students that have different mother tongues other than English is complicated and difficult, and worse still when the learning environment is multilingual. This problem is compounded when one considers the fact that for many students, English is not really their second language but third or even the fourth language. Teaching correct pronunciation, stress and intonation becomes more complex when in a class, Student „A‟ may have a problem of distinguishing the /l/ from /r/ sounds, but this may not be the problem of Student „B‟ whose speech difficulty is with the pronunciation of words like „live‟ and „leave‟ so that they sound differently. Student „C‟s own difficulty may be that he cannot help inserting a vowel sound in a consonant cluster. From the spoken English of many Nigerians, one can identify from which area they come from. This is because different speech communities have different phonological and interference problems. Ogbuehi (2003) points out: “Today, there are many “Shibboleths (speech signs) for identifying people from different areas of Nigeria”.

In a contrastive study of English and Nigerian languages, Chukwuma and Otagburuagu (2002), discovered that the Yorubas realize /v/ as /f/, e.g. ‟very‟ becomes „fery‟, / z / does not exist in Yoruba so it is substituted with /s/ e.g. „zeal‟ is pronounced, „seal‟, issue is pronounced „izzue‟. Akindele and Adegbite (1999), also found out that the absence of English sounds such as the voiceless bilabial plosive /p/, voiceless and voiced labio-dental fricative / ѳ/ and /ð/ and the long vowels /I:/, /U:/ and /a:/ in Yoruba, for instance, make it difficult for Yoruba English bilingual to acquire such sounds. Hence, Yoruba English bilingual will produce „pat‟ as /kpæt/, „fever‟ as /fifa/, and „think‟ as

„tink‟. The obligatory /h/ are also dropped hence, house‟ is wrongly pronounced as “ouse‟ his‟ is wrongly pronounced as “is‟ „hair‟ is wrongly pronounced as „air‟ „honey‟ is wrongly pronounced as „oney‟

In addition, the Hausa learners of English substitute /v/ for /b/, „very good‟ is pronounced „bery good‟, /kw/ is substituted for /k/. So, „go‟ is pronounced „kwo‟, „come‟ is pronounced „kwom‟, whereas „problem‟ is

pronounced as „froblem‟. Some times /v/ is dropped in words like‟government‟ which they pronounce as „gworment‟

Onuigbo (1990), observed that a second language learner of English that has Igbo as his first language can produce „pit‟ with relative ease, but the same learner may experience some difficulties in producing „split‟ or „spit‟ because these words have consonant clusters, but the Igbo language has no consonant cluster. Because of this, the Igbo learners of English insert vowel in the midst of the consonants. Onuigbo generalizes that Nigerian languages have no consonant clusters . In the English language, there is a regular occurrence of consonant clusters unlike the Igbo language that has no cluster but has virtually regular and unchanging pattern of (consonant vowel, consonant vowel (CVCV). Folorine (1975) has the same view with Onuigbo that problematic consonant clusters are the major problem which Igbo students encounter in the pronunciation of words. In his article, “The Problems of Students‟ English‟, he states that learners‟ problems may be that the learner either leaves out one element of the problematic cluster or inserts a vowel within the consonant cluster as in „penalty‟ which they put an additional syllable in the word as shown below


penalty /pen∂lti /pena:liti/

grateful /gretful/ /gretiful/

Group „B‟ is the correct English pronunciation of the word in column „A‟wheas group „C‟ is the wrongly pronounced Igbo form of group „A‟.

Ogbuehi, C.U (2001) points out that the vowel harmony in Igbo words are transferred to the pronunciation of English words, thereby realizing a final vowel pronounced in words with consonant ending as in these groups:

















Group „B‟ is the correct English pronunciation of the words in column A whereas group „C‟ is the Igbo version of group „A‟.

Another outstanding phonological problem according to Ugorji (2007) is that some English consonant sounds are not present in the Igbo language e.g. /θ/, /ð/ and /3/. Because of this, the Igbo learners of English substitute /t/ for / θ/, /d/ for /∫/ and /s/. Consequently, Igbos wrongly pronounce these words thus:



















Group „B‟ is the correct English pronunciation of group „A‟ but group „C‟ is the wrong Igbo pronunciation of group „A‟. Some Igbo speaking areas of Nigeria interchange the liquid /r/ with the lateral /l/ thus producing such funny pronunciation like rook instead of look bred instead of blemflom instead of frommaly, instead of many‟

Also the long and the short vowel contrast is rarely made in Igbo as in „bed,‟ /bed/ and „bird‟ /bЗ:d/. These two words are pronounced alike by Igbo learners of English. The /ǽ/ in „cat‟ and /a: / „cart‟ is also pronounced alike.

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