The principal objective of this paper is to demonstrate how an area of a Japanese English language learner’s pronunciation differs from a native English speaker and could impede his intelligibility. Schwa (/ə/ and /əʳ/) is the most frequently used reduced vowel in North American English and it helps to regulate the rhythm of spoken English. The absence of schwa in the Japanese language makes it difficult for a Japanese English language learner to pronounce some words properly and learn the stress and rhythm of English. As a result his intelligibility is hindered.
1. Pronunciation instruction and material should help learners gain knowledge and skills that will improve their intelligibility and allow them to communicate effectively. Communication cannot take place if the speaker is not understood. To measure how well a second language learner is understood his level of intelligibility needs to be defined. Munro believes that “Intelligibility is the single most important aspect of all communication. If there is no intelligibility, communication has failed.” (Munro p.13, 2011). For the purpose of this paper intelligibility is defined as failed communication. If the learner cannot be understood then his intelligibility has been affected.
2. When the Japanese learner said “shelter housing is for older people” [ˈʃeltəʳ ˈhaʊzɪŋ ɪz fəʳ ˈoʊldəʳ ˈpiːpl̩], what was heard was “shelter housing is for all the people” [ˈʃeltəʳ ˈhaʊzɪŋ ɪz fəʳ ˈɒl ðə ˈpiːpl]. He used the unstressed vowel /əʳ/ several times and was intelligible for the most part. When he said “shelter housing” [ˈʃeltəʳ ˈhaʊzɪŋ] he was understood because his instructor asked him to “explain sheltered housing”. Thus he was provided with the proper pronunciation of shelter and he echoed his teacher. When he said “for” [fəʳ] it was understood because he was explaining sheltered housing and the preposition ‘for’ is commonly used to explain things (e.g. A pen is for writing.). When he said “older people” [oʊldəʳ ˈpiːpl̩], it sounded like ‘all the people’ [ˈɒl ðə ˈpiːpl] and this is what impeded his intelligibility. (See Appendix A p.19 for Transcription Key)
3. It is important to mention that the following material should be taught over the course of several lessons rather than just one because it takes time and effort for students to learn a new language feature and make it a natural part of their speech.
4. The first material that was chosen focuses on properly producing /ə/ (schwa). In the transcription of the Japanese learner’s speech there are many words that he said that contain schwa (See Appendix D p.25), because it is the most frequently used reduced vowel in English and it becomes even more prevalent when reduced vowels with a postvocalic /r/ as in older are involved (Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D. M., Goodwin, J. M., & Grimer, B., 2010). Regardless of the regular occurrence of schwa in his transcribed speech he still needs help using it to improve the stress and rhythm of his English.
5. English is a stress-timed language and Japanese is a syllable-timed language (Ohata, 2004). The basic timing unit of Japanese is called a mora. Each mora is pronounced with equal stress regardless of whether the syllable is stressed or unstressed and should take about the same amount of time. Unstressed syllables like schwa /ə/ tend to be over-pronounced. Consequently, Japanese learners’ speech may sound choppy to a native English speaker and this rhythm can affect intelligibility (Ohata, 2004). The rhythm and stress of English is created by combining stressed and unstressed syllables (Nespor, Shulka and Mehler, 2011). The rhythm of Japanese is controlled by the number of syllables in a given phrase, not the number of stressed parts (Ohata, 2004). As a result the stress received by each syllable is much more even than in English. Main words are not stressed enough, while unstressed syllables are not...
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