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The pronunciation of English by first language speakers of, for example, isiZulu is affected by two factors:
- English spelling
- As children we learn to make the sounds (phonemes) of our mother tongue
- English Spelling
The spelling of English words is misleading and does not assist with the correct pronunciation of these words, for example
through enough bough though bought
5 different vowel sounds exist in these words!
- The Phonemes of English
There are 23 vowel sounds in English. Seven of the English vowel sounds are always short. The rest including all the dipthongs are long.
Although African languages are wonderfully expressive they have far fewer vowel sounds than English. For example isiZulu has around 7 vowel sounds. Consequently when a person with isiZulu as their mother tongue speaks English they have to find replacements for 16 English vowel sounds that they don’t know how to pronounce.
For example, the vowel sounds in ‘bird’ and ‘mat’ do not exist in isiZulu. These vowel sounds have tongue positions that isiZulu does not have. Therefore an isiZulu speaker when learning to speak English substitutes these sounds with ones from their mother tongue. So ‘bird’ becomes ‘bed’ and ‘mat’ becomes ‘met’.
The vowel sounds can differ in two ways:
1. Where the sound itself is different (substitutions)
eg. The ‘er’ sound is produced as ‘e’ so ‘bird’ is pronounced ‘bed’
The ‘a’ sound is produced as ‘e’ so ‘had’ is pronounced as ‘head’
2. Where the vowel length differs
eg. The long vowel sound in ‘bath’ is shortened to ‘buth’
The short vowel sound in ‘hit’ is lengthened to ‘heet’
The purpose of the Accent Labs Speech & Voice E-learning Programme is to ensure that the ‘new’ accent is used by gaining a thorough knowledge of how to produce each sound, as opposed to merely being imitated.