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Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Faculdade de Letras
English Phonology
Professor Andra Mattos
Isabela Vieira
Karina Brugger






American English Pronunciation for
Portuguese Learners: Interdental Fricative
Consonants






Belo Horizonte, December 05th of 2013
Summary

1) Introduction
2) Voiced interdental fricative
3) Voiceless interdental fricative
4) The Questionnaire Used on the Research
5) The Results
6) Commenting the Results
7) Conclusion
8) Bibliographic References










1) Introduction
In this paper, we are going to talk about the difficulties Brazilian students have with two
specific sounds of American English, the voiceless interdental fricative [] and the
voiced interdental fricative [].
Since we don't have these sounds in Brazilian Portuguese, it usually takes time for
students to be able to produce them correctly, some finish the English course without
really knowing how to produce them.
By showing and analyzing the results of our field research, we will talk about the role of
the teacher, what he/she can do to help students, what has been done so far, etc. We will
also discourse about the two sides of the dilemma "is it important to teach phonology?"
Before seeing the characteristics of these sounds, an explanation of the nature of
consonants. According to Martha C. Pennington (1996), consonants are

sounds made with closed or nearly closed articulations. As a consequence,
they tend to break up the stream up speech, defining a perceptual and
articulatory "edge", or margin, for a unit (word or syllable in a word) that
includes one or more vowels. (page 37)


The object of the research is to show the most common mistakes, find out what students
think about the topic and their opinion about what can be done to help them develop the
pronunciation abilities (for those who think it is necessary to develop such abilities).


2) Voiced Interdental Fricative
First it is important to understand the classification of the sounds. It is considered the
place of articulation, that is, the location where an active articulator functions (alone or
with other articulator); the manner of articulation, that is, how the constriction is made
and if it is voiced or voiceless, that is, if there is or not vibration of the vocal cords
during its production.
The [] sound is interdental because the tongue is the active articulator. When this
sound is made, the person puts the tongue between his/her teeth; that way, the blade
extends forward the teeth. It is fricative because there is a close approximation of the
airflow and that causes turbulence (= friction). And it is voiced because there is
vibration of the vocal cord when it is produced.
Some words that content this sound are: there, them, than, either, although, weather.
Many students, when trying to produce the word "them", for example, end up saying
[de:r] or [te:r] instead of [e:r]. This will be shown deeply in the results of the research.
A technique that teachers might use to help students practicing this sound is to give
them games and tongue twisters, with playful activities they have fun while learning,
therefore will be motivated and relaxed. Of course, this should be done after showing
them how to produce this sound.









3) Voiceless Interdental Fricative
The [] sound is very much alike the [] sound, the place and manner of articulation are
the same; the only difference is that when produced, there is no vibration of the vocal
cords. Some words that content this sound are: three, thin, bath, thread, depth, fifth,
thank.
Many students, when trying to produce the word "thread", for example, end up saying
[trd], [frd] or [srd] instead of [rd]. When shown where to put the mouth, some of
them put in the right place, but in the moment of the air out, they put it back inside the
mouth or close the lips. A technique teachers can use to stop students from doing this, is
to ask them to pronounce the F sound by articulating it with their upper and lower
teeth, and tongue, saying the following sentence: Fui feira com o Freitas e o Farias
comer frutas frescas, mas o Freitas preferiu comer fritas.
The association with Portuguese may help them lose the idea that they are unable to
produce this sound.







4) The Questionnaire used on the research

1. Which are the most difficult words for you to pronounce?
2. Which are the most difficult sounds for you to pronounce?
3. Do you think that learn pronunciation is important in English learning?
4. Do you believe that pronunciation gets better with time?
5. What do you do to improve your oral skills?
6. Do you believe that listen to native speakers pronunciation helps English
learners?
7. How would you pronounce the words: Third, Thank, Think, Brother and Them?
8. What do you think teachers could do to help you in that matter?









5) The Results
Thirty English learners between 11 and 19 years old in different levels of an English
course, all of them go to the same English course at the same place were interviewed
with the questionnaire we elaborated. 6 out 12 of the learners between 11 and 15 years
old presented difficulties to pronounce the words with the voiceless interdental fricative
[] and the voiced interdental fricative []. These learners were respectively in the first
and in the last level of the Basic course. 5 out of 18 learners between 16 and 19 years
old presented difficulties to pronounce the same sounds mentioned before. These
learners were respectively in the second and last level of the Intermediate course and
also in the last level of the Advanced course. When asked about the most difficult
sounds for them to pronounce, 11 of the 30 learners answered that the most difficult
sounds for them are [] and []. These 11 learners were the same learners who had
difficulties to pronounce the words given in the questionnaire. We also asked in the
questionnaire if they believed that pronunciation becomes better with the time, 19 of the
30 learners said yes. 15 of the same learners who said "yes" also said that they noticed
that their own pronunciation became better as they passed to the next level of the
course. The other 4 learners of these 19 that said yes also said that their pronunciation
became better, especially because they practice more and more as they passed to the
next level of the course. 26 of the 30 learners believe that learning the correct
pronunciation is very important, 4 of these 30 believe that learning how to pronounce
the words, even in a wrong way, but be intelligible, is more important than pronounce
the words in the proper way. 20 of the 30 learners interviewed listen to songs, watch
movies and TV series in English as a tool to improve their oral skills; the other 10
learners said that they do not do anything to improve; they only have contact with
English in the classroom. The 20 learners that use songs, movies and TV series believe
that listening to native speakers helps improving pronunciation. 30 of the 30 learners
interviewed said that the teachers can push the students to pronounce the words
correctly, suggest movies and series to help them improve their oral skills.



















6) Commenting the results
The results of our field research showed that most of English learners, especially the
beginners, have difficulties to learn and pronounce properly the two sounds of the
English language that do not exist in Portuguese. During the research we could also
notice that learns also feel uncomfortable, especially in the first time they get in contact
with the words with the voiceless interdental fricative [] and the voiced interdental
fricative []. The learners feel uncomfortable when they have to repeat the word
producing the sound. Brazilian speakers are not used to these two sounds and the fact
that to produce these sounds the speaker has to put his/her tongue between their teeth is
strange to most of them. While interviewing the young learners we could notice that
most of them pronounce the word think [k] as if it was [tk] or sometimes [tnk] ;
the [] sound is produced as if it was a [t] sound. According to the interviewed learners,
most of them believe that they will be able to produce these sounds properly if they
practice and also with time, but there are learners from the last Advanced level that still
cannot produce the sound properly, this is more common to happen with Basic learners
who are having their first contact with the sounds, but some Brazilian learners and
speakers apparently cannot produce the sounds properly even with time and practice.




7) Conclusion
We were able to conclude with our field research that the voiceless interdental fricative
[] and the voiced interdental fricative [] sounds appear to be the most difficult sounds
to be pronounced by Brazilian learners of English. Based on the questionnaire answers
and also on the interview these sounds that do not exist in Portuguese language may
represent a challenge to the learners since they are not used to produce these types of
sounds when they speak their native language. According to the research described in
the article SpanishEnglish and PortugueseEnglish interlanguage phonology by Fred
R. Eckman, Spanish learners of English language, especially adults, may also have
these difficulties. On our field research we dealt with teenagers and young adults, so we
could notice that even the youngers may have these kind of difficulties. To interview
the Advanced learns we could notice that the Basic and Intermediate learners may be
right in their belief that with time and practice they will be able to improve their
pronunciation and oral skills. Sounds that really differ from the sounds of the learners
native language may represent a challenge and may also be a difficulty to most of them.
Another element that we could observe is the students' opinion about the teachers role
in the learning process, according to their answers, the teacher should push them to
pronounce the words properly and also suggest movies, songs and TV series proper to
their level of English that may help them get in contact with the language spoken by
native speaker, which may also help them improve their oral skills.
Regarding the importance of learning phonology, the consensus is that, if you just want
to be able to communicate in an intelligible way, you don't need to pronounce
everything perfectly, except in cases where the mispronunciation can cause confusion,
that is, when there are two words with similar sound and different meaning; for




example: "leave" and "live", "beach" and "bitch", and so on.
However, if you are learning English for academic purposes or to have a profession
related to English and its abilities, you need to be proficient in every level, including
pronunciation. Teaching is one good example of that.
With this in mind, we can now raise the awareness of the necessity to come up with
ideas around the importance of phonology teaching and possible changes on the
methods commonly used.













8) Bibliographic References
PENNINGTON, Martha C. Phonology in English Language Teaching. 1st edition.
United States of America. Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 1996.
SILVA, Thas Cristfaro. Pronncia do Ingls para falantes do Portugus Brasileiro.
So Paulo. Contexto, 2012.
ECKMAN, Fred R. Spanish-English and Portuguese-English interlanguage phonology.
Second Language Research, 2011.
OSBORNE, Denise M. Systematic Differences in Consonant Sounds Between The
Interlanguage Phonology of a Brazilian Portuguese Learner of English and Standard
American English. Teachers College. Columbia University, 2008.
CELCE-MURCIA, M., BRINTON, D. M. & GOODWIN, J. M. Teaching
pronunciation: a reference for teachers of English to speakers of other languages.
Cambridge University Press, 1996.