American English Phonetics

Another American English Faculty Project

If we want to learn the pronunciation of a foreign language later in life we are faced with at least two problems.

Problem 1: Spelling

We may be misled by the spelling of the foreign words. A foreign learner of English may not realize, for example, that the word (she) says is pronounced as if it were spelt sezz.


Problem 2: Interference

Our efforts will suffer from the fact that we have already mastered the pronunciation of another language, namely that of our native language. We will tend to pronounce as well as perceive the sounds of our native language instead of those of the foreign language (with which we are, after all, not sufficiently familiar).

For example, the Dutch will be inclined to pronounce the Dutch (!) word bête when their intention in fact is to say the English word bad. Similarly, their knowledge of the sound system of Dutch will largely determine how they will hear the sounds produced by native speakers of English. In a sense, they will ’hear’ the sounds of the Dutch word bête when a native speaker of English says bad.



Because their knowledge of the native language is here seen to interfere with the process of speaking and perceiving the foreign language, this problem is referred to as interference (Du: interferentie). It will be discussed more fully in a later chapter.