Although English is widely recognized as the primary language of global communication in the 21st century, it still challenges learners but it is difficult to list a selection of words that are universally problematic to learn as different native tongues provide an understanding of any second language learning, which for the learner, can pose as many challenges as it does explanations. What is clear is that vocabulary is fundamental to learning English. McCarthy (1997: 140) informs us that without words to express a wider range of meanings, communication in a second language cannot happen in a meaningful way.
One of the key issues connected to learning English for foreign learners is difficulties in learning vocabulary, which cannot be solved by simple translation or dictionary referral alone, although they are useful starting points. So, what challenges do students need to face in order to realistically improve their understanding of difficult words in English? Here are five areas that need to be considered when approaching better understanding and use of English vocabulary.
Challenge 1: Pronunciation/recognition issues related to new sounds that do not exist in your native language.
These sounds in new vocabulary and grammar are often avoided by learners when speaking or, misunderstood and confused for other words when listening. Gairns and Redman in Moras (1986) state that pronunciation is based on the ability to recognise and reproduce items in speech. Thornbury (2002: 27) adds that research has shown that words that are difficult to pronounce are more difficult to learn.
Examples of some mispronounced words in English:
Would : /wud/ - w sound often difficult and omitted by Portuguese speakers, and replaced as v by German speakers.
Very : /’ver.i/ v sound often difficult for Spanish and replaced with b, and r sound confused as l by Asians.
Variety : /vəˈrʌɪəti/ v sound often difficult for German speakers and pronounced as w, replaced as b by Spanish and r sound confused with l by Asians.
Hedge-hog : /ˈhɛdʒ(h)ɒɡ/ the h sound is particularly difficult for French speakers and often omitted.
Zombie : /ˈzɒm.bi:/ the ɒ sound is often pronounced as u by Arabic speakers
Download the phonemic chart app for IOS or Android, using the interactive chart to reproduce individual sounds while recording your voice for direct comparison. This approach will help you to identify and address problem phonemes (Individual sounds). Next, work on imitating the sounds, focusing on the mouth shape required. This is where a trained teacher is invaluable as they focus on relevant examples of the sound in vocabulary items, and encourage practice in real time with fellow learners and native speakers in context.
Here at Galway Cultural Institute, we believe immersion in native English speaking environments together with class participation to be highly advantageous. A range of courses are available for all levels to improve your English.