Published 28th July 2019
Learning another language is never easy. English is also known to be quite tricky because it is actually a mix of many different languages. Our language learners are bound to have problems learning English. A lot of this has to do with language transfer, when the differences between the learner’s first language and English cause confusion.
When a language is similar to English, this can be quite helpful to the learner, but when the two languages are very different, this can cause problems.
As you can imagine, Vietnamese and English are like chalk and cheese. There are very few similarities between the two languages, which means that Vietnamese learners of English can have a tough time learning English.
Here are a few difficulties Vietnamese learners of English can have when learning English.
There are a few grammatical issues which can cause problems for Vietnamese learners.
The first relates to the verb to be. The Vietnamese equivalent of the verb to be is là, but là is not used in the same way as to be. In English we use to be to link the subject and a predicative adjective – for example He is hungry. In Vietnamese, this same statement would be Nó đói which directly translates to He hungry. As a result, Vietnamese learners of English will often omit the verb to be.
Articles are another source of confusion. In Vietnamese there are no articles, whereas in English we have definite and indefinite articles. Consequently, Vietnamese learners tend to make mistakes when using articles in English. For example, I want to be teacher, She went to the work this morning.
In terms of tenses, Vietnamese utilises a much simpler method of denoting time than English does. Time is expressed by a particle in front of the main verb. Not surprisingly, Vietnamese learners can find tenses other than the simple tenses in English quite confusing and may avoid using them altogether.
If you’ve ever heard Vietnamese being spoken, you’ll know that it sounds nothing like English. It’s no surprise then that there are loads of problems Vietnamese speakers have with English pronunciation.
Vietnamese learners have problems pronouncing a final consonant sound, such as /z/, /s/, /t/, /v/, /ks/, /ʤ/ – for example, mice, right, manage. Instead, they leave them out. These same sounds cause difficulties when they are in the middle of words too – for example, never, president.
Vietnamese does not have the equivalent sounds for /l/ and /r/. As a result, they are commonly mistaken for /n/ and /z/ respectively.
Vietnamese speakers also find the /ð/ sound difficult to pronounce – as in weather, rather – and so they pronounce it as a /d/ or /z/ sound. Similarly, the /Ɵ/ sound – as in both – is replaced by /t/.
Finally, Vietnamese students can mispronounce long vowel sounds as short vowel sounds as there are no long vowel sounds in Vietnamese. Needless to say this can cause confusion when talking about sheets or beaches!
What can we do to help our Vietnamese learners?
A massive underlying problem is that of confidence and practice. Vietnamese learners are taught English from a young age at school so what you will find with Vietnamese students is that they are aware of the rules governing English and they will do well with isolated grammar exercises. However, when it comes to fluent communication, be it written or spoken, the students are not able to put these rules into practice.
This can stem from an individual’s own shyness, or from a general fear of making mistakes and making a fool of themselves. Losing face and saving face are widespread phenomena throughout Asia. Making mistakes or being corrected when making a mistake will cause a learner to lose face, so it stands to reason that they are reluctant to take chances when speaking in English in the classroom.
What we can do, then, is incorporate relevant pronunciation activities into our lessons in a way which makes them fun and enjoyable. If they are seen as games rather than learning activities our learners are more likely to participate fully and, ultimately, practice English pronunciation.
At the same time, rather than draw attention to an individual learner’s pronunciation difficulties, treat pronunciation as a class issue and work on it together, instead of making individual students the centre of attention.