Introduction by Aaron Skudder
I am currently learning to speak the Vietnamese language. My wife is from Hanoi, Vietnam. Vietnamese is not a natural language to learn. Vietnamese is a tonal language; there are six tonal variations, all changing the meaning of a word. Mandarin, by comparison, has four tonal variations. Vietnamese words are short, containing mostly one or two syllables. Many Vietnamese words end in consonants. It is, for this reason, that a native speaker of Vietnamese with sound choppy with English pronunciation. They would have difficulty with words or tone that end in vowel sounds. There are fewer diphthongs in Vietnamese, which can make English difficult to learn for Vietnamese people.
In the following sections, we are looking into the different types of mistakes Vietnamese learners often make in producing word stress in English.
Wrong pronunciation of English sounds
I learn that Vietnamese words with the spelling of th are pronounced /t/ as in tuck, not as /ð/ as in the. The spelling ‘tr’ is not pronounced like track; it is pronounced /tʃ/ as in the teacher. This pronunciation is confusing but also tricky for a Vietnamese person trying to pronounce the or street.
Wrong production of word stress
Vietnamese people often have wrong way of pronouncing word stress in English. They tend to pronounce the stress in a too loud voice or too long sound. It is pointed out by Nguyen (2000a: 79) that in case of bi-syllabic words, the stressed syllable (if known to the speakers) is produced with a greater loudness. It is natural that the vowel is over-lengthened as in:
import /,Im’pɔ::t/); morpheme /‘mɔ::fi:m/.
(:: means over-lengthened)
It is proved by Nguyen (2000a) that stress production by Vietnamese learners is a combination of duration and loudness of utterances. From that definition, we can see that the production of English word stress by Vietnamese speakers also lacks pitch height and vowel quality. This point of view is partly shared by Nguyen (2005), who, through her research, finds out that Vietnamese beginners of English fail to produce stressed syllables long enough. The case does not really apply to Vietnamese advanced learners, which may be an indication that Vietnamese students can be trained to produce correct stress in English words. This coincides with the researcher’s experience in teaching English pronunciation: when asked to produce word stress, her students (at elementary level) tend to exaggerate it by making it longer and louder (and certainly lacking pitch height and vowel quality), whereas students of upper-intermediate or advanced levels usually get it correct right from the first time practice.
Stress to all or none of the syllables in English words
Vietnamese learners are inclined to give full stress to all syllables of polysyllabic English words or no stress at all to those. (Nguyen, 1991). In other words, if the word is unfamiliar to the speakers, they tend to place the stress on both syllables with an equal degree. Some of the writer’s students have a tendency of producing stress in all syllables. Let us have a look at the following examples for illustration:
- in two-syllable words: produce /’prɒ’dju:s/; record /’re’kəd/, money /’mΛ’ni:/
- in three-syllable words: understand /’Λn’də’stænd/; contradict /’kɒn’trə’dIkt/. encounter /‘In’kaʊn’tə/
- in compound words: armchair /‘a:m’t∫eə/, rainfall /’reIn’fɔ:l/, rear-end /’rIə(r) ‘end/, foot ball /’fʊt’bɔ:l/, warm-hearted /’wɔ:m’ha:təd/
Yet the other extreme often found in the students’ pronunciation of English words is that they do not give stress to any of the syllables. They just use their flat tone to pronounce all the words the way they speak their Vietnamese words.
It is also observed by many Vietnamese teachers that the older the learners are, the more difficult it is for them to recognize their mistakes and correct them.
Wrong placement of word stress
It is realized by the researcher and many other Vietnamese teachers of English that some Vietnamese people give wrong stress placement. According to Nguyen (2000b), a Vietnamese puts a stress on the vowel he considers to be long. For example: Vietnamese speakers’ pronunciation of “elite” /I’li:t/ is shown in the following table:
(Nguyen, 2000b, p. 78)
It is also noticed by the researcher that students very often make mistakes in producing stress of those words which look the same but are of different parts of speech. For example, those nouns as produce /’prɒdju:s/, record /’rekəd/, research /’ri:sз:t∫ have the first syllable stressed; compared with those verbs as produce /prə’dju:s/, record /rə’kɔ:d/, research /rə:’sз:t∫/ with stress falls on the second syllable. They tend to pronounce both the verbs and nouns with the same stress pattern, usually with stress falling on the second syllable, i.e. produce /prə’dju:s/, record /rə’kɔ:d/, research /rə:’sз:t∫/ because this way sounds more familiar to them.
In this article, we have looked into some common problems Vietnamese learners often have in producing English sounds and word stress. There must be shortcomings, but it is hoped that the article, to some extent, will help teachers and learners in their teaching and learning of English phonetics in general, and of English word stress in particular. In other articles on this site, we will look at other aspects of word stress problems for Vietnamese learners of English.
My belief is that there is much more room for further research in this field. Comments and suggestions are therefore welcome for further improvement of the work.
Nguyen Q.H. (2000a). A Model to Teach English Pronunciation to Vietnamese Learners. Ho Chi Minh Publishing House.
Nguyen, A.Q. (2000b). Tieng Viet cho Nguoi Nuoc Ngoai (Vietnamese for Foreigners). Culture & Information Publisher.
Nguyen, T. & Ingram, J. (2005). Vietnamese Acquisition of English Word Stress. TESOL Quarterly, 39 (2), 309–319.
Roach, P. (1989). English Phonetics and Phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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