Learning EFL by Bengali speaking learners: Major linguistic problems and possible solutions

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2010
17 Pages, Grade: A




Phonetic and phonological problems

Monophthongs and diphthongs
Consonant phonemes
Stress and intonation

Morphological and syntactic problems

Semantic and pragmatic problems

Conclusions and possible solutions



Foreign language learning occurs in the formal situation of a classroom, and the learner has hardly any access to the target language beyond the classroom door (Brown 2001). And in this formal situation, he/she receives instruction and practises in the items entirely related to the basic skills of the target language– listening, speaking, reading and writing. That is, the items taught and learned are linguistically related to and considered at different levels– phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics. While learning the foreign language, the learner usually encounters varied linguistic problems that evidently handicap and hamper his/her learning and eventually negatively affect his/her general proficiency as well. This phenomenon is also found in the learning of English as a foreign language (EFL) by the Bengali speaking learner.

Both as a learner and a teacher-researcher of EFL, I have had first-hand experience and the opportunity to observe that the Bengali speaking learner confronts difficulty in learning English pronunciation including sounds, stress and intonation related to the phonetic and phonological level. He/she often finds English word formation and sentence construction, respectively concerned with the morphological and syntactic level, quite problematic. Moreover, the learner suffers problems in learning vocabulary items and to convey meanings through and/or receive meanings of words, phrases, clauses, sentences/utterances, discourse, and so forth related to the semantic and pragmatic level. Such problems obviously seriously retard the learning of EFL by the Bengali speaking learner.

Therefore, it seems reasonable to take account of and identify what linguistic problems the Bengali speaking EFL learner encounters and why. The consideration and interpretation of the issue in question are completely based on my practical experience as a learner and on my observation as a teacher-researcher of EFL. Finally, a number of suggestions have been made so as to address and lessen the problems, on the one hand, and ensure the smooth and optimal learning of EFL on the other.

Phonetic and phonological problems

Since English is a non-phonetic language and there is no one-to-one correspondence between the graphemes (the letters of the alphabet) and the sounds actually produced and realized, at the phonetic and phonological level, the Bengali speaking EFL learner usually faces difficulties in, firstly, ‘speech production’ encompassing which articulator(s) to use how to pronounce which speech sound and how to pattern speech sounds to convey meaning and, secondly, in ‘speech perception’ covering how to receive which speech sound(s) to perceive meaning. It is commonly found in the elementary learner that he/she endeavours to learn pronunciations of words by looking at their spellings, and consequently learns mispronunciations of many of them, for example, adjective, adjustment, future, knee, knowledge, lamb, comb, lieutenant, calm, palm, pneumonia, psychology, Wednesday, etc. This mainly happens due to faults in teaching, indifference of the teacher to how the learner learns pronunciations of difficult words/expressions and the teacher’s lack of training. Let us now identify the problems that the Bengali speaking EFL learner confronts at the phonetic and phonological level and explain the causes of the problems under some sub-headings.

Monophthongs and diphthongs

The Bengali speaking EFL learner generally finds the five long monophthongs / ¡: u: a: ]: * / of the English language seriously problematic since these simple vowels are not available in his/her mother tongue and he/she is not accustomed to differentiating between short and long monophthongs. To emphasize a point or express various emotional effects, Bengali vowels are lengthened to some degree. But vowel length in the Bengali language is phonetic, not phonological. Besides, the Bengali speaker cannot easily and authentically pronounce schwa / / since this phoneme is absent from their first language. Moreover, he/she can hardly differentiate between / e / and / æ / as in ‘men’ and ‘man’ respectively because this differentiation is not that much exercised in Bengali. In addition, the Bengali speaking learner is used to nasalization of vowels without any nasal consonant in his/her mother tongue, for instance, the first vowel in the word ‘kada’ /kʌnð∂/(weeping) or the only vowel in the word ‘chad’ /ʧʌnd/ (moon) being clearly nasalized. This factor occasionally affects his/her pronunciation of English vowels devoid of nasalization.

The learner also suffers difficulty in pronouncing English diphthongs due to his/her mother tongue interference. The English language has eight diphthongs, each of which is a combination of two monophthongs one gliding into the other and naturally longer than a pure vowel. On the other hand, the Bengali language possesses eighteen regular diphthongs which are characteristically different from and shorter than English ones. As a consequence, the Bengali speaking learner pronounces only the first part of a diphthong and makes it identical with a monophthong, for example, ‘late’ being pronounced like ‘let’. Hasan (2000: 66) rightly holds -

They mispronounce most of the English diphthongs; they fail to give these sounds their due length as they often pronounce only the first element of the sound and pay no heed to the second, thus the English diphthongs cease to be gliding sounds in their pronunciation, e.g. for English / e ı / and / ∂ U /, they generally use the Bangla pure vowels / e / and / ο / respectively.

This type of replacement of phonemes in the English language certainly results in huge confusion and misunderstanding.

The problems that the Bengali speaking EFL learner confronts in the pronunciation of English monophthongs and diphthongs evidently affect his/her auditory and perceptive ability and hence reduce his/her capability of listening.

Consonant phonemes

As the Bengali speaking learner is naturally trained to articulate Bengali consonants and as there are a lot of differences between Bengali and English consonants, he/she finds the pronunciations of a number of English consonants difficult in both production and perception.

Firstly, while the Bengali language has as many as twenty plosives, the English language possesses six / p b t d k g /. The Bengali speaking learner is used to using both aspirated and unaspirated sounds in his/her mother tongue as it has separate aspirated and unaspirated phonemes producing meaning difference. Unlike Bengali, the English language has no corresponding aspirated plosives, and the voiceless plosives / p t k /are aspirated in the initial position of the stressed syllable but unaspirated in other positions. As a result, the Bengali speaking learner cannot exactly pronounce the aspirated allophones of English voiceless plosives / p t k /.

Secondly, the Bengali speaking EFL learner cannot exactly articulate and even perceive English inter-dental fricatives / θ ð/ since there is no inter-dental fricatives in the Bengali language. Rather, he/she uses Bengali dental stops instead of English inter-dental fricatives. Likewise, he/she generally uses Bengali aspirated bilabial stops / ph / and / bh / in place of English labio-dental fricatives / f / and / v / respectively because the Bengali language lacks labio-dental fricatives.

Thirdly, the learner is usually unable to differentiate between English voiced alveolar fricative / z /, voiced palato-alveolar affricate / d c / and voiced palato-alveolar fricative / c / since these sounds are not available in the Bengali language. Consequently, on the one hand, his/her pronunciation appears to be non-English, and on the other, he/she often fails to understand a speaker producing the sounds correctly.

Fourthly, the Bengali speaking learner is generally found to pronounce Bengali alveolar retroflex stops in place of English alveolar plosives / t /and / d /. This happens owing to the absence of alveolar plosives like English / t /and / d /in his/her first language.

Fifthly, the English approximants / w / and / j / are problematic to the Bengali speaking EFL learner. He/she cannot correctly articulate them as they are not present in his/her first language.

Thus the English consonants which are absent from the Bengali language are difficult to the Bengali speaking learner and substantially negatively affect his/her pronunciation as well as perception.


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Learning EFL by Bengali speaking learners: Major linguistic problems and possible solutions
Jahangirnagar University  (Department of English)
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Learning, Bengali, Major
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Dr. M. Maniruzzaman (Author), 2010, Learning EFL by Bengali speaking learners: Major linguistic problems and possible solutions, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/152574


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