A Contrastive Analysis of the English and the German Sound System

Problems and Suggestions for Teaching

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2011

21 Pages, Grade: 14


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Contrastive Analysis
2.1. The Consonants
2.1.1. Phonemic Problems: /w/, /θ/, /ð/, /ʒ/, /dʒ/
2.1.2. Phonetic Problem: Clear and Dark /l/
2.1.3. Allophonic Problem: Aspiration of Word Final /p/, /t/, /k/
2.1.4. Distributional Problems Consonant Clusters The Sounds /s/ and /ŋ, ŋɡ, ŋk/ Final Devoicing
2.2. The Vowels
2.2.1. Vowel Inventories - General Differences
2.2.2. Front Vowels
2.2.3. Central Vowels
2.2.4. Back Vowels

3. Teaching English Pronunciation
3.1. Aim and Importance of Learning Pronunciation
3.2. Error Hierarchy
3.3. Qualifications of the Teacher
3.4. Teaching Suggestions
3.4.1. General Suggestions
3.4.2. Suggestions for Teaching Particular Difficult Sounds

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

This work is titled “A Contrastive Analysis of the English and the German Sound System. Problems and Suggestions for Teaching.”

The features of sound in a language are systematically structured. They are divided into two main branches: (a) the branch of segmental features including consonants and vowels, and

(b) the branch of supra-segmental features including stress, intonation, pause, juncture, and rhythm

(Nasr 1997: 2).

My paper refers to branch (a) and illustrates the differences between the English (RP) and German consonant and vowel systems. The resulting contrasts reveal the main difficulties German learners of English are confronted with, therefore, these need to be exposed in teaching (Kufner 1971: 36).

After contrasting the sound systems, I will comment on the aim and importance of learning English pronunciation, and then I will explain the error degrees caused by the sound contrasts. Later, there is an overview of the most important qualifications of a phonetic teacher, and finally I will provide suggestions for teaching the pronunciation difficulties caused by the differences between the two languages.

2. Contrastive Analysis

Learning a foreign language includes various linguistic aspects: syntax, morphology, lexis and phonology. Each of these elements has diverse functions and relevance depending on the student`s purpose to learn the target language. A few of the primary reasons students are taught English at school are to prepare them to communicate with foreigners and to achieve a basic education and general knowledge of English for their future occupations and lives. That means it is important that on the one hand, they understand foreigners speaking English and on the other hand, that they can express themselves to be understood. These skills require applying phonological knowledge. Nasr (1997) defines the relevance and the role of phonology in teaching, learning and using a language:

[…] phonology is a part of language; it is a basic component part of language. Phonology is unique in its role as a component part of language, because it permeates both the vocabulary and the grammar of a language. It is an essential element in all utterances.(3)

Accordingly, learning phonology is a rudimentary constituent of acquiring a language. Besides the pleasure of exposing a new language, of course, learning it involves difficulties as well. In this regard, Robert B. Lado (1957) declares the ´contrastive hypothesis`:

We assume that the student who comes in contact with a foreign language will find some features of it quite easy and others extremely difficult. Those elements that are similar to his native language will be simple for him, and those elements that are different will be difficult (as cited in Börner 1998: 136).

This statement is of prime importance for foreign language teaching.

Of special interest to the language teacher is contrastive linguistics, which compares the structures of two languages to determine the points where they differ. These differences are the chief source of difficulty in learning a second language (Lado 1964: 21).

Hence, in this paper I focus on the differences between the sound systems of English and German in order to detect the difficulties German learners of English have.

2.1. The Consonants

Moulton (1974) classifies the difficulties of pronunciation of the consonants under four different problems: phonemic problems, phonetic problems, allophonic problems, and distributional problems (26).

2.1.1. Phonemic Problems: /w/, /θ/, /ð/, /ʒ/, /dʒ/

German students learning English tend to carry over German phonemic habits into English, which leads to using the wrong English phoneme (Kufner 1971: 36). This problem concerns English sounds that are absent in the phonological system of German. Comparing the consonant inventories of both languages, demonstrates the phonemic differences and the resulting difficulties a German learner of English has to succeed: the English /θ/, /ð/, /ʒ/, /dʒ/, and /w/, which “have no counterparts in German” (Esser 1977: 18).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 1: The Consonants of English and German (König and Gast 2007: 14)

Kufner (1971) gives the example of the unfamiliar English /w/, German students could replace with the familiar /v/ which is also supported by the orthography of the phoneme /w/. As result, either the pronunciation makes no sense as in week /'wik/ realized as /'vik/ because the word does not exist; or the substitution causes that another word, which is not meant, is pronounced. Compare the following pairs: wine- vine, went- vent, and west- vest (36). McMahon (2002) describes the sound [w]:

In producing [w], the lips are certainly approximated, though not enough to cause friction or obstruct the airflow; but you should be able to feel that the back of your tongue is also brunched up. This additional articulation takes place at the velum, so that [w] is not simply a labial sound, but a labial-velar one (31).

German students must pay special attention to their bottom lip which should not have any contact to the upper incisors. For native speakers only a momentary touch is suggestive of /v/ (Kufner 1971: 44).

Other differences can be revealed by contrasting the fricative inventories: “Only English has dental fricatives, and only German has dorsal fricatives” (König and Gast 2007: 12).

German students often tend to exchange the unfamiliar English fricative /θ/ which leads to misunderstandings if a minimal pair is concerned: “If you take the voiceless interdental fricative /θ/ in the English word think and replace it by the voiceless alveolar fricative /s/, you have changed the meaning of the word to sink” (Gut 2009: 51). Ogden (2009) explains the most significant divergence between the two sounds: Comparing [θ] and [s], the most striking differences between the phonemes are “that [θ] has a much ´flatter`, quieter sound than [s], which sounds ´sharper` or ´brighter` and louder” (119).

The voiced correspondent of /θ/ is /ð/ as in they, father, or clothe and it also constitutes phonetic problems. For German students, basically, two sounds come into consideration to replace /ð/: /θ/ or /d/ or /z/. In the first case, the foreignness of the sound is maintained but the voicing is assigned. In the second case, the voicing is maintained but the unfamiliar interdental fricative is assigned (Kufner 1971: 44).

The third group causing phonemic problems is the post alveolar affricates:

If you move your tongue tip back behind the alveolar ridge, you will feel the hard palate, which then, moving further back again, becomes the soft palate, or velum. Postalveolar sounds are produced with the blade of the tongue as the active articulator, and the adjoining parts of the alveolar ridge and the hard palate as the passive one. They include two fricatives and [two] affricates […] (McMahon 2002: 32).

Important for the contrastive analysis are the voiced post alveolar affricate /dʒ/, the voiceless post alveolar affricate /tʃ/, and the voiced post alveolar fricative /ʒ/.

The sound /ʒ/ is absent in both, the native English and German lexis and appears merely in loan words as in Garage . Depending on the position of this phoneme, its occurrence is varied in the two languages. In initial and final positions /ʒ/ is more frequent in German than in English, where the postalveolar affricate is regularly found instead (e.g. homage [hɒmɪdʒ] or garage [gӕrɪdʒ]) (König and Gast 2007: 12).

Kufner (1971) points out that the affricate /dʒ/ as in joke, religion, or age is difficult to articulate for Germans because of its voicing (39). With /tʃ/ as in child, much, teacher, they have fewer problems because they can use the German consonant cluster tsch instead (38).

2.1.2. Phonetic Problem: Clear and Dark /l/

This part deals with the realization of the voiced alveolar lateral approximant /l/ which is “produced by the tip or blade of the tongue moving up towards the alveolar ridge” (McMahon 2002: 32). The English /l/ as a phoneme plays almost the identical role in German; nevertheless, its phonetic nature is diverse in the two languages. The main difference between phonemic and phonetic difficulties is that an incorrect sound replacement must lead to confusion (for example: /v/ instead of /w/ as in vine instead of wine). However, regarding phonetic problems, it is more challenging to make students clear not to carry over German speaking habits into English (Kufner 1971: 46).

König and Gast (2007) clarify the contrast of /l/ in German and English: “Most varieties of English display a systematic allophony which German lacks: /l/ is realized with varying degrees of ´velarization`” (17). “[T]he dark l differs from the clear l by having the back of the tongue raised towards the velum (soft palate) as if the speaker is trying to say [u:] while producing the l” (Davis 2007: 104). Generally, “velarization is strongest in a syllable-final position, weakest at the beginning of a syllable, and intermediate between vowels” (König and Gast 2007: 17). Understanding English-German Contrasts (2007) gives the example of the [l] in light as a non-velarized phoneme which makes it “transcribed as a ´clear l` ([laɪt])” (17) and in contrast there is tall ([thɔ:ɫ]) as an example for an [l]- sound in final position representing a ´dark l` (17). Degrees of velarization are possible, the velarization of the intermediate [l] in silly is stronger than that of the [l] in light, but “weaker than that of the [ɫ] in tall” (König and Gast 2007: 17).

The English [r] allophones can also be categorized as a phonetic problem. For further reading about this sound, Kufner (1971) page 49 pp. and König and Gast (2007) page 13 pp. are recommendable.

2.1.3. Allophonic Problem: Aspiration of Word Final /p/, /t/, /k/

Allophonic problems are “caused by the presence of [German] phonemes which have some allophones identical with those of a corresponding [English] phoneme, but other allophones which are quite different” (Moulton 1974: 40/41). Although a violation of allophonic rules does not induce misapprehensions, learning the correct realization of allophones is profitable, since the use of a wrong allophone entails that the listener pays more attention to how something is said than to what is said (Kufner 1971: 52).

The most common difficulty of German students regarding English allophones lies in the aspiration of the voiceless plosives /p/, /t/, and /k/, especially if they are in word final position. Initial and mid positions of these plosives do not cause complications since then the aspiration is similar. However, in word final positions aspiration is generally stronger in German than in English. For instance, the [t] in Hut ([hu:th]) is usually aspirated, other than the [t] in hat ([hӕt]) which is generally unaspirated. This contrast prompts German students to aspirate overmuch (whole paragraph: König and Gast 2007: 16).


Excerpt out of 21 pages


A Contrastive Analysis of the English and the German Sound System
Problems and Suggestions for Teaching
University of Marburg
Problems of English Grammar
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1151 KB
Englisch Grammatik, Phonologie, Kontrastive Phonologie, Contrastive Phonology German English
Quote paper
Nermin Bastug (Author), 2011, A Contrastive Analysis of the English and the German Sound System , Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/195175


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: A Contrastive Analysis of the English and the German Sound System

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free