Difficulties of the English Language for Arabic People

A Psycholinguistic Approach

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2009

21 Pages


Table of Content







b)Stage of Development



First, it phonologically analyzes the English phonotactics in the English of Arab learners of English as a foreign language to determine the types of pronunciation difficulties they encounter. More specifically, it investigates the types of declusterization processes found in their interlingual communication and the sources of such processes. The results of this study demonstrate that Arab learners of English unintentionally insert an anapestic vowel in the onset as well as in the coda of certain English syllables. Results also show that the major reason for declusterization processes is the mother tongue influence. In order to overcome such difficulties, this paper suggests a new approach for teaching and learning L2 syllable structure system.

Secondly, it focuses on the errors committed in grammar by analyzing it psycholinguistically.


This study aims at:

1. Identifying classifying, and analyzing errors of insertion made by Arab learners of English in the area of pronunciation,
2. Finding out the possible sources of these errors, and
3. Suggesting teaching procedures that help teachers and students overcome the areas of difficulty.


The ultimate goal of most second language learners is to attain native like fluency. They want to be indistinguishable from native speakers. However, for many learners, this dream has remained a dream and has not come true especially in the area of pronunciation as native speakers usually identify them as non-native speakers because of their accent. A large number of second language learners believe that the main difficulty they encounter when speaking the second language is pronunciation and consider this difficulty as the main source for their communication problems.

English occupies a high status among world international languages, as it has become the language of diplomacy, trade, communication, technology and business. Thus, learning English provides the person with an advantage as an active participant in today’s world, opening new horizons to a better future.

English as an international language has been taught in almost all countries in the world. In Arab countries English is a foreign language which is a compulsory subject to be taught in all schools from lower secondary to upper secondary schools. Even in some elementary schools, English is offered as an elective subject. However, we have seen that the proficiency in English of secondary school graduates still creates disappointment among teachers themselves as well as parents. The unsatisfying quality of English in Arab countries of course is related to different variables.

I have tried to shed light on one of these variables here .That is to say, the causes behind the errors committed in pronunciation and grammar in English language by the Arab learners.

The importance of investigating pronunciation and grammar difficulties stems from the fact that, it stands as an obstacle in communication. However, it is necessary, in this research, to find out why the aforesaid learners face difficulty in the acquisition of the phonological system and grammatical structure of any non-native language (English).


Errors in pronunciation of any non-native speaker of any language is mostly impeded by the influence of mother tongue .However, the Arabic and English phonological systems vary extensively, not only in the range of sounds used, but also in the relative importance of vowels and consonants in expressing meaning. While English has 22 vowels and diphthongs to 24 consonants, Arabic has only eight vowels and diphthongs to 32 consonants.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Consonant Clusters

English has far more consonant clusters than Arabic. Some initial two-segment clusters which Arabic does not have corresponding equivalents to, include: pr, pl, gr, thr, thw, sp. The three-segment initial consonant clusters are entirely absent in Arabic, e.g., clusters such as spr, skr, str, spl. Faced with the challenge of such consonant clusters, Arabic speakers often insert short vowels in order to "assist" pronunciation in the following manner:

'perice' or 'pirice' for price

'ispring' or 'sipring' for spring

The range of consonant clusters appearing at the end of words is also much smaller in Arabic. In dramatic contrast to English, which has 78 three-segment clusters and fourteen four-segment clusters occurring at the end of words, Arabic has none. Again, faced with such terminal clusters, Arabic speakers tend to insert short vowels to assist pronunciation:

'arrangid' for arranged

'monthiz' for months

'nexist' for next or ‘sikas’ for six

‘lookas’ for looks


In all the following English monosyllabic words, the onset consists of three consonants; actually, such combinations pose difficulties for Arab learners of English as their native dialect does not allow clusters of the type CCC initially. As a result, they insert the high front short vowel /ɪ/ which declusterizes the clusters to ease their pronunciation. What can be inferred here is that insertion is a rule governed process as all participants insert the above vowel after the first member of the consonant cluster.

1. /sɪblʃ/ splash

2. /sɪblɪ:n/ spleen

3. /sɪkrɪ:n/ screen

4. /sɪbraɪt/ sprite

5. /sɪtreɪn/ strain

6. /sɪkrp/ scrap

7. /sɪtreɪt/ straight

8. /sɪpreɪ/ spray

Teachers often encounter examples of such pronunciations, which also can carry over into the spelling of such English words by students whose mother tongue is Arabic.

Influence of English Spelling on Pronunciation

While there are no similarities between the Arabic and English writing systems, Arabic spelling within its own system is simple and virtually phonetic. Letters stand directly for their sounds. Arabic speakers attempt, therefore, to pronounce English words using the same phonetic methodology. Add to this the salience of consonants in Arabic and you get severe pronunciation problems caused by the influence of the written form:

'istobbid' for stopped (the 'p' sound does not exist in Arabic)
'forigen' for foreign

Rhythm and Stress

Arabic speakers can have problems grasping the unpredictable nature of English word stress since Arabic is a stress-timed language. In stark contrast with English, word stress in Arabic is predictable and regular. The idea that stress can alter meaning, as in con'vict (verb) and 'convict (noun) is utterly foreign. Arabic words that are spelled identically often appear, and mean completely different things, but will have dissimilar short vowels which count as sounds and change the meaning altogether.

Phrase and sentence rhythms are similar in both Arabic and English languages, and cause few problems. Primary stresses occur more frequently in Arabic while unstressed syllables are pronounced more clearly. As with English, the unstressed syllable has neutral vowels, but such vowels are not 'swallowed' as in English. Arabs reading English often avoid contracted forms and elisions, and read with a rather heavy staccato rhythm.


Intonation patterns in Arabic are similar to English in contour and meaning. However, Arabic speakers use rising tones rather than structural markers to denote questions, suggestions and offers far more frequently than English-speakers, and this practice is often carried over into the spoken English of Arabic speakers.

When reading aloud however, as opposed to talking, the Arabic speaker tends to intone or chant, reducing intonation to a low fall at the ends of phrases and sentences. Speech making, news reading and religious recitation are all quite different in rhythm and intonation from normal speech. Consequently, Arabic speakers called on to read aloud in front of a group may produce a very unnatural recitation because they see the process of formal reading as distinct from everyday speech.


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Difficulties of the English Language for Arabic People
A Psycholinguistic Approach
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Arab, English, Arabic, Errors, Difficulties, language, psycholinguistic
Quote paper
Sulaiman Mohammed (Author), 2009, Difficulties of the English Language for Arabic People, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/385387


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