Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

I wrote this as part of the IH Certificate in Advanced Methodology course which I’ve been following this year. It was partly gleaned from my own experience, and partly from this excellent piece of work conducted at the Pedagogical Faculty at the university in Ceske Budejovice. The only scientific research that went into it was done by the people at the university, and not by me!

Czech is one of the languages which does not appear in Micheal Swan’s excellent Learner English, which details not only pronunciation problems, but also grammar and vocabulary errors, for speakers from a variety of language backgrounds.

I hope you find it useful! (Please let me know if any of the phonetic symbols don’t show up properly and I’ll attach a pdf version too)

 

1.     Segmental

1.1.  Vowel Sounds

1.1.1.     Czech only has 5 vowel phonemes, compared to 20 in English. As Czech has a direct link between spelling and pronunciation, this can cause problems for speakers when they do not know which vowel sound to use in a particular English word.

1.1.2.     In Czech all syllables are pronounced equally. All vowels are strong and no equivalent to the English schwa /ə/ exists.

1.1.3.     Czech speakers find it hard to differentiate between the sounds /æ/, /e/ and /ʌ/, in pairs such as bad/bed, cap/cup

 

1.2.  Consonant sounds

1.2.1.     Neither pronunciation of the morpheme ‘th’ (/ð/, /θ/) exists in Czech. Learners have a tendency to replace them with similar sounds which do not involve putting the tongue between the teeth, namely /d/ or /dz/ for /ð/ and /f/ or /s/ for /θ/.

1.2.2.     /w/ does not exist in Czech. Learners often replace it with /v/. They sometimes also use /w/ in place of /v/.

1.2.3.     /r/ is pronounced in the middle and at the end of words, where it should only be pronounced at the beginning. Czechs also sometimes roll the /r/ sound, which is not necessary in English. Students do not use it to lengthen the preceding vowel sound (see 1.3.2.2).

1.2.4.     /ŋ/, /g/, /k/: these phonemes are most often confused at the end of a word ending in -ing (thing/think, sing/sink). The /g/ can be lost or pronounced as /k/.

1.2.5.     Voiceless /s/ and voiced /z/ are often confused, such as bus/buzz.

1.2.6.     ‘ch’ exists as a single phoneme /x/ in Czech. Learners transfer this to English, especially to replace /k/ in words such as chaos.

1.2.7.     The phonemes /p/, /t/ and /k/ at the beginning of a word are often not aspirated by Czech speakers of English. Alternatively, they over-aspirate the same phonemes in mid- and final positions in a word.

 

1.3.  Other

1.3.1.     All Czech words are stressed on the first syllable. This is often transferred to English.

1.3.2.     The differences between English spelling and pronunciation cause the following problems:

1.3.2.1.         incorrect choice of vowel sound (see 1.1.1)

1.3.2.2.         confusion when V+C= vowel sound e.g. ‘er’ in father = /ə/ not /ɜr/, ‘al’ in calm = /a:/ not /æl/

1.3.2.3.         pronunciation of silent letters, such as /b/ in bomb

1.3.2.4.         a difficulty in predicting the pronunciation of previously unseen words

 

2.     Suprasegmental

2.1.  Czech is a syllable-timed language, whereas English is stress-timed. Czech speakers of English therefore find it difficult to use weak forms of common words such as of, a, can. They tend to place equal stress on all the words in a sentence. This is further confused when contrastive stress is introduced to students and they have to decide which stress pattern to choose.

2.2.  There is a much wider range of intonation patterns in English than in Czech. This can lead to Czech English sounding ‘flat’ to a native speaker.

2.3.  Linking words and sounds through assimilation and elision is much more common in English than in Czech.

 

Reference (consulted 11 May 2011)

-, (1997/1998), ‘Most common pronunciation problems of Czech speakers of English’, Pedegogical Faculty JU , Cesky Budejovice, http://eamos.pf.jcu.cz/amos/kat_ang/externi/kat_ang_2834/Nejbeznejsi_vyslovnostni_problemy_ceskych_mluvcich.pdf

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Comments on: "Pronunciation problems for Czech speakers of English" (17)

  1. Thank-you this is just what I’ve been looking for!

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  2. Thank you! I live by ‘Learner English’ and was stumped when I discovered it didn’t cover Czech speakers! This was very useful and appreciated. 🙂

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  3. Reblogged this on Elsa Abroad and commented:
    Thank you for summarizing this Ms. Millin! It’s exactly what I’m dealing with in my classroom.

    Like

  4. Hi Sandy, thanks for your great list. I’m doing a presentation on Czech pron for my Trinity Diploma course this afternoon. I’ve found that Czech students also need help with word stress because Czech always places a slight emphasis on the first syllable of each word.

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  5. Nick ralph said:

    Helpful article. I am teaching slovakian students at present. Thanks

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  6. Hi, thank you for the useful article. I am Czech and most of the challenges you described are my actual troubles in English. I also found a new useful video regarding the Czech accent, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbGA680ssWc&feature=share Please keep posting!

    Like

  7. Mohammad said:

    Great job Sandy!
    It was very helpful for me in analysing the difficulties and highlighting the differences that face Czech learners of English. It is one of the requirements of the CELTA Course, that is, to choose one of the learners and interview him/her in order to be aware of those difficulties to help him/her after you analyse the data.
    Million thanks Sandy and best wishes…

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  8. Great description. As I’m Czech, let me add that in fact the language has more vowel sounds, after the obvious a, e, i, o, u there are: au (close to “cOUnt), ou (like in nO). Then there are incorrect vowel which are commonly used like: “an” in the word “banka” (sounds like French “on” or Portuguese “ã”), ing or ong in the word ping-pong (people say pin pon via nose). Another problem is that in English everybody has to remember the spelling and prononciation; in Czech the pronounciation is in 99% regular and people don’t need to know how to spel the word as it is not necessity. The problems are just some letters like s/z, i/y in some words to remember which one to write.

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  9. Hello.
    The problem with English today, is the fact, Phonetics does NOT teach the correct English sounds. Take the letter “U”, in English it has two sounds, it’s name “U” pronounced just like the word “YOU”, and it’s sound “u” like in the words Cup and Sun.
    The Correct Proper English letter “U” does NOT have the Phonetic sound of “oo”.
    Take the word TUNA, pronounced T YOU NA, in proper English! While with the French/American Phonetics it is pronounced TOONA! Which in fact is NOT English!
    People being taught Phonetics will never be able to pronounce correct proper English words!
    The whole problem comes from the Phonetic rubbish being taught today!
    Phonetics does NOT have paired letter sounds, or syllables.

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    • Dear Martyn,
      I think you’re perhaps confusing phonetics, which are symbols based on the International Phonemic Alphabet and do not change regardless of the language, and phonics, which is the teaching of patterns in sound-spelling relationships as a way of teaching people to read. I don’t think anyone would argue that there is no one-to-one relationship between sounds and spellings in English, but there ąre certainly patterns which can be taught.
      I would also like to dispute your point that there is any such thing as ‘Correct Proper’ English. In any language there are many varieties, and everybody has their own ‘idiolect’ or individual way of speaking. There will inevitably be things that I pronounce differently to you: if you understand what I’m saying and vice versa, we have communicated successfully. Who is to say that one of our pronunciations is correct and the other is wrong? I would strongly recommend that you find out more about the history of the ddevelopment of the English language. Two very accessible ways to do this are through ‘Mother Tongue’ by Bill Bryson, which includes a discussion on the divergence of British and American English, and the History of English podcast, which discusses in detail changes in the language and the etymology of many different words we use today.
      Sandy

      Liked by 1 person

  10. gayle selby said:

    nice work!

    Like

  11. Just doing some initial reading for a presentation on pron at ILC Brno next month, so this was super useful in getting me familiar with some of the problems the local teachers might face. Thanks!

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