Date of Award

8-1-2013

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

First Advisor

Baertsch, Karen

Abstract

ABSTRACT Language teachers are often asked, `Will I ever be able to sound like a native?'. Through research, experience, and long-term teaching, the answer is almost always, `If you did not learn the language as a child, then it is almost impossible to sound like a native.' Many studies have contributed to the idea that achieving the native accent as an adult is almost impossible no matter how long one has been exposed to the target language. In an attempt to find the effects of overcoming the foreign accent through exposure to the target language, the present study compares two groups of adult speakers of Arabic from Saudi Arabia learning English as a second language. The study focuses on difficulties associated with producing the Alveolar lateral approximant /l/ and it two allophones, the light [l] and the dark [l], in three different positions: initial, intervocalic and final. The English /l/ is very similar to the Arabic /l/; however, their distributions within the two languages are different. These differences cause problems among speakers of Arabic in producing the correct sound when speaking English. The two groups were chosen based on their length of exposure to the target language; the first group had little exposure to it while the second group had three or more years of exposure. After analyzing the data and comparing the results of the two groups, it can be seen that although there was no significance in the overall results, the production of the dark [l] in final position was close to significance. This suggests that the participants, who have been exposed to the target language for some time, have begun to realize the difference between both /l/s and are thus beginning to apply the English /l/ to their pronunciation when speaking English. In addition, when comparing the errors in both groups, the results suggest that most of the learners who had little exposure to the language were transferring the /l/ from their first language; while those who had three years or more exposure, were resulting to other factors related to interlanguage such as: hypercorrection, attitudes and high levels of motivation to acquire the native speakers' accent. As for the comparison of both the dark and the light /l/ in all three positions, the analysis presented here suggests that Arabic speakers learning English as a second language, regardless of their length of exposure, have more difficulty in producing the dark [l] in its correct positions than the light [l]. Similarly, Arabic speakers prefer to produce the light [l] in the intervocalic position. The results of this study are beneficial to both teachers and learners in ESL settings. If teachers and learners familiarize themselves with the production of the dark [l] in the English language, the possibilities of overcoming this barrier to accented speech may still be regarded as an achievable goal.

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