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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2005

Автор: Смит Р.

The teaching of pronunciation in EFL classes has not always been as high a priority as other aspects of teaching English. In the past in most countries, it did not really matter if the sounds of the new language were authentically produced, since any contact with the foreign culture was most likely very limited. Today, oral communication has become much more important because of the ever expanding opportunities for face-to-face contact with native speakers. World-wide communication is now available to even the remotest parts of the world.

This is especially true in the country of Kazakhstan. The fall of Communism brought many changes to the former Soviet Republic, including the freedom and openness to previously forbidden contacts with the outside world. The new found freedom has provided renewed expressions of culture, heritage and language. While the resurgence of Kazakhstan nationalism grows, there is also a need for them to operate within the world community.

Teaching English in Kazakhstan can be both rewarding and challenging. This article presents the challenges of teaching English phonology in this relatively new republic.

An analysis of the Russian and Kazakh languages is discussed to provide clues for points of needed attention in pronunciation teaching. This contrastive analysis reveals areas of differences between English and these two very different languages and shows the most likely trouble areas the students will encounter related to pronunciation.

Finally, a preliminary evaluation will be made as to what are the best approaches to teaching pronunciation in Kazakhstan. It is assumed that the teaching will be done in institutions of higher learning and in training classes for teachers of English. It is the ultimate goal of this article to give general and practical insights and suggestions to effectively and efficiently teach phonology in Kazakhstan.

Analysis of the Russian and Kazakh Languages

“Linguists have found that if they analyze and study the phonological system of a language that they are teaching and compare it to the native language of the students, they are able to teach the foreign language more effectively. Contrastive analysis allows them to focus on the ways in which the phonological systems of the two languages differ” (Edwards and Shriberg, 1983:8).

The situation in Kazakhstan is such that both the Kazakh and Russian languages would need to be analyzed, since, in 1995, the new constitution stipulated Kazakh and Russian as state languages (Olcott, 1987:362).

Phonological Analysis of the Russian Language

Russian is an Indo-European language and belongs to the Slavonic branch of that family. It is written in the Cyrillic alphabet, using 23 consonants and 10 vowels. Two of the consonants “ъ” and “ь” (hard and soft sign) do not indicate any sound. They show how to pronounce the preceding or the following letter.

The seven Russian vowel sounds are all similar to English vowel sounds, with the exception of “ы”. It should be noted that the Russian vowel sounds are pronounced more open than in English. Most Russian consonants are pronounced slightly more forward than in English. For example, the sounds [t] and [d] are dental and [s] and [z] are created by touching the tongue to the top edge of the lower teeth. One Russian consonant is not formed in English, щ, and is pronounced [∫t∫] as in “fresh cheese”. There are two groupings of consonant sounds in Russian, often known as “hard” and “soft”. The “hard” sound is the normal formation, while the “soft” sound is pronounced as a palatalized velar, with a raised tongue position. English approximation examples are talk and costume; body and beauty.

In Russian there are no consistent rules for stress patterns and, especially, there is no secondary stress. Vowels are pronounced differently depending on their relationship to the stressed syllable. Vowels in stressed syllables are pronounced as the basic vowel sound. In unstressed syllables, they may have altered pronunciations depending on their position in the word. The vowel “й” is used only with other vowels to form a diphthong. It is like the English “y” at the end of words such as boy, guy or may.

Over half of the Russian consonants can be divided into voiceless and voiced pairs. The consonants that do change in phonemic assimilations are the same as those found in English (digs = [digz] not [digs]). It is rare to find double consonants in Russian and there are only three consonant clusters, in which the middle letter is silent.

Below is a basic phonological chart of Russian consonants and vowels.

Consonants: stops : p, b, t, d, k,g > affricates : ts, t∫

fricatives : f, v, s, z, ∫>, з,> x nasals : m, n

lateral and flaps : l, r semi-vowel : y

Vowels: hard: iy, e, a, o, u soft: I, e, ya, yo, yu

The two general distinguishing features between Russian and English are the absence of English short and long vowel differences and the basic absence of diphthongs in Russian. Stress and rhythm patterns also cause difficulty. Vowels that can be problematic are (Swan and Smith, 1987:118):

1. The sound /зr/, which is not found in Russian, causes Russian learners of English the greatest difficulty. They often substitute the Russian sound /э/ or /o/. Particularly troublesome words are words beginning with w, such as work, warm, worth, worse.

2. /o/ tends to be replaced by the more frontal Russian /a/ in unstressed syllables.

3. /æ/ tends to be replaced by a more close sound resembling /e/, leading to confusion between pairs such as sat and set.

4. The second part of diphthongs, and the second and third parts of triphthongs tend to be ‘over-pronounced’.

5. The sound /ɔ/ is often replaced by the more frontal Russian /o/ or diphthongized into /oƱ.an"'>6. In general, long vowels are pronounced insufficiently tense, which makes them sound similar to short vowels.Field may be pronounced like filled, for example, or seat like sit.

7. The difference in the length of long vowels, depending on the final consonant (compare pea, peal and peat) is also difficult to master.

8. /α/ is often pronounced as a ‘glide’, almost like /wα/.

The most difficult consonant sounds for Russians are /θ/, /ð/, /ŋ/ and /w/. Also, the sounds /t/, /d/, /l/ and /n/ are formed differently by Russians, giving them a strong foreign sound. Russians usually devoice /b/, /d/ and /g/ in final voiced positions, causing mispronunciation. When /p/, /k/ and /t/ are at the beginning of words, Russians often mispronounce these sounds. The sound /h/ is replaced by a rougher sound like ch in loch. They often soften many consonants before front vowels and replace the dark /ł/ with the clear /l/.Consonant clusters that are especially challenging are /s/ + /θ/, /ð / + /z/ and /θ/ + /s/. Other problems include pronouncing /t/, /d/, /s/, /z/ followed by /y/; exploding the first plosive in a combination of two plosive consonants; inserting the sound /ә/ in the combination /tl/, /dl/, /tn/ and /dw/; and pronouncing the initial clusters /tw/, /tr/, /pr/, /dr/ and /br/.

Russians tend to leave out secondary stresses in larger English words and often have difficulty with sentence rhythm. As to intonation, they usually have a fall at the end of yes/no questions, often are confused by tag questions and end with a rise on alternative questions.

Phonological Analysis of the Kazakh Language

The Kazakh language is part of the Nogai-Kipchak subgroup of the north-eastern Turkic languages. It was first written in the 1860s, using Arabic script. In 1929, the Latin script was introduced. In1940, Stalin decided to unify the written materials of the Central Asian republics with those of the Slavic rulers. A modified form of Cyrillic was introduced.

The Kazakh alphabet has 42 letters. Extra letters were added to the Cyrillic alphabet for those sounds not existing in the Russian language.

There are nine vowels which are generally pronounced short. Vowels are pronounced long when they follow the consonant. The vowels can be classified as follows:

Front Rounded: θ, ү Back Rounded: o,ұ

Middle:> ә

Front Unrounded>: e, i Back Unrounded: a, <>I

Kazakh and other Turkic languages are closely related to one another and there is a high degree of mutual intelligibility among them. All Turkic languages abide by the Law of Vowel Harmony. This law demands that the first vowel of a word determines the character of the remaining vowels. For example, if the first vowel is back, the remaining vowels are back also. Therefore, Kazakh words either contain front or back vowels. Borrowed foreign words may use both front and back vowels. In addition, there are glides “и” (iy), “ю” (yu), “й” (y) and “y” (w). The glides “й” and “y” are also treated as consonants. Kazakh has diphthongs that can either be written with two graphemes as they are pronounced, or with three graphemes.

Of the remaining letters of the Kazakh alphabet, 25 are consonants, and they can be divided as follows:

stops: p, b, t, d, k, g, q affricates: ts, t∫>/dз

fricatives: f, v, s, z, ∫>, з>, x,γ,> h nasals: m, n, ŋ

lateral & flaps: l, r semi-vowels: w, y

Consonant assimilation does occur with one of the consonant sounds being either partially or totally made similar to the other consonant. This mainly occurs when adding suffixes with initial consonants to stems with final consonants. There is also a general voicing of “к/қ” (k/q) to “г /ғ” (g/gh).

With the possible exception of Russian and English loan words, stress or accent falls on the final syllable. Adding an affix shifts the stress to the new syllable.

Although Swan and Smith (1987:158-161) do not specifically discuss the Kazakh language, they present important issues to consider for Turkish learners of English. A teacher in Kazakhstan would be wise to be aware of these Turkish language issues since Kazakh is a Turkic language.

Vowels that would need attention include /iy/, /e/, /æ/, ɔ/, /uw/, and /ә/. The diphthongs /ey/, /ay/ and /ɔy/ in final positions; /eә/; and /әƱ/> also cause difficulty. When /I/ and /ә/ come between “s”and a consonant, they may become voiceless or even disappear.

Consonants to be aware of when teaching Kazakh speakers include:

1. /θ/ and /ð

2. /b/, /d/, /dз/ and /g/ in final positions

3. /v/ vs. /w/

4. distinction between dark /ł/ and clear /l/

5. when /p/, /b/, /m/, /f/ and /v/ are followed by /æ/ or /a/

6. final /m/, /n/ and /l/

It is also important to watch for initial consonant clusters and clusters of more than three consonants. When speaking English, the Kazakh learners will tend to insert vowels after the first consonant.

Kazakh speakers will have difficulty with English rhythm patterns and with word stress. The Kazakh wh- questions tend to vary from the English wh- questions. Pitches after repeated or secondary material in English are foreign to Kazakh speakers, as is the fall-rise pattern in warnings or sentences of incompleteness.

Suggestions of Approaches and Techniques Teach Phonology in Kazakhstan

The scope of this paper assumes the learners to be intermediate level students in institutions of higher learning or to be national teachers of English. The students’ goals will relate to their future professions of teaching or translating. They will need to communicate effectively by understanding and being understood. The teachers’ goals would include learning methods of teaching pronunciation, principles of English phonology and patterns for practical use in the classroom.

Important issues to initially consider are the teaching methods familiar to the students and teachers and the seemingly limited emphasis on pronunciation teaching in the past. Emphasis should be placed on pronunciation in order to best be understood, rather than on sounding native-like. Helping these learners to understand the need for good pronunciation should be made easier by the fact that they are now able to actually interact with native speakers.

Since time allowed for pronunciation teaching is most likely limited, it would be best to initially focus on the most crucial issues of pronunciation for the learners. Dickerson (1981:44-45) sets forth general objectives to pronunciation teaching. She suggests the use of perception, production, and prediction skills. Perception skills help to discriminate English phonemes and understand spoken English. Production skills allow the learner to be understood by native speakers and prediction skills help the learner determine probable pronunciation of both segmentals and suprasegmentals.

Because the learners already have a good grasp of the English language and pronunciation, it would be best to concentrate on their needed areas of improvement. In teaching the segmentals, it would be advisable to first give a general overview of the consonant and vowel sounds and symbols. Having a native speaker as a teacher should help to correct any basic pronunciation mistakes that are made with sounds that are similar in English and their native language. More time should be spent on those sounds that differ in English and the two local languages. A first priority would be those sounds that are difficult for both Russians and Kazakhs. These sounds include (Nilsen & Nilsen, 1971):

/iy/ vs. /i/

/p/ vs. /b/

/æ/ vs. /a/

/a/ vs. /ɔ>/

/ð/ vs. /θ/

/ә>/ vs. /a/

/v/ vs. /z/

/ð/ vs. /d/

/w/ vs. /hw/

/e/ vs. /æ/

/p/ vs. /f/

/w/ vs. /ŋ>/

As time permits, the following sounds should be practiced:

For Russian Speakers

For Kazakh Speakers

/m/ vs. /ŋ>/

/ð/ vs. /z/

/v/ vs. /ð/

/ey/ vs. /e/

/w/ vs. /v/

/θ/ vs. /s/

/w/ vs. /r/


/u/ vs. /uw/

/a/ vs. /aw/

/hw/ vs. /h/

/dз>/ vs. /з>/

/a/ vs. /ow/

/f/ vs. /θ/

At the same time, consideration should be given to the functional load of these sounds in spoken English (Catford, 1987:89-90). The more often the sound is used in English and the more difficult the sound is to pronounce for the learner, the higher the priority should be for practice of this sound. Special attention should also be given to diphthongs and consonant clusters that are considered difficult to Russians and Kazakhs.

For the national teachers, it would be especially beneficial for them to have a basic working knowledge of places and manners of articulation and voiced vs. voiceless issues. Vowel height, position of the tongue, lip rounding and tenseness vs. laxness should also be taught to help the teachers better grasp pronunciation teaching.

Teaching the segmentals is important, but teaching the suprasegmentals would be of greater benefit in helping the learners reach their goals. For communication to be effective, the suprasegmentals must be practiced because they play a primary role in natural speech. Emphasizing the suprasegmentals provides a means to transfer the speech to “real-life” situations and allows for the capability to more accurately predict certain sounds.

Important topics to consider in teaching the suprasegmentals include:

1. Individual word stress, sentence stress and construction stress issues are key for both Russian and Kazakh learners of English. Russians tend to leave out secondary stress in longer English words and Kazakhs usually put all stresses on the last syllable. Key English stress rules should be taught.

2. English rhythm patterns are also difficult for these learners. Memorization of poems, songs and dialogues are familiar methods of learning in Kazakhstan, so memory work and the use of jazz chants (Graham, 1978) would work well in this situation.

3. Intonation should be addressed with special attention to yes/no questions, tag questions, alternative questions, wh- questions and fall-rise patterns in warning and sentences of incompleteness.

4. Studying English natural speech phenomena would also help the students better understand native speakers. Lessons on linking, assimilation, deleting and reduction of English words and phrases should be included in the curriculum. Listening, modeling and creative exercises would be important in teaching the natives speech phenomena.

5. When taught accurately and thoroughly, all of the above elements can help the learners better predict pronunciation (Dickerson, 1994:19-35). This ability to predict will aid them long after completing the class work and will assist them in progressing toward their professional goals.

The learners will already be familiar with certain teaching and learning techniques that can readily be used in teaching pronunciation. They have been taught using repetition, sequencing and drills. Repetition will reinforce their learning and sequencing from simple to complex will provide a framework for progress. Excellent pronunciation drills include listening, same/difference, word 1-2-3, yes/no, substitution, transformation and appropriate response. Ear training should come first, followed by production. Recycling of material will also be important.


New freedoms in the former Soviet Union have brought with it a gradual openness to change in all aspects of life. Teaching English in Kazakhstan would require high-quality instruction, culturally appropriate lessons, a creative imagination and an adventuresome and flexible spirit. An analysis of both the Russian and Kazakh languages and a comparison of these to English provide a basis for beginning to teach pronunciation in Kazakhstan.

Only after understanding the above mentioned issues can one develop a preliminary approach to teaching pronunciation in Kazakhstan.


1. Catford, J.C.: “Phonetics and the Teaching of Pronunciation.” Current Perspectives on Pronunciation: Practice Anchored in Theory, J. Morely (ed.). Washington DC: TESOL, 1987.

2. Dickerson, Lonna: “Evaluating, Selecting and Adapting Pronunciation Textbooks: Guidelines for ESL/EFL Teachers.”TESL Studies, 4, 1981.

3. Dickerson, Wayne: “Empowering Students with Predictive Skills.” Pronunciation Pedagogy and Theory: New Views, New Directions. J. Morley (ed.). Washington DC: TESOL, 1994.

4. Graham, Carolyn: Jazz Chants. New Roman"'>: Oxford University Press, 1978.

5. Edwards, Mary Louise, and Lawrence D. Shriberg: Phonology: Applications in Communicative Disorder. San Diego: College-Hill Press, Inc., 1983.

6. Nilsen, Don, and Alleen P. Nilsen: Pronunciation Contrasts in English. Englewood Cliffs: Regents Prentice Hall, 1973.

7. Olcott, Martha Brill: The Kazakhs. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987.

8. Swan, Michael, and Bernard Smith: Learner English. A Teacher’s Guide to Interference and Other Problems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2005

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