Perceptions of English Segmental Phonemes by Ethiopian EFL Learners Speaking Amharic as a First Language

  • Anegagregn Gashaw Assistant professor in the Department of English Language and Literature in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities at Wollo University
Keywords: phonological interference, speech perception, segmental phonemes, interlanguage, pronunciation learning, Amharic native speakers


This study investigated native Amharic speaking Ethiopian EFLlearners’ detection and recognition of English segmental phonemes, which areforeign to their first language Amharic, and yet that are used distinctively andfunctionally in the target language input. The study targeted English vowels andconsonants tentatively predicted as contrastive based on problem areas ofEnglish pronunciation for Amharic speaking learners. These are short vowels /æ, ʌ, ə, ɒ/; long vowels /i:, a:, ɔ:, u:, ɜ:/; diphthongs /eɪ, aɪ, ɔɪ, aʊ, əʊ, ɪa, eə,ʊə/; and consonants /, ð/. Sixty undergraduate students who speak Amharic as native language participated in this study by completing forced auditory tasksafter listening to audio stimuli that presented target sounds in minimal pairs.The result showed that overall, English segmental phonemes that are foreign tothe native language Amharic still exert severe perceptual difficulty for thelearners even after more than twelve years of learning English. The findingsalso considered communication constraints that could stem from the learners’difficulty to distinguish foreign English phonemes, and to make meaning out ofthem in spoken English. This was evident in the learners’ considerable failure torecognize the most familiar words in English when presented with Englishsegmental phonemes. Findings of this study support particular attention andfocus in EFL teaching on English pronunciation aspects which are foreign tothe learners’ native language, the importance of balancing perceptual as wellas productive skills, and the need for developing L1-based, and empiricallyinformed pronunciation syllabus for Ethiopian learners rather than usinggeneric and intuitively produced pronunciation training materials.


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