Human beings are social creatures and their interactions depend on how well they are able to communicate. Therefore, the role of language in human life cannot be underestimated. It helps people understand their environment and be able to impact on it. They are able to learn new languages, both native and foreign, through a series of exposures and experiences in language acquisition circumstances. They do so by experiencing both meta-cognitive and cognitive advancements through a process of collecting, storing, evaluating and assessing information environment. For the case of adult learners, they have to learn complexities and details of the second language with respect to meaning and the society in which it’s used. However, children employ simple means in learning new language ones exposed. They learn by paying attention to the rhythm of specific words in plain utterances.
Phonology refers to a branch of linguistic, whose purpose relates to sound systems in a specific language. It comprises of phonetic elements put in phonological forms of sensible entities of a language. Whereas phonology describes how sound function in different languages or within a particular language, phonetics refers to perception and physical production of sounds in speech. Additionally, phonology is also concerned with the alternation of sound, intonation, stress, syllable structure and accent. For example, it explains the different pronunciation of sound /t/ in words like: stop, tune, but, gate etc. Several research have been conducted in English acquisition to provide an understanding of how a new language learner can have a native-like accent and achievements in his second language. The researches have also focused on how the teachers can contribute to better pronunciation in the second language for the aspiring students. The process, by which a language acquirer is able to understand and identify patterns and system of speech sound, is called phonological awareness. On the other hand, phonetic awareness relates to the understanding of articulatory structures or physical sounds of the new language. Pronunciation should be emphasized on in early stages of the new language acquisition. This is because it becomes practically difficult to rectify an already fossilized language patterns. It is important to be clear, on the part of the teacher, on the role that pronunciation plays in proficiency of the second language. This enables the new learner to speak in proficient articulation and in a native like standard at a later stage. Unfortunately, there have been tendencies of emphasis, being placed on other areas of linguistic studies such as reading, grammar and spelling. Course planners and school curriculum rarely provides for pronunciation class tasks for the beginners, but introduce it at a later stage. Therefore, to set things right, there has always been the need to change the perception of learners and teachers to put emphasis on understanding pronunciation to form a strong basis. Derwing and Murray (1990s) have contributed much on how to have proper pronunciation, fluency and language comprehensibility by a mature English learner.
Most of the times, the young English learners are not conversant with the rules that guide and govern the phonetics and phonology of their colleagues: English speakers. In their interactions, they learn how to identify real words and try to formulate other words. Instead, they should be able to understand language instruction through the rules, which govern the phonetics and phonology of English. This is because phonology and phonetics are complicated, and language phonetics does not necessarily provide the phonology of it. This results to difficulties in differentiating and pronouncing words accurately.
The empirical study, conducted by Goswami and Bryant (1990), confirms that new language learners are able to differentiate sound variations in words. In their quest on the role of phonological awareness in English language, they realized that children were conversant with rhyme and onset, when learning to decode (Goswami & Bryant, 1990). Similar findings were provided by David J. Chard and Shirley V. Dickson (1999). They also provided that subdivision of language into units of sound manipulations delivers varying information of word awareness. This is what children targeted to be able to decode the structures of sounds in a language (Aitchison, 2003). In their analysis, manipulation of sound consisted of adding, substitution, deletion and adding letters and words to come up with new ones.
Other contribution in language awareness were made by McMahon (2002), who asserts that human beings are Homo Loquens (speaking man), rather than Homo Sapiens as noted by Carl Linnaeus. In her discussion about speech and language, she points human being to be the only creature with the ability to communicate by use of speech. She also notes that there are many sounds that are used and can form a complex pattern if linked. She emphasized on the need to study phonology and phonetics to develop an insight on how patterns of language and sounds are combined by English dialects and accents. This helps to describe what the speaker and hearer need to know, when developing mastery of language (Archibald, 2009). A research by national Research Council of Sweden (1998) confirms that the most essential area of a new language acquisition is the development of strong basic learning skills. These include the letter sequence and specific letters. They relate to the ability of the language leaner to differentiate letter-sound correlation and enable them to connect the internal structure of the words. The second contribution of the report is the need to have skills of mixing and using sounds (phonemes). This enables the learners to develop accurate pronunciation of words in a language (Fien, 2008).
English speakers experience and exposure to the language through other native speakers help them recognize phonetics and consequently, with time they learn texts, affixes and stems of words. They are later able to create an orientation base for real words, while doing away with pseudo-words. Native speaker are impulsively conversant and capable of developing new structures to their learning capabilities both semantically and phonetically. This enables them to use the language at a more complex level by understanding and recognizing sounds, structures and written nature of their language (Baker, 1982). People, who learn English as second language, do not necessarily use similar strategies as those, used by the native speakers. To learn phonetic, phoneme patterns and semantic, the language has to be deliberately taught in schools through written texts, grammar and vocabularies. To become a proficient speaker, the new learners must practice active speaking and listening to enable them develop more complex construct and contents as native would do. For those, who are learning English as the second language, the challenge they face relates to the construction and nature of the first language. There are others, who find it simple to learn, while others find it difficult. Barriers in learning the second language may arise from the similarity of the two languages, which basically affect the pronunciations (Lightboewn & Spanda, 2006). Difference in the language structures produces different phoneme combinations. For example, the Sinotibetan language, Chinese, is structured using characters that are in form of images instead of letters. Languages that make use of alphabets have unique phonetic sound and clusters that do not correlate with the second language. This makes people discouraged to make use of the new language basically because of the low vocabulary levels and difficulties in pronunciation.
To have second language learners succeed, there is a need to establish techniques of learning and teaching that facilitate effective physical and mental language. As provided by Goswami and Bryant, every person has some basic phonological awareness, developed from their first language. Among children, it occurs in the development levels: Syllables, Phonemes and Onset-Rhyme. This provides a base for any other subsequent language acquisition. Techniques that have been used to enable children learn new language include use of songs and subdivision of words into elements that make use of Rhyme and Onset. This, added to the encouragement of children to frequently use the language, makes it easier for them to improve their speech.
As noted, effective teaching of the new language requires use of syllable technique. English words may be monosyllabic e.g. ‘beat’, or even consist more than one syllable e.g. ‘delete’. However, this is only appropriate to adult learners. In case of children, the words should be even broken further into smaller units (Lecercle, 1994). Adults make use of dictionaries, which provides phonetic and grammatical form of words, to understand the pronunciation of words and their meaning. The challenge that learners face, however, is that some of them are unable to use the dictionaries accordingly. Other challenges include the differences that may exist between the syllables used and the pronunciation of the word. An example of this is homonyms e.g. sea and see, bow and bough among others. Phonemes refers to the smallest unit that a word can be broken into e.g. c-a-t. Phonemes offer an alternative means to teaching and learning English. They are primarily appropriate for children. Another technique that may provide substantial contribution in English language acquisition relates to Onset-Rhyme. This refers an intermediary component between syllables and phonemes. For example, a monosyllable word such as ‘beat’ may be divided into ‘b’ and ‘eat’- b/ eat. This kind of subdivision is very important because it helps improve pronunciation.