Impact of English Orthography on L2 Acquisition

By Sipra, Muhammad Aslam | English Language Teaching, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Impact of English Orthography on L2 Acquisition

Sipra, Muhammad Aslam, English Language Teaching


English language has become unavoidable being a global language in the present era. Whether it is a field of business, technology or education, its significance can't be denied. Thus, majority of the world is learning and speaking English owing to its dire need. Unfortunately, despite staining through different reforms, the orthography of English language failed to become learners' friendly as it seems to be a queer language for the beginners. The present study describes the ways how English orthography becomes impediment for EFL learners. It elucidates how learners in general and Urdu learners of English language in particular, are influenced by its deep orthography. The article reviews the interesting history of English orthography. Moreover, it reveals the phonological relationship between Urdu and English Consonants that causes inferences based on grapheme to phoneme conversion. The study highlights problems posed by English vowels resulting in wrong assumptions by L2 learners from English orthography. It sums up showing the significance of phonological awareness of English spellings to avoid wrong L2 phonology.

Keywords: Orthography, phonological system, inference, L2 acquisition, queer language

1. Introduction

In order to master literacy, one must not only be able to read and write, but to spell as well (McCardle, Chhabra, & Kapinus, 2008). There has been an increase in spelling research in the past years due to the significance of spelling on literacy acquisition (Conrad, 2008). Spelling is "the encoding of linguistic forms into written forms (Perfetti, 1997). Two of the most important processes which spelling relies on are:

a. phonological awareness

b. alphabetic knowledge

Previous research shows that among the best predictors of a child's spelling success is his or her phonological knowledge (Treiman, 2006). In recent times, the topic of English writing system has particularly been addressed by some researchers. Cook (2004) points out that English writing system is connected to our lives in many ways not something that is ancillary to other aspects of language but vitally important to almost everything we do from signing our wills to sending a text message. Cook and Bassetti (2005) while defining writing system say that there are two prominent meanings in writing system:

a. meanings attached to general idea of writing

b. meanings to specific languages

According to Coulmas (1999), a writing system in the first sense is "a set of visible or tactile signs used to represent units of language in a systemic way" and related to the terms of script and orthography. A script is "the graphic form of the units of a writing system", namely its actual physical form-characters. On the other hand, orthography is the set of rules for using a script in a particular language i.e. the English orthography for Roman alphabet like symbol-sound correspondences, capitalization, hyphenation, punctuation, and so on (Coulmas 2003). The second sense of writing system overlaps with orthography by means of referring to the set of rules used in a particular language for spelling, punctuation etc., that is, "the English writing system".

Most of the previous research has focused on English monolinguals. Nevertheless, the literacy acquisition among English second language learners differs from first language learners because they use their knowledge of their LI in learning to read, write, and spell in their second language (Figueredo, 2006).

2. Short Story of English Orthography

The story of English orthography starts with the missionaries who first penned down English as best they could use the Roman alphabet. They made the best of it once they had found extra letters to cope with the sounds they didn't have in Latin, such as th, in both thin and this. The Latin root of English words was a great way to expand vocabulary but most Latin-rooted words entered English usage from French after the Norman Conquest of the 11th century. …

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