EFL university students’ production of English words containing silent letters



This article studies English as a foreign language (EFL) students’ production of English words that contain silent letters. The difficulties faced by Spanish native speakers when pronouncing words with silent letters in English have not been deeply studied. The study was conducted in a Costa Rican public university with 46 EFL students during one semester. Students were recorded while reading a set of given sentences that included silent letters. Then, three raters evaluated students’ pronunciation using a checklist. Data suggests that  1) around one-fourth of students have significant problems with the pronunciation of words with silent letters, 2) particular pronunciation rules prove more challenging for native Spanish speakers, 3) certain words negatively affect students’ performance. These results are consistent with the literature surveyed. Students’ scores suggest that the pronunciation of silent letters has not been adequately approached in pronunciation courses. These results should promote a curricular change where silent letter rules are  progressively and systematically incorporated.

Palabras clave:

silent letters, speech education, language instruction, higher education


Ababneh, I. 2018. English pronunciation errors made by Saudi students. European Scientific Journal, ESJ, 14(2): 244.

Akmajian, A., Farmer A. K., Bickmore L., Demers R. A. & Harnish R. M. (Eds.). 2017. Linguistics: an introduction to language and communication (Seventh edition). Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Baker, A. 2006. Ship or sheep? An intermediate pronunciation course (3rd ed). Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Baker, A. & Goldstein S. 2008. Pronunciation pairs: an introduction to the sounds of English (Ed.). Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. William Charpentier-Jiménez / EFL University Students' production of English words containing silent letters.

Bassetti, B. & Atkinson N. 2015. Effects of orthographic forms on pronunciation in experienced instructed second language learners. Applied Psycholinguistics 36(1): 67–91.

Bishop, M. M. 1986. The complete reference book of phonics and spelling: the abc’s and all their tricks. Michigan: Mott Media.

Bodorík, M. 2017. Teaching English pronunciation by non-native teachers as seen by Slovak teachers. Journal of Language and Cultural Education 5(3): 157–174.

Brown, A. (Ed.). 2018. Silent letters. In A. Brown, Understanding and teaching English spelling. 1st ed.: 107–112. New York. Routledge.

Buss, L. 2016. Beliefs and practices of Brazilian EFL teachers regarding pronunciation. Language Teaching Research 20(5): 619–637.

Cambridge University. English Vocabulary Profile Online - American English [on line]. Disponible en:

https://www.englishprofile.org/american-english [Retrieved 17/07/2020].

Celce-Murcia, M., D. Brinton & J. M. Goodwin. 2010. Teaching pronunciation: a course book and reference guide (2nd ed). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dale, P. & Poms L. 2005. English pronunciation made simple. New York: Longman.

Eide, D. 2012. Uncovering the logic of English: a common-sense approach to reading, spelling, and literacy (2nd ed.). Minnesota: Pedia Learning Inc. Text Inspector. N.D. Retrieved February 8. 2021. From http://www.englishprofile.org/wordlists/text-inspector

Farrah, M. & Halahlah N. 2020. Pronunciation problems among Palestinian English major students in Hebron University. International Journal of Arabic-English Studies 20(1): 203–226.

Gilbert, J. B. 2017. Clear speech: pronunciation and listening comprehension in North American English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gómez, M. & Sánchez T. 2016. English pronunciation for speakers of Spanish: from theory to practice. Journal of Second Language Pronunciation 4(1): 168-172. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter.

Juan-Checa, J.J. 2017. Comparing phonetic difficulties by EFL learners from Spain and Japan. Fòrum de Recerca 22: 451-465.

Matthews, P. H. 2014. The concise Oxford dictionary of linguistics (Third edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mompean, J. A. & Fouz-González J. 2016. Twitter-based EFL pronunciation instruction. Language Learning & Technology 20(1): 166–190.

Pospíšilová, M. 2014. Ability of Czech speakers of English to pronounce words with silent letters. Thesis to obtain a Bachelor in English Teaching.

Ranbom, L. J. & Connine C. M. 2011. Silent letters are activated in spoken word recognition. Language and Cognitive Processes 26(2): 236–261.

Real Academia Española (Ed.). 2014. Diccionario de la lengua española (Vigesimotercera edición, Edición del Tricentenario). Madrid: Real Academia Española.

Real Academia Española & Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española (Eds.). 2009. Nueva gramática de la lengua española. Madrid: Espasa Libros.

Rey, A., Ziegler J. C & Jacobs A. M. 2000. Graphemes are perceptual reading units. Cognition 75(1): 1–12.

Sánchez, R. & López I. 2014. Common errors made by Spanish graduate students to be avoided at B1 English oral exams. Encuentro 23: 128-141.

Shariatmadari, D. 2020. Don’t believe a word: the surprising truth about language (First American edition). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Zhang, B. 2018. English language Teachers’ required knowledge and self-efficacy beliefs about pronunciation instruction. Thesis to obtain a Master of Arts.