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This study investigated pronunciation challenges encountered by 314 Saudi EFL learners. Respondents were divided based on their regional dialect of Arabic (northern, western, eastern, and central). The qualitative methods consisted of a focus group with 10 participants and interviews with two university professors. The quantitative results came from a quasi-experiment processed through ANOVA and Tukey multiple comparisons. Dialect appeared to have an impact on L2 onset pronunciation. Saudi learners found it difficult to pronounce onset clusters without inserting an initial schwa, and the more marked the onset clusters, the more pronunciation errors occurred. The highest rate of correct responses was from northern participants. The focus group and interviews highlighted that this northern Saudi dialect, unlike most other forms of Arabic, allows more consonant clusters in word-initial position, including more marked clusters, such as /dlal/ “coffee containers” and /ktab/ “book.” This study recommends an in-depth investigation of the northern Saudi Arabic dialect to explore why and how these linguistic features have emerged. The most frequent pronunciation challenge could be L1 interference from native dialect.
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