On Monday, I wrote about how I’m viewing pronunciation these days. In this post, I’m going to give two examples of my view in practice with two wonderful students.
Example 1: Me and Russian
The first wonderful student is me!
I’ve been told that my Russian pronunciation is quite good. (Too bad my grammar is a nightmare and most of the vocabulary slides right out of my mind when I need it!)
In my studies in college, I kept coming across a word in context that I really had trouble saying: “Vzryv” – explosion.
It’s a very short word by Russian standards, but it has several features that made it challenging for me:
- “Vz” doesn’t really happen at the beginning of English words
- Russian “r” is different from English “r”
- Russian “y” is a vowel that English doesn’t have
Highlighting exactly what was happening with this word helped me be patient with myself as I practiced it – it was a very uncomfortable word!
It also helped me to realize that a few English words end with “/vz/”, like saves. Applying what I could already pronounce to this word that was driving me bonkers helped.
With practice and patience, I can now pronounce explosion and its related verbs, which is nice even though I usually pick the wrong aspect and then conjugate it incorrectly.
N.B. the link describes what verbal aspect is and includes a section called, “Why Must I Endure This?”
Example 2: Sierra Leonean Student and Thirty
A student of mine from Sierra Leone with very advanced English and pleasant accent asked me how to pronounce a word. I couldn’t understand which word she was asking about! We had to write it down, and it turned out to be “thirty.”
We had very little time to address this question, and it happened too recently for follow-up. She kindly said it several times for me, sometimes alone and sometimes in sentences, and I came away with this:
- she learned British English (or at least not US pronunciation)
- she is uncomfortable with /th/
- she is uncomfortable with /ir/
This is my proposed plan for her, which I haven’t had the chance to communicate to her yet!
- Explain. Of people look confused after she says 30 as usual, she should add “the number, three zero, thirty.” This is not a long-term solution! Just a quick fix to get her 30-related communication on track ASAP.
- British. Next, she should aim for British pronunciation – /θəti/. This involves the uncomfortable /th/ sound but not the uncomfortable US /ir/ sound. It caters to her more British-sounding accent, making use of skills she already has. Americans often understand British pronunciation, so it will hopefully serve her well.
- US English. If she is planning to stay in the USA long-term and/or her British pronunciation is not getting the results she wants, she should work on her US /ir/ sound to get closer to how Americans are used to hearing it.