Pronunciation

Category Archives:Pronunciation

Learn the English Alphabet (Video)

I was recently looking for a slightly more exciting way for one of my young students to learn the English alphabet when I ran across this gem.  Granted, the pronunciation is a little peculiar, as the speaker does not seem to have a true “feel” for the English language.  (The accent seems to be Indian.)

 

However, this is still a great starter video for your little ones who need to learn the English alphabet while having fun.

 

We like it because:

  • The music is compelling
  • The images are entertaining
  • It teaches the names of the letters, as well as the way that the letters sound (at least approximately) in words
  • It is short – only 4 minutes long
  • It’s a great starter video

 

So, if you are having a difficult time getting your young child to pay attention to you as you try to teach them the English alphabet, give this a try.  Simply, push play!

 

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Lessons in Pronunciation: My Trip To India

Barriers to communication are present in our everyday lives no matter who you are or what language you speak. I have had the opportunity to witness this first hand in a very intense way, and I would like to share my experience with you.

 

At the beginning of 2015 I traveled abroad to Chennai, India to complete five weeks of student teaching. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to travel to such a vastly different place from what I have grown so accustomed to in the United States. I knew that because I was traveling to a different place where the national language was Hindi, I would encounter a variety of barriers when it came to communication. However, I did not know that the main barriers I would face would occur primarily when speaking with others who spoke English.

 

In Chennai, all of the students are taught three languages when they are in school. First, is Tamil, which is the state language. Next, students are taught Hindi, the national language. As a third language, students are required to learn English. Even though students are learning English, they are learning it in their native language. As a result, students learn English words and phrases, but they do not learn correct pronunciation or grammar.

 

I was assigned to a first grade classroom at the campus school housed on the campus of Madras Christian College. I was so excited when I walked through the door to meet all of my students. I reminded myself beforehand that I needed to speak slowly and clearly to ensure that the students would comprehend what I said. I stood at the front of the room all smiles and slowly said, “Hi everyone, I am from the United States of America and I am so excited to be here with you.”

 

About forty little faces stared blankly back at me. I kindly tried repeating what I had said even slower, but still, none of the students seemed to have any idea what I was saying. The teacher gently pulled me aside and asked if she could repeat what I said to the class. I graciously nodded and allowed her to take back over. She repeated what I said with a few minor word changes and a completely different accent. The students seemed to respond when she spoke, and suddenly their faces lit up. I knew right then that my time with these students would not be easy, but I was determined to find a way to communicate clearly with them.

 

My barrier to communicate was not just among my first grade students, though. I encountered the problem with nearly every person that spoke English in India as a second or third language. I majored in Business Education. So, in addition to the time I spent at the campus school, I was invited to sit in on several different business classes at Madras Christian College. I went to a class with my notebook and pencil, eager to learn and take notes.

 

When the professor started speaking, I soon realized that taking notes would not be an option. I struggled to even understand every fifth word. He was speaking English, but his accent was so thick that I did not understand most of what he said. After the class, he pulled me aside and wanted to have a chat about his class and the material he taught. All of a sudden, I felt like I had swallowed a brick and it was stuck in my throat. I had no idea what to say. I could not even understand all of the questions he was asking me.  I did my best to answer what I could, but by the end of the conversation I could tell that the professor was slightly frustrated.

 

Oftentimes, pronunciation is not considered to be very important. But based on this experience, I believe that pronunciation is one of the most important parts of language learning. In order to successfully communicate with one another, and articulate our thoughts, we all need to have a basic understanding of pronunciation.

 

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Linking English Words

Muppet-Alphabet-FINAL-2As  part of a natural speech pattern, native English speakers link words.  And we do so in a unique manner. The way that we connect words can seem like madness to non-native speakers.  But, we have a saying in English: “There is a method to our madness!”  In other words, our methodology is not as crazy as it may seem.  So, here is a basic introduction to linking words when speaking English.

 

VOWELS: A, E, I, O, U
CONSONANTS: B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X, Y, Z
(NOTE: Y is a consonant, but sometimes it sounds like the Long E vowel sound)


egg

We connect words when one ends in a consonant and is followed by a word that begins with a vowel. There is no break between these two words, when pronouncing them, in most circumstances. We combine the words as if they were one single word.

 

Written form: that egg
Correct Pronunciation: 
 thaaa-teeeg
(Ex: He said thaaa-teeeg looked strange.)
 Incorrect Pronunciation: tha.tuh.e.guh.
(Ex: He sai-duh tha-tuh e-guh look-duh stran-guh.)

see

We connect words when one ends in a vowel and is followed by a word that begins with a consonant. There is no break between these two words, in most circumstances. We combine the words as if they were one single word.

 

Written form: see the
Correct Pronunciation:  seee-thuuuh
(Example: Can you seee-thuuuh man?)
 Incorrect Pronunciation: see.thuh.
(Ex: Can.you.see.thuh.man?)

When a word ends in a consonant and is followed by a word that begins with another consonant, the ending consonant in the first word is cancelled out. The two consonants are melded together as if they were one. There is no break between the two words.

 

Written form: that the
Correct Pronunciation:  thaaa.thuuuh

(Example: He said that the music was too loud.)

 Incorrect Pronunciation: tha.tuh.the.
(Ex: He sai-duh tha-tuh thuh musi-cuh wa-zuh too lou-duh)

When a word ends in a vowel and is followed by a word that begins with another vowel, the two vowel sounds are connected with a "y" or a "w." This is absolutely essential to keeping a smooth and natural sound when speaking/reading English.

 

Written form: see an
Correct Pronunciation:  seee-(y)aaan

(Example: I can seee-(y)aaan eagle.)

 Incorrect Pronunciation: see.an.
(Ex: I.can.see.an.eagle.)

 

The same rule applies when there are two vowel sounds in two different syllables.

Written form: oasis
Syllable Distribution: o-a-sis
Correct Pronunciation:  o-(w)a-sis

(Example: There is an o-wa-sis in the desert.)

 Incorrect Pronunciation: o.a.sis
(Ex: There.is.an.o-a-sis.in.the.desert.)

person-speak

Inflections. When connecting two words, inflect (make your voice go up in pitch) on the second word. Your voice inflecting (or going up) is the necessary indicator for the listener that there are two words, and not one.

 

Remember you are connecting the two words and saying them, as if they were one. Inflecting helps the listener to hear two very distinct words.

 

Correct

that egg: thaaa-teeegg
see the: seee-thuuuh
that the: thaaa-thuuuh
see an: seee-aaan

Incorrect

that egg: tha-tegg
see the: see-thuh
that the: tha-thuh
see an: see-an


But, here is the really important thing that students need to remember before they even attempt to work on the above-listed rules:

The vowels determine the word!  

 

So, when students mispronounce English vowels, following linking rules does not improve their pronunciation. Linking while pronouncing the WRONG English vowels does not make the speaker easier to understand.  In fact, linking while mispronouncing the WRONG English vowels only results in a great deal of confusion.

 

Minimal syllables in English consist of a vowel, and possibly a consonant. It is very important that the vowels in each syllable be pronounced correctly.

 

A common mistake that students make is to use the vowel sounds of their own native language when speaking English. This can result in a great deal of confusion, because in English this can result in the speaker pronouncing a completely different word from what he intended to pronounce. For instance - maybe he says "sheep" instead of "ship," "pet" instead of "pat," or "left" instead of "laughed."

Why Pronunciation Is Important

No matter which language you wish to learn, you will want to ensure two things:

  1. That you are understood when you speak
  2. That you understand others when they speak

 

The very foundation of spoken communication is sounds.  So, you first have to realize that the sounds used in your native language are not the same sounds that we use in English.  Some of your sounds may be similar to English sounds, while others will not even be close.

 

This is especially important to keep in mind with English vowel sounds.  Most other languages have somewhere around 5-10 vowel sounds.  English has 19 basic vowel sounds.  Yes…19 basic vowel sounds.  And, if that were not incredible enough, the full Towajo System also teaches 10 additional sounds for our most advanced students.  This gives our students a total of 29 vowel sounds.  Keep in mind that these are vowel sounds only.  We are not discussing consonants in this articles.

 

So, this is why significant challenges arise when students attempt to communicate in English using the vowel sounds from their own native language.

 

Take a look at the words listed below.  Can you correctly pronounce the vowel sounds in each of these word groups?  Can you correctly identify the vowel sounds of these word groups if someone else speaks them?

 

EXAMPLES
cup, cop, cap, kept

luck, lock, lack, lept
run, Ron, ran, wrecked



Remember that learning the vowel sounds in English is extremely important to speaking the language well. This video listed above is a prime example of how a single vowel sound can change a word – especially in English. This English teacher (a native Korean speaker) is teaching a lesson on how to ask for “Coke” in a restaurant.  The only problem is that she is pronouncing the word like “cock.”  This is a big problem, folks!

 

“Cock” usually means “penis” in English.  (On rare occasions it can mean “rooster.”)

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