Lessons in Pronunciation: My Trip To India

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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