At a recent TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) conference, an interesting point was brought up about the learning of English. Dr Peter Waters, from German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech), presented “Sounds: Avenues for Language Learning”, a presentation about English pronunciation. He addressed the common problem of students not being trained to understand just the sounds of English (rather than how words are spelled).
There are far fewer sounds in English than there are ways to spell them, and this inconsistency often brings up problems for English learners. But what if the spelling part took a back seat to the pronunciation? For most people, communication is the first priority, so I think that for people who use mostly spoken English, this focus could be very useful.
There is also the problem that for many learners, the audio content they receive is ‘standard’ English. Unfortunately, if you have spent your whole learning career listening to people speak like the Queen of England, you won’t understand when ‘normal’ English speakers talk to you.
Luckily, there are a lot of websites these days that provide a wide range of pronunciations. I think the sooner learners hear more variance in their audio, the better for their chances of successful communication.
Full article: Zawya.com.
One of the many things I find fascinating about living in China is seeing how the foreigners deal with the language. For many people, the only Chinese they know will get them home in a taxi and maybe to a drink at the pub. There are some Chinese words, though, that become part of daily usage for non-native speakers regardless of their language level. Sometimes they are simply Chinese words for things we don’t have in other countries (mostly region-specific foods and dishes). Sometimes they are an interesting reflection of the way life is here.
One of the words in the ‘interesting’ category is 麻烦 (máfan). It basically means trouble. You can also say máfan nǐ, which means ‘Can I trouble you?’ Most foreigners, however, can be heard to say that something is too much máfan, e.g. “I don’t travel in China because it is too much máfan.” There’s something in the Chinese phrase that encapsulates the frustration along with the trouble.
Another common thing to do is to use Chinese verbs in an English way, by adding suffixes like -ing and -ed. The other day, a friend was talking about how Shanghai has been 发展-ing (fāzhǎn-ing) really fast lately. Fāzhǎn means development, or to develop. “There’s been a lot of fāzhǎn around here lately.”
What’s your favourite foreign word that’s made it into your everyday vocabulary?
The two remaining fluent speakers of Ayapaneco, a language pre-dating modern Mexico, are not speaking to each other. Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, who live 500m apart in the village of Ayapa in Tabasco state, are the only two people left speaking the ancient language. They, however, do not wish to speak it to each other. According to Segovia, who spoke Ayapaneco with his brother until his death about 10 years ago, there is no real animosity between him and Velazquez. Other sources say they simply don’t enjoy each other’s company. Segovia has tried to start classes in the language, and speaks it to his wife and son, who understand it but cannot speak it.
Segovia and Velazquez have both been helping to put together a dictionary of Ayapaneco, which has survived the pressure of Spanish until the present day. Unfortunately, they speak slightly different versions of the language, which I’m sure doesn’t help their relationship. Both versions will be available in the dictionary.
While it makes me sad that there is such definite proof of languages dying out, I can’t imagine what it would be like to dislike the only other speaker of your native language. To be put in a room to speak to them just for speaking’s sake would be awful. I’m glad that the language is being documented, and I hope that local classes will be a success in the future.
Source: The Guardian.
I was reading a guest blog post the other day about living in a foreign country and not understanding the language very well. One phrase jumped out at me and really made me think. Fiona Reilly of Life on Nanchang Lu dropped the phrase functionally illiterate into a paragraph about whether it’s harder to live obliviously in a foreign place or run an emergency department in a hospital. In her former life, she was an ER doctor, and so not being able to communicate or work in a foreign place is obviously difficult for such an educated person.
In my experience of being in places where you can’t read the language, let alone understand the meaning, I let a lot of things slide by. Often, I can’t read long warning signs, menus without pictures, information that might be important. Of course, this can be an advantage (you can break the rules and claim you didn’t know any better), but in general, I wonder what I am missing. There are times when I could ask people to translate for me, but I choose not bothering them over being enlightened. I spent the weekend on a tour bus only understanding a little bit of what was being said, and wondering whether I would have been equally bored had I understood the piles of information being thrown at me at warp speed.
Not being able to understand announcements and general chatter around me has been both good and bad. I find it easier to block out the conversations of strangers when I can’t understand them, but straining to hear airport announcements about the planes I want to catch can be exhausting.
In the end, I think it’s better to be able to understand. You can take the information and do what you want with it (even if that is to ignore it completely). I suppose it’s just one more reason to practice more and learn faster.
Recitation is a very traditional language learning method (Recitation is a very traditional language learning method.) It’s not the most fun of all the options, but there are definitely arguments for it.
Reciting something that has been written natively gives learners a chance to simply get used to phrasing, rhythm, and sentence patterns that might otherwise get left behind when purely creating output (that is, making up the sentences yourself before you say them).
I know that I have definitely had trouble with the flow of my speech because I am still trying to work out what I want to say while I’m saying it. If you have a prepared text in your head, you will more likely be able to say it naturally. Reading aloud is obviously a middle step.
I like to have a native speaker record their reading as well, so I can listen as I read along with the text. It helps a lot with working out exactly how to say things, and where to put the pauses and the stresses.
On the downside, it can be boring and (necessarily) repetitive. It also sometimes doesn’t seem like it’s helping you create output. On the upside, it’s a great feeling when you can master long passages and begin to start speaking more like a native.
What are your thoughts on repetition as a language learning activity?