Want Better Pronunciation in a Foreign Language?
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here and today I'm going to talk about pronunciation. Remember if you enjoy these videos, please subscribe, click on the bell for notification. And for those of you who listen on Apple Podcasts, please feel free to leave a review. We greatly appreciate it. So pronunciation, the reason I want to talk about pronunciation is actually two things that happened today. First of all, I had, we had house guests, my wife and I. These are very good friends, we knew them from Japan, uh, he was a consul general in Osaka. Uh, he was a language student of Japanese way back when I knew him in the early seventies, he married a Japanese girl.
And so, you know, we've seen them from time to time over the last 50 years. They live in Kelowna. They came by on their way to Whistler and they overnighted with us and we have, of course, we just talked forever, went for walks and, uh, we were talking about wine and he referred... and he speaks French and he said, uh, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon.
You know, I've heard people say Sauvignon Blanc. He didn't, at least he didn't say Blanc. And I thought to myself, he knows, I mean, we have the sound in English. It's not Sauvignon it's Sauvignon. So we have the word, we have that "o" sound in English. Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc. But because in English were a bit sloppy in how we pronounce things.
Now, I'm sure, but I know he's a stickler. Like I think even in speaking French, he would say Sauvignon, it's Sauvignon. So there's a certain lack of attention to the sounds. You hear this all the time. And I think... I'm going to give examples in other languages where our English habits, if we're English speakers, tend to dominate our efforts to speak the foreign language. Uh, now the other thing that was brought to my attention, and this is a, I think it was the person's name was maybe Mike Murphy commenting here, uh, on my, uh, one of my YouTube videos about noticing that, uh, and he's been teaching in China for a long time, and the, even with all kinds of work with the international phonetic alphabet IPA, which I find quite unhelpful, but people don't notice certain things. And so he noticed though that a lot of Chinese people can't pronounce the word "usually" they say... and absolutely I've heard so many Chinese people say...
So I'm thinking about those two things. So in English, we're a bit lazy with our vowels. So the vowelss, we don't say, we don't clearly say Sauvignon. Uh, and that's how English is, you know, we just kind of slur the vowels a little bit. We don't give the vowels the full value, but there are languages where they do like French or Spanish or Japanese, full vowel. In Russian and in Portuguese, some of the vows kind of fall away, but in, in many languages, they want the full value for the vowel. That's not to say that they don't also slur. So in French, you know, we want to have a clear, you know... but people then end up saying...so that they don't give it full value. And, you know, instead of saying... they say...
So all of these things happen, but we have to start by being able to notice the clear, clean, correct pronunciation, and we have to be able to do it. And only once we have that correct pronunciation, the ability to hear it and to reproduce that clear proper sound for that vowel in that language only then can we afford to get sloppy.
So, and going back to the Chinese example, of course, if you've ever been to Beijing and taken a taxi, you can, I mean, even as someone who speaks Chinese, it's hard to follow them because it's...it's a very... type of, if they're from Beijing. Uh, and so maybe that's what carries over into the English instead of going "usually", you know, if you really thought if that Chinese speaker would, would sort of look at it. And of course the problem in English is that the words aren't written the way they're pronounced. So it's not... there's not a soft... sounded like in French, you know, where you would have a J, which has a... sound usually has that same sound, but it's written S U "usually".
And of course, in most words, S U doesn't have that, uh, you know, S value. We say Supreme, Supreme, suffer, uh, English is tough. It ain't, it's just tough. But I think that Chinese speakers and there's so many of them who say... they have to sit down and look at that word and practice saying that word correctly.
And then eventually they'll be able to incorporate that word into a sentence that they speak, you know, at normal speed. And I remember that, you know, now I've learned lots of languages, but French and, uh, and Chinese were my first and I actually worked hard at the pronunciation. I remember the Chinese sound... like ...
we don't have that in English. So I had to work at it and I would pronounce Chinese and I particularly remember... And to the point where the muscles here in my, in my jaw were kind of sore. Uh, I also remember trying very hard to improve my French pronunciation because even though we say like "pronunciation", You really, if you're an English speaker, you have to work hard to force yourself to say "pronunciation", because the tendency from English, which, which is what our brain is set up for is to say "pronunciation" it's not pronounced "pronunciation" it's "pronunciation", and it's, it takes an extra bit of effort to give it that full value. And once you have the full value, you can then "pronunciation" you can kind of slur over it a bit, but if you don't have that essential, you know, that core ability to make those sounds correctly, then you're going to end up with the equivalent of "usually" that the Chinese use for usually.
And this is true in all languages. I mean, Spanish also has pure vowels and they're not dipthongs, so it's not "bueno" an English speaker will say "bueno", "no bueno" or whatever. It's "bueno". "bueno". We have to focus in on that. And I don't think the, uh, international phonetic alphabet helps. I think you have to listen very carefully and then repeat very deliberately.
And, uh, you know, in a way, if you do the mini stories at LingQ you get sentence by sentence and you can hear the natural uh, you know, voice read those sentences. So you can, you can listen to the sound, text to speech for one word, but you can also hear a sentence and then try to imitate it. And when you try to imitate it, really work the jaw muscles so that you're giving it the full value.
If in the case of, uh, if it's Chinese, then it's... The real... is coming in. If it's French...if it's, uh, you know, "bueno", "bueno" cut that "a", it's not a "bueno" it's a "bueno". And we have to hear those things. We have to develop the ability to hear the difference between how we sound and how the native speaker sounds and focus in on some of these key sounds.
So you build up a base, the ability to make these sounds and it's difficult at first, you might make it once, but then within a sentence, you'll lose it. I'll always remember in Montreal, I used to hitchhike to McGill University because you know, it was a long bus ride and there was another fellow hitchhiking and he was an immigrant from Southern Italy and we got friendly.
In fact, we ended up looking for work on construction sites in Montreal together, and his English was terrible and I was trying to help him. And, uh, so he couldn't say small. He would always say "small". And it was frustrating, I said saying no, no, no, no small. Uh, okay. So I would say go small. And he went "small" for whatever reason he was preprogrammed to say "small".
Maybe he heard it from other people from Southern Italy. I don't know. I don't know. In the end we worked construction for a couple of months. And then I went down to the dock and I was able to hitchhike on a boat going across to Europe so I worked on a boat going across to Europe and I haven't seen him since.
I don't know if he still says "small". Sounds like the... in French and in other languages where they have an...sound, that takes a lot of work. And you know, that traditional sort of suggestion is to go... put your mouth in sort of the shape to go... and then just try and say E so if you go...you'll end up with an... even if you're able to produce the...to get to the point where you can produce it on the fly in a phrase or a sentence, it takes a lot of practice.
Uh, so you got to notice it, you gotta practice it individually and then you want to get into doing it in sentences. So my suggestion on pronunciation is begin by really focusing, and so if you're a Chinese speaker and you say you were really get ahold of that word, look at it, break it down, say u-su-a-lly, usually, usually, usually usually get to where you can say the word and then usually I like to go, you know, and usually when I study languages, I do this, that or the other. So throw it into a sentence. Now, second suggestion is to pronounce well there's two things we have to do: we got to hear it and we got to be able to produce the sound. We don't have to get a hundred percent, but more or less.
The second thing is we don't want to resist that sound. You know, there are, we don't want to resist anything that has to do with that language. So, you know, Swedish...and if you uh feel self-conscious about doing that, then you won't do it.
So you've got to not feel self-conscious. And in that regard, I find that if you can get a hold of, in that regard our mini stories at LingQ are great because they're kind of narrated without feeling. I enjoyed when I was learning Mandarin, I enjoyed the... dialogues because there was a lot of feeling in those, these comedians telling a story.
And, uh, I think the same when we learn languages, sometimes if we can get ahold of something that's spoken with feeling, that we connect at an emotional level, and sometimes we can have fun with it in different languages. You know, we can say... just sort of get into the... you get into sort of almost like a situation where emotion is involved and so you, you play at the language and so that way you're connecting, you're creating some emotional connection. The phrasiology and the pronunciation. So I think all of those things are important.
It begins by getting a grasp on how it's actually pronounced, uh, you know, making the effort to pronounce correctly, which is more effort. It's an effort to say"pronunciation" "Sauvignon Blanc". You gotta work at it until eventually it becomes natural. And then get a hold of something that you can emotionally connect to.
And then imitate when people speak with some emotion. In most situations, you won't be, you know, kind of wrapped up in that. And, uh, but it, again, it helps. And, and I think for people having learned as many languages as I have, and I have to admit that the first few languages I worked hard on pronunciation.
And then I think that introduces a level of flexibility in the brain. So the subsequent languages, first of all, there's a greater likelihood that there will be sounds in there that we have already noticed and been able to produce. We're more confident, we're less self-conscious and so things become easier.
But the first few languages, I think one has to make a special effort to get, you know, a certain minimum level of pronunciation. It doesn't have to be perfect, but, um, yeah, when I hear Sauvignon Blanc, if the person is trying to speak French, to me that's just not good enough. Anyway, there you have it. Enjoy your Sauvignon Blanc.
Bye for now.