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The Plight of Pronunciation!

As a child, I couldn’t fathom the nuances of English pronunciation—today, as a trainer, I find myself dealing with the plight of trainees who try hard to unravel the mysteries of pronunciation. Having worked my way through the maze of phonetic sounds (and still learning), the first thing I tell trainees is not to let the differencesbetween accents muddle them. What’s important today is to pronounce correctly (without mother tongue or regional influence)rather than to speak with an accent (unless, of course, your nature of study/work requires you to stick to one particular accent).

I’ll let you in on a secret- English pronunciation is no rocket science! The challenge is that it is a non-phonetic language. What I mean is that (as we often lament), the words are not always pronounced as they are spelt! So am I supposed to mug up the pronunciation for each word? Of course not- that’s not the way to go! Language is a pragmatic experience. I’ll have you know that any language that is not your mother tongue needs regular practice, or else you’ll lose hold of it no matter how well you knew it at one point. (I, for one, could speak German and French fluently a few years ago; however, I’m back to square one today because I didn’t practice!

So how are we expected to master the sounds of the language?

- Don’t expect overnight miracles- take it a step at a time.

- When you hear the pronunciation of a word for the first time, practice saying it over and over till you have it on your fingertips.

- In today’s day and age, online dictionaries tell you how to pronounce a word. (You can also resort to wonderful pronunciation dictionaries such as the Daniel Jones Pronunciation Dictionary.)

- Another thing you can try out, if you’re interested, is to learn to work your way through the phonetic symbols (yes, those “weird” symbols you see next to a word in the dictionary).You can easily find phonetics tables online.

Let’s look at some examples:

MONK          maunk                                       munk

BOWL            bowel                                       bol

EPITOME       epitom                                     ipitumi

PIZZA              peeza                                      pitsa

ENGLAND     inglaand                                   inglund

The part of the word in bold is the part that should be stressed.

Familiarity with phonetic symbols would help figure out the pronunciation- examples:

/mʌŋk/- the “m” and “k” obviously are simple sounds to figure out- the ʌ is a symbol for the “uh” sound as in cut or trust.

/ɪˈpɪtəmi-/- the “I” is a symbol for the short “I” sound, the “t” and “p” are obvious symbols; the “ə” (it’s called the “shwa”) is a symbol for the quick “u” sound.

See how phonetics can be of great help?So are you ready to begin your quest to conquer the world of phonetics…?)


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