Pronunciation is Key
Take a step back and really listen to your words. Ever notice how some of our expressions create a visual that has very little relevance to the concept being expressed? Consider “I’ll keep my ear to the ground,” for example. It can only be puzzling for someone newly arrived from another country! Another example might be “I see a lot of red flags with that report.’’ What does a red flag signify if you don’t understand American sports? It’s so important to use real words conveying real meaning when we speak to people who grew up in other countries. You will get more understanding if you say “I’ll pay close attention to what’s happening and what I hear around me” and “ There might be problem areas in that report.’’ Think about your listener before using this type of description.
The LanguageLady is often asked about what a person can do by himself to improve how well people understand him. I’ve written before about the importance of slowing your rate of speech. This entry will talk about something else you can do without lessons…pronounce the final consonant on all of your words ending with a consonant. This is probably the most common error among all speakers, both USA-born and those born in other countries. In the former instance, it’s simply sloppy. In the latter, it creates non-comprehension. Why? When the speaker and the listener speak the same native language, they are able to understand poorly pronounced or incomplete words because they use the same playbook (aha! Another American sports analogy!). That’s why we understand the President when he says ‘goin’ and doin’ and drops the final g from a lot of words when he is speaking to the general population. And why we can understand what someone means when they say “pitcher” to refer to an image and not someone throwing a ball or a container for liquid. And why we can understand when someone says “I axed him” and know that there has been no bloodshed, only a question.
But…..when the listener and the speaker have different native languages, a mispronunciation creates a different word in the mind of the listener, a word that is not the intention of the speaker, and a word that can change the entire meaning of a sentence. An example might be when someone means “hold” but says “hole.” Or leaves off the final “d” in “board,” making the word sound like “bore.” I’m sure you can think of countless others. For foreign-born speakers, this is a challenge since words in many languages end with vowels and an open mouth. You must close your mouth to pronounce a consonant, an uncomfortable feeling for many. The results you will see will be worth the effort. The easiest thing to do to increase the clarity of your communication and be understood correctly the first time, is to visualize the written word and pronounce the final consonant.
You think English is easy? The LanguageLady never ceases to marvel at how complicated it can be. Consider the following sentences. Can you pronounce them correctly?
It’s time to polish the Polish furniture.
The bandage is wound around the wound.
The dump was full and had to refuse more refuse.
The farm was used to produce produce .
The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present .
There are many similar examples to prove the same point…..English is a crazy language with few clear guidelines on these pronunciation pairs. Those growing up in the US have no difficulty reading the above sentences. Check them out with your foreign-born friends or colleagues. So have some patience (patients? they sure sound alike) with those who don’t have the same frame of reference that you do. Goes a long way towards positive intercultural interactions.