The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #15 May / June 2015
Letter From The Editor
Sounds Like
by Erik Zidowecki
May / June 2015 | 

A short time ago, I was spending some time practising my pronunciation of some basic Italian phrases. I was using a simple app on my kindle that showed me the phrase, then I could click on the icon to hear it spoken by a native speaker.

Now, I know the rules of pronunciation for Italian. I know the rules of stress. I even understand how the entire phrase was formed, with the meaning for each word and their combinations.

But I just could not get my pronunciation to match that of the speaker.

I kept listening to the recording, making mental adjustments on what I was doing wrong. I would then try again, but still get it wrong. I can normally say what I need to properly (at least to my untrained ear). What was so wrong with me that I could not manage this _simple_ phrase?

The more I thought about, I realized just how difficult learning the sounds of another language is. No matter what you might read about how close to your language another one is, it is still going to be strange to you, often in very subtle ways.

We become so attuned to our own language that we can tell when a phrase sounds wrong, grammatically, even if we cannot explain the rule for it. The same for the sounds. We can make the sound for someone else, and hope they can match it, but we can rarely explain how to make it.

Now, some people can handle new sounds better than others. We say they have an "ear for languages" to mean they can pick up a language quickly, but that can even more directly refer to their ability to mimic the sounds.

My problem was not just with the new sounds of a few of the Italian letters, as I have learned to match those (again, as far as my ear tells me). It was the flow of the speech. The sounds change based upon the other sounds around it.

In this case, I was having a problem combining "da" and "un" into an almost single sound while having it flow properly with the intonation of the next word. Still have not gotten it sounding good enough to even my own ears.

Sound like something which has happened to you (pun intended)?

Erik Zidowecki

Letter From the Editor
Writer: Erik Zidowecki
Petey: Woman in cafe

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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