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"This way of learning a language made complete sense to me. Working with the SpeakEZ German course, I was able to understand more in 2 weeks than in five years of German in school!"
      -- Asbjørn Finsnes

"The way in which this method is presented provided me with language that will suit me in a foreign country instead of a collection of unusable vocabulary words.

Those who have studied languages realize that looking-up individual words cannot convey a language in the correct manner. Becoming fluent means being able to verbalize ideas ; not learning technical rules and identifying the Past Predicate Indicative.

The audio part of this method has been my favorite portion of the learning process. Not only is the pronunciation slow and clear, but it is presented so that I remember the flow of sentences and concepts.

Thank you for the opportunity to work with this amazing program; it has been a blessing for me."

-- Destiny Yarbro, College Student

Watch Your Backend! A Trick to Learn Confident Pronunciation

by Nathalie V. Fairbanks

Here's a typical scenario from my German class:

Anthony, a beginner student, is reading part of a dialog out loud. Usually, the first word, or even the first two words, are fairly comprehensible. Then comes a tricky third word, I hear a gasp, and the rest of the sentence becomes a real mess. Nobody can understand what he's saying, and even though I try really hard, I can't either. What's the problem with learning fluent pronunciation?

For one, I advise beginning students to NEVER read a text you haven't heard read aloud by a native speaker. I keep talking about Passive Listening, which means playing the recording of a lesson text in the background for hours before attempting to pronounce any of it. This preps the brain to intuitively pick the correct pronunciation of words, and particularly the correct rhythm and intonation of sentences.

I also teach a practice technique that I learned from my piano teacher at the conservatory in Berlin. I have used it with my language students for years, and it has worked wonders!

What she noticed was that a piano student would generally know the beginning of a piece pretty well. The introduction would go smoothly. The student would then hit a few technically more challenging passages where you could hear "work" rather than "music," and it was downhill from there. The student would fumble around making mistakes and the last chords, instead of being majestic and confident, would sound tentative at best.

Just as with pronunciation, it is a direct reflection of how we usually practice: you start with the beginning, play that a few times, then hit a rough spot and spend time mastering the technique and smoothing out the spot.

If you aren't careful, all your time has gone into perfecting the troublesome spot and you've barely practiced the second half and/or the end of the piece. Exaggerating a little, you'd have practiced the beginning 15 times, the rough spot 30 times, and the end 3 times; that's exactly what it sounds like!

My teacher's recommendation is to start by practicing the end and working your way to the beginning of the piece one line at a time.

Let's translate this into pronunciation practice. As an example, we'll take a German word that's been all over German media lately: presidential election, "Präsidentschaftswahl." Now that's one word that would get any beginner to break out into a sweat!

Instead of panicking, here's what you do:

1. Figure out where the stresses are.

The stresses are your "handles." They allow you to hold on while you're pronouncing the word. Think of them as rocks that you jump onto when you cross a stream. You just need to make it from one rock to the next!

You can find out where the stress in a word is supposed to be by consulting a dictionary. There's usually a little dot under the stressed syllable, or the syllable in question is bolded. For some other languages, there are rules that are easy to remember (the stress is usually on the next to last syllable in Spanish unless there's an accent, and it's the last syllable in French).

The best way however is to listen to a native speaker saying the word SLOWLY. Ask your teacher to model it for you, or even better, to provide a recording where each word is spoken slowly, clearly and in context.

The stressed syllable in PräsiDENTschaftswahl is right in the middle, "dent."

2. Break up the word and start from the back

For the sake of all the non-German speakers, let's break up the word and understand how it's put together:

- "der Präsident" is the president
- "die Präsidentschaft" is the presidency
- "die Wahl" is the election

Instead of starting in the front and seeing this big heap of letters to get through, start from the back, with the last syllable. It gives you bite-size chunks to work on that are easy to pronounce. Say each of these a few times until you're completely comfortable, then move on to the next one.

a. Wahl
b. schafts
c. dent
d. DENTschafts - don't forget to practice the stress in there!
e. siDENTschafts
f. PräsiDENTschafts - next, put the two words together:
g. PräsiDENTschaftswahl


Since this word is a composite of two words, I first had you practice one word, and then the second. Finally, you put them together. If you only have one word, it's even simpler!

You can apply the same principle to sentences. Find out where the voice goes up and down and then practice it the same way, starting with the last word.

If you practice your pronunciation this way, you'll reach the end of your sentence confidently... and native speakers will actually understand you!

© 2008 Nathalie V. Fairbanks

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