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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

Fossils In Your Brain? How to Master Pronunciation From The Get-Go

by Nathalie V. Fairbanks

One of my German students asked me a question that really startled, if not offended me:

"Why don't you pronounce the "r" in "der" properly? Were you raised in the boonies or something? My former German teacher always said "der" differently." After thinking about it for a minute, I responded: "Was your German teacher a native speaker?" He obviously wasn't.

What was this student's problem? He had done what many of us do quite unconsciously: we read words of a foreign language just as we would read our own language.

It's so easy to forget that the way words are spelled and written have their very own rules in each language. Just listening to the alphabet song in each language will open your ears to how different the same letter sounds in different languages!

The vowels are the most obvious. An "o" in Norwegian sounds like a "u" in German, and sounds like a "ou" in French. Some of the sounds in each alphabet simply have no counterpart in any language.

Our need to hold on to something we know makes us deaf to these differences, even the ones that are blatant. You see a word, you hear a native pronounce it, and still decide that you'll keep pronouncing it your way, because that's how it's spelled. Show that native speaker how her language is pronounced!! The chances are, the native speaker got it right.

The other trouble spot is your language class. Your well-meaning language teacher has you repeat and read from Day 1. Since you don't know intuitively what the language sounds like, you'll draw on your native language and make assumptions on how words are pronounced. Do that a few times for basic words, and the mistakes will stick.

Pronunciation habits are very hard to correct. Linguists call that "fossilization," and for once have found an adequate and descriptive term for what happens. You have a pronunciation fossil in your brain!

You just can't take the letters at "face value," as it will throw you for a loop every time. Depending on the letter combination and where in the word the letter appears, it will sound different. I know that may sound weird. However, don't get me started on English pronunciation rules. Who made THEM up?

Instead of trying to memorize all the sounds of letters and letter combinations, listen closely to a recording of a text, and trust that the native speaker is doing it right. It's funny how sometimes we have a need to rationalize that if in one word, a letter sounds a certain way, it MUST be the same way in some other word. Nope, it doesn't! Again, English speakers, you're sitting in a glass house.

If you are a beginner, I would recommend you NEVER pronounce anything that you haven't listened to about 50 times. You want to train your ear to hear how a native speaker pronounces letters and letter combinations before you transfer your native language habits onto your new language.

In case you're looking for the pronunciation of just one word, you can always check out your dictionary. However, if you're not a master of the phonetic alphabet, you might as well guess! What I like are the online dictionaries which have a little sound file next to each word. Search for English - Spanish (or your language here) dictionary on Google. Electronic dictionaries work, too. You can play the word a few times and repeat it, which is much better than guessing!

The bottom line is, before opening your mouth, open your ears and make room for a new set of rules as to which sound matches which letter. You then won't have to go through an excavation or fossil extraction later on!

© 2009 Nathalie V. Fairbanks

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