Tackling the profundities of English pronunciation…

I occasionally take it upon myself to pick an aspect of English pronunciation and wage a private war on its behalf.  When I first started here, it was the confusion of “b”s and “v”s that I nitpicked at.  (There is no V sound in Japanese)  There was also the war against “r” and “l” confusion.  That is a really a tough one (in Japanese the character romanized as “ra” can sound like la, da, or ra.  There is no L sound).  It feels pretty good to hear the difference in the students’ speech-their vocabulary is quite good but it tends to come out mangled and sometimes unintelligible due to inability to produce the right sounds (or even know what sound to aim for).  Lately I’ve been picking at the mispronunciation of “th” (again, there is no TH sound in Japanese) as it usually comes out as “s-hu” – for example, “three” comes out as “suhree” (if you can imagine that as one syllable).

Today I had a particularly fun small battle against the Mispronunciation of the Short Double-O Sound.  English is not exactly the simplest language in the world to learn pronunciation from its spelling (there are arguments it’s not phonetically spelled at all but I disagree.  and digress…)  It seems that students here rarely get corrected when they read a short double-o sound as a long one.  For example, try using the same vowel sound in “balloon” and “moon” when you say “book” and “cook”.

“Who is she?”  I asked, while holding a flashcard of a woman in a chef’s uniform.

“She’s a kook!” Cried four tiny voices in unison.

I don’t think we can tell that much about her personality from the tiny picture on the flashcard.  So I explained to them that a kook and a cook are two different things-they loved hearing what a kook is.  They practiced the short double-o until I figured they had it down pat, and then ff we went through the other set of flashcards until up popped the chef again.  “Who is she?”  I asked

“She’s a cock!”

Well, they tried.  I didn’t feel the need to explain the meaning of that one.

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