воскресенье, 12 июня 2016 г.

Learning languages: My approach to pronunciation

How do you learn to pronounce foreign words correctly when you start studying a new language? When I asked myself this question, I found out that for each of the four languages, which I tried to learn, I used a specific approach.

Approach 1. Do nothing, or Trust your subconscious mind, passive version (English). To be honest, I don't remember whether I memorized any pronunciation rules at some point (or, at least, paid special attention to them when I was reading the coursebook) or not. What I can state for sure is that if you ask me to tell you any of such rules now, I will remain silent. However, I rarely make pronunciation mistakes even with the words which I see for the first time. I believe this is because I have absorbed so many words in both written and audial forms that my mind has built its own system of principles. This system is hidden from my conscious. Subconscious mind applies it each time I come across a new word and returns me a result. Thus, I can't explain what makes me think the word is pronounced in that specific way. But I don't need to, because I trust the extremely powerful "tool" inside my head.

Approach 2. Memorize large set of rules (French). My first attempt to learn French which had lasted for one year (during the 7th grade) began with those thirty-some rules. That worked but had so many disadvantages... You know, all artificial rules have exceptions. This way you may even start to believe that languages have exceptions. Moreover, committing tons of imposed rules to your memory is just boring (and is far from effective if you're no longer a child). That's why when I returned to French four years later, I preferred to use Approach 1.

Approach 3. Learn the language which doesn't have pronunciation rules (Finnish). Well, certainly Finnish pronunciation does follow some rules but almost all of them are obvious, so if you have never learned Finnish and try to pronounce some word relying only on its spelling, you'll most likely be correct. However, don't become too enthusiastic: the language, which was a major source of inspiration for Tolkien when he was creating Quenya (one of the fictional Elvish languages), contains 14 noun cases. Enough compensation for the absence of difficulties with phonetics, don't you think?

Approach 4. Trust your subconscious mind, active version (German). When I was listening to Coffee Break German audio podcast, I wrote down each new word I heard. I started doing that from the first episode, when I knew nothing about German. After each episode I googled the correct spelling and compared it with my guesses. Eventually, I managed to avoid mistakes in most cases. That was the fastest way to grasp pronunciation principles. I believe, figuring that out was the main profit of my short attempt to learn German.

I'm curious, does the last approach work for the languages which use a non-Latin alphabet?

2 комментария:

  1. No. 4 is a very interesting approach. How fast did you progress and what were the first attempts like? Was it a sound-to-letter transliteration of German sounds into English letters or something more obsure, like "how would I spell this word in English if it was English"?

    1. I can't give you exact measurements but, well... quite fast. I'm not sure I understood 100% of the rules even after a 2-3 months but after a couple of podcasts I came across each of the widely used combinations of letters several times, and I believe it was enough to master using them.

      I would call them Latin letters to stress the difference between these two alternatives. The way, I transliterated German words when I had no experience at all, has nothing to do with English pronunciation. The closest analogy is the way how people write messages in Russian when they have only Latin keyboard available. By the way, I'm not sure that I can explain why we do that in the particular way (pretty similar for all of us) although nobody taught us how to do that.