Friday, March 10, 2006

Use your ears, not your eyes

Here is a conversation I heard in class the other day. I asked a student to use the vocabulary she had learned the previous week to tell another student about her hobby.
She said, "I like sewing". The other student responded, "sewing? How do you spell it?"
- "S-E-W - to sew"
- "OK, to sew, like 'you'"
- "No, like 'go'"
- "Sorry? didn't you say S-E-W?"
- "Yes, I did"
- "But that's "u" like "few"

It took a few minutes to convince her that in fact the correct pronunciation for "sew" ryhmes with "go". She didn't have any problem with the word when she first heard it, but as soon as she saw the way it was spelt, she couldn't pronounce it any more. We just can't help ourselves (I do it too with French words). Have a little trust in you teacher, he or she usually pronounces words correctly! I suggest that you learn the phonetic symbols for at least the vowel sounds. It doesn't take long, and it's a really inexpensive way to master English pronunciation. All you need is a dictionary that uses the international alphabet, and you will know how to pronounce any word in English. Get into the habit of taking notes in phonetic symbols, so you don't confused by all the spelling variations in English.
You can see the phonetic alphabet on my site. There is also a link to a university phonetics lab, which is really good practice. If you're serious about learning English, you have to do it!

1 comment:

Jhony Jaimes said...

I am an English as Foreign Language teacher myself in the city of Mérida, Venezuela. In my classes, I have also observed how spelling interferes with the learning of actual word pronunciation, especially at the beginners' levels. I have realised that if students see the written word first, they tend to pronounce it the way they "think" it is pronounced, but if they listen to the word first, it seems to be easier to remember the real pronunciation of the word. So, I use an approach -as I said especially in the beginners' levels- in which I try my students listen to words first and then, consciously, recognise their pronunciation. After that I ensure they understand their meanings, and finally I give them their spellings making emphasis in remembering the real pronunciation. I tell my students not to let spelling influence their pronunciation learning process. I try to explain my students that spelling and pronunciation (althouhg related) have to be learnt as two different aspects of the same language. I could use only audio material, but there are some students who seem to be more visual and internalise meaning by "watching" the written word.
On the other hand, it seems that some few students actually use spelling as a strategy to remember pronunciation, but only in more advanced levels when they have developed the ability to understand how English functions. It would be interesting to reasearch about these topics.