Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Good Week, That Went By So Quickly

From my journal:

"I had a really good week hearing WORDS pseudo-entries and teaching about pronunciation in class. It has been the fastest week I can remember, a trend I hope will continue...Getting very close to six months to the day since I arrived in this country. Just three months to go and I know they will fly. Next month with travel, the following with visitors (Lavina, Ethan, possibly my sister Sandy) and May being the FINAL COUNTDOWN!!! Surveying my apartment now, thinking about how I will soon be gone."

By WORDS pseudo-entries, I mean entries that generally failed to address the theme. This was when I began to realize that our theme - The Changing World Outside My Window: Where Am I From? Where Am I Going? - was terrible.

Pronunciation was one of the most enjoyable lessons I have taught here. It made me feel like I was fulfilling my purpose as a native speaker, bringing something to the table that the Indonesian English teachers simply couldn't. And I find the curious relationship between English spelling and pronunciation fascinating.

I shared this interest with my students and tried in 30-40 minutes to help them overcome some uniquely Indonesian difficulties. The trouble they have is that Indonesian spells words how they sound and gives syllables equal stress. In English, we have stress patterns with our words that change the pronunciation of unstressed syllables, usually by shortening them to an "uh" or similar sound. So when Indonesians pronounce English words, they tend to stress each syllable and pronounce each vowel (often their version of the vowel). A word like commitment comes out "koh-meet-ment" - our actual pronunciation is closer to "kuh-MIT-muhnt." I think most native speakers are unaware of this curious dissonance between spelling and speech in English. It was something I had never thought about before taking an introductory phonetics class in college. Thinking this way at least offers them a shot at imitating native speech just by seeing the word, especially if they can guess the right syllable to stress.

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