Our Mission is to be a blessing to churches, ministries and Christian organizations by providing affordable, accurate Christian translations. Read More...

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men."

Col 3:23

Leaning Language: Be a parrot - don't think, talk!

Take the Spanish, for example. Do you know what "go - at" means? When a Spanish girl said this once, I almost corrected her, since I thought she meant "go to", such as "go to church", or whatever. But then I realized she was trying to say "goat". Where in the world would she get the idea that the word "goat" is pronounced as two syllables, "go" plus "at"? Well, it's pretty obvious, isn't it? She was trying to pronounce the word "goat" as if it were a Spanish word, not an English one. Apparently, years ago, when her high school teacher first taught that word, this girl either wasn't in class, or wasn't paying attention (or the teacher herself pronounced it incorrectly, something that occurs all-too frequently in Spanish public schools).

Thus we see the first source of problems as far as pronunciation is concerned: using the rules of pronunciation of your own language to try to pronounce a foreign word. This will only rarely turn out well! I once saw a quotation (whose author I unfortunately do not remember) that put it quite clearly: "Language cannot be separated from sound, and that is the heart of the matter." When you learn new words, you will ideally first encounter them aurally, that is, hearing them. Learn to recognize them first by their sound, and then to say them correctly.

After that, you can deal with how they are written. Of course, I know that this is often not practically possible. You learn vocabulary from a list (one of those lists containing the 1000 to 2000 most frequent words in the language), and are thus forced to try to read them before you hear them. Not very natural, is it? After all, when you took your first steps in your own language way back in early childhood, you heard your mother talking, and tried to imitate her. You certainly did not begin by picking up a book and trying to read your first words, did you?

If you have access to a native speaker of your target language (and perhaps already have lessons with that person), I think a good investment would be to pay him or her to record, word for word, all the words in your basic vocabulary list, speaking slowly and clearly, of course, perhaps leaving a few seconds between the words, so that when you listen, you can repeat the word you've just heard. Then, you can listen to that recording again and again. True, it might take the person a few hours to record a list of a couple of thousand words, but maybe you and a few friends can chip in to pay him/her for the effort, and then you can make copies of the recording for each of you. When listening to the recording, you can simultaneously look at the list.

This way, you are learning the sound of the words along with their correct spelling. When you yourself say each word, BE A PARROT! Consider parrots. Some of them know quite a few words. How did they learn them? Certainly not by reading. They learned simply by hearing and repeating. No thinking was necessary. When you repeat the words your teacher says, you should strive to be a parrot as well. Don't analyze (for example, don't ask yourself: "Let's see, was that sound the teacher said like this, or like that...?") Simply try to absorb the sound and repeat it as closely as possible.

By not thinking, you will be able to avoid censuring what you yourself say, which can lead to mental blocks. For instance, some pupils, when they hear a word in a foreign tongue, hesitate before trying to say it themselves. They first want to think about how it is written, how to form the mouth when pronouncing it, etc. Yet the best thing to do at first is just say it. Your pronunciation wasn't on the mark? Fine. Then say it again - and again, and again... Keep repeating it until what you say sounds like what the teacher said.

Insist that your teacher not be satisfied until you say it right. Usually, you will get it after a few tries at most. If not, then is the time to analyze. Now, you can think. Ask yourself what you are doing wrong. Are you positioning your lips and tongue correctly? Could it be that you didn't listen well in the first place, so that you aren't really sure how the word sounds yet? Have the teacher say it again (or rewind your recording a bit).

Listen more closely. Then try to say it again. In any case, don’t be satisfied until you are able to pronounce the word as closely to the native speaker’s pronunciation as possible. If your mind seems "blocked", that is, if you can't seem to get it right no matter what you try, then it's time to take a step back. Don't tell yourself you just can't get it right, that you are a failure, or whatever. Even if you're learning a foreign language as difficult as Chinese, always remember: There are millions of people who speak that language, and they certainly aren't all geniuses! It can be done.

When it isn't going well, the first thing you should do is RELAX. Seriously: Sit back in your chair, breathe deeply. Inhale, exhale, slowly. Feel your body relaxing, your mind opening up. Tell yourself that you will now listen to the word again, in this relaxed state, and that you will then be able to say it yourself. Listen again, and repeat. I have seen countless times that when a pupil relaxes, he or she can suddenly listen much better, and is thus better able to repeat what is heard. Try it out when the going gets rough, and more likely than not, you'll surprise yourself at how much easier it is when you are relaxed.

Relax, listen, absorb the sound, and repeat, as if you were a parrot. It's the best way there is to learn good pronunciation. And if you still can't get it right, don't despair! Just read the next section for more advice.
We offer Christian translation services.