Language Learning, Article 6: Correct Pronunciation - an analytical Approach. By David Bolton
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Correct Pronunciation: An analytical Approach

 I can truthfully say that I have never had a pupil who, when faced with having to pronounce a particularly difficult word, was not able to do so after a couple of minutes at most. In every case, I was able to help them achieve a good pronunciation, no matter how tricky the word was. No brag, just fact. Not that I am a miracle worker. You, too, could do this, if you approach it the right way.

   In the last section, we saw how "being a parrot" is a great method for learning correct pronunciation in a foreign language well. Nonetheless, there will be times when this doesn't work: no matter how well the pupil listens, and no matter how often he/she repeats the word, sometimes it still doesn't quite come out right. These cases are rare, but they do occur. What should you do when a pupil you are teaching, or you yourself, are faced with such a problem?

   Well, if the "relax, listen, repeat" doesn't work, it's time to approach the situation from another angle: that of careful analysis. Ask your teacher to say the word slowly. Now ask yourself exactly what sound that word has that you cannot pronounce. For example, the Spanish pronunciation of the word "correos" (post office). You most probably don't have any problem with the "co-" or "-eos" part - it's that long rolled "rr" that is most likely the culprit. So concentrate only on that sound (rr), and forget the other sounds in that word for a moment. (Another variation of the "divide and conquer" principle!)

    Ask your teacher to give a description of just how the mouth (lips, tongue, etc.) should be formed in order to pronounce the "rr" correctly. (A good teacher will indeed be able to describe this, though he may have to think about it himself for a minute first: after all, he has been saying it correctly since childhood, and may not be immediately conscious of just why this sound is so difficult for someone like you!)      Note how far open his mouth is when he says it. A long, rolled
"rr" is extremely difficult to say if the mouth is open too far; try bringing your teeth together a bit more and try it again. Also, the tongue must be relaxed; if it is too tense, the sound won't come out right. Try to adjust the position of your lips, mouth and tongue just as your teacher does, then try a few more times. Still doesn't work?

   Then go back to "being a parrot"... Ask your teacher to repeat the word "correos" five times in succession, slowly. While he does, sit back in your chair, relax, breathe deeply, listen and "absorb" the sounds you hear. While listening, don't tell yourself you can't do it, or that it is difficult. Simply LISTEN and ABSORB what you hear, and then, after he has said it five times, YOU say it. You might surprise yourself
by saying it perfectly this time! This method often works like a charm.

   Nonetheless, if you still can't say it, go back to observation and analysis, to be absolutely sure that you are forming the parts of your mouth correctly. If, despite all these efforts, you still can't say "correos" correctly.... forget it! At least for today. Correct Spanish pronunciation - or the proper pronunciation of words in other languages - will come to you in time.

   You see, when we try too hard to get something right, it can happen that our minds simply block, at which point further effort is often futile. It is then better to stop trying, and try again the next day, or even better, two or three days later. Why? Because during that 2-3 day interval, even though you are not consciously attempting to "conquer" that sound, your subconscious is indeed working on it. (More about this in the next section)

    In well over 90% of the cases, you will be able to pronounce a foreign word well without having to postpone your efforts to another day. Using the two-pronged approach already described, you will be able to successfully tackle almost any pronunciation difficulty with success. Keep it in mind, and try it out the next time you encounter a word you can't say correctly:

1) Sit back, relax, listen, absorb the sound (don't think, just listen!), then say it yourself.

2) If that doesn't work, then it's time to think: analyze how the problematic sound is formed in the mouth (concentrating only on that syllable of the word) by having your teacher say it. Then form your mouth the same way, and try, try again.

3) No success yet? Return to 1) and try that again.

4) Still doesn't work? FORGET IT for two or three days, then make another attempt. In many cases, after a few days, you will automatically be able to say the sound that so frustratingly eluded you before.

    As a matter of fact, that's exactly what happened to me with the "rr" sound when I began to learn Spanish. Try as I might, I simply couldn't say it. Yet a few days later, I tried again, and I could say it almost at once! A sure sign that my subconscious was working on the problem during the several-day interval.

    As always, with patience, discipline and perseverance, you will be able to solve the problem and achieve your goal.

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