Ten years ago (has it been that long?) I started my studies of English philology, linguistics and literature. I loved reading for hours upon hours and one of my favourite authors was Charles Dickens. There was one class I wasn’t too keen on though: language lab. Spending hours in a tiny booth recording and listening to your own voice, stumbling over tongue twisters … Who invented that?!
In his post ‘These three things‘, Jonathan Marks writes that the th-sounds (think, this) are something that many learners of English find difficult to master, but that learners shouldn’t worry too much about pronouncing them correctly.
Not so for me: I felt I had to get it right! I spent several hours a week in the booth, trying to master those sounds that were not native to me. Three was sree and though was dough. On learning about my frustration, a teacher advised me to do the following exercise: push the tip of your tongue against the back of your top front teeth, and repeatedly make a d sound: d-d-d-d-d. After hours of practice at school and at home (sorry mum!) I finally got it right.
A few months later I was visiting an English friend at her home in London. She asked me a question about how many times I’d read a particular book. “Thrice!” I said with confidence, knowing that this time my pronunciation wouldn’t fail me. “Thrice?” she said, laughing at my comment. What kind of old-fashioned word is that? You mean ‘three times’!
And so I learned that pronunciation isn’t everything and not everything can be taught from a book (not even one written by Dickens).
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About Saskia Iseard
Saskia studied at Leiden University before moving to Newcastle to work as a Linguist Monitor/Translator. She then relocated to Edinburgh and later Oxford to pursue a career in publishing at Macmillan Education.