LISTENING VIA PRONUNCIATION (1)

IMPROVE YOUR PRONUNCIATION… AND LISTENING

Pronunciation as such is generally ignored: by course books, which often only deal with it at the elementary level; by teachers, who in their curricula don´t have enough time even for the grammar; by students, who are sure they´ll never sound like native speakers anyway. However, as was pointed out to me by Gerard McLoughlin from IH Barcelona, the main aim of studying pronunciation is not to make people think you are English – it is to understand English people better. It´s for your LISTENING.

When people listen TO YOU, they know you are a foreigner, so they try to guess what you mean from the context. However, when YOU listen to native speakers (and they are in front of you, not on a recording), many don´t know how to help you. Slowing down is often not enough and you can´t expect them to start speaking “the way things are written down” or, to be exact, “the way things are written down and then read out in your language”.

Yes, that´s the problem with English which most of us, learners, recognise all too well. Whereas in Spanish, German or Japanese we are able to write down words that are dictated to us even though we don´t understand them, what we hear in English is the infamous “whagorlbershyemnemdaran” – a kind of white noise, in which, from time to time, we can pick up words we seem to know.

Why is it so? These three simplified rules should help you to understand that:

  1. English is not based on syllables.
  2. You can´t match letters to sounds.
  3. International words are ALWAYS pronounced differently.

Of course all this is going to be explained in detail in future posts, followed by numerous examples, exercises, learning methods and useful links. In fact, it´s a lot of fun (“Really? You pronounce it HOW? Ha, ha, ha!”) and it opens your mind too, helping you to understand how varied languages are and how skillful human beings can be with their facial muscles.

FORMAL vs. INFORMAL

Some tricks to check whether an expression is formal or informal (apart from looking it up in a few kinds of dictionaries or asking your teacher):

  • long Latin words (apprehension) and weird Germanic words (strength) are almost always formal (or neutral, so they are OK in a formal setting)
  • Use http://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/. Enter your expression in the search box. A table with your expression should appear. Click your expression to show examples of its use. In a column to the left of the examples you shall see where the examples are from. If it’s “conv” (conversations), your expression is informal. If it’s “ac” (academic), it’s formal.
  • this blog is not written in formal English

HOW TO STUDY VOCABULARY? (2)

Since I’ve been bombarding you with vocabulary lists lately, I think it’s time to show you yet another method of studying vocabulary – and, as what I’m covering now is CAE Writing, here is a worksheet I use to revise essay vocabulary by means of synonyms and little Post-its.

Prepare some post-its (little reusable sticky pieces of paper) with the vocabulary you wish to study. Here you can see that grouped into: verbs (with prepositions, if necessary), noun phrases (so much better than single nouns), adjectives/adverbs and linking. i suppose it’s nicer to study if you use different colours and arrangements.

Write the synonym of each word/expression directly under each piece of paper, on the large sheet. (Another way of doing this is using your language on the pieces of paper and English on the large sheet. However, personally I don’t recommend translation at the advanced level if synonyms can be used instead.)

To study, remove all pieces of paper, then stick them in the correct places. A more difficult option is to guess what’s under each piece of paper.

If you need a hint, just move the piece of paper a little bit to reveal the first letters.

 

If you’d like to recreate this particular worksheet, the pairs were as follows:

to lead to sth – to result in sth

to point sth out – to claim

to decline – to plummet

to grow – to soar

to distinguish – to draw a distinction

a serious disadvantage – a major drawback

important implications for sth – profound impact on sth

latest research – recent findings

the rapid growth -the significant rise

a source of sth – a trigger for sth

due to sth – owing to sth

whereas – while

mainly – largely

essential – vital

general – widespread

On the whole, … – By and large, …

It should be noted that… – It is worth bearing in mind that…

This means that… – …, which means that…

As to… – With regard to…

The main dangers are x of y, as well as nn and mm. = Apart from x of y, the main dangers are nn and mm.