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If you’re going to say it, say it right!

Updated on November 4, 2016

After spending months trying to learn a language I found out one simple thing that dramatically changed my approach and ability to speak it. I’ll get to that in a moment but first let me tell of the situation that led me to realize I was way off track.

I had spent so much time learning the language that by the time I got in the country I was extremely anxious to try it out. This was not a language like Spanish or French, or even Portuguese, that would give you opportunities to practice. There was no on that spoke it. So when I finally got there I was anxious if not nervous to attempt to speak.

When the opportunity came I simply asked the fellow driving with me, “Where is the bank?” He looked at me with great intent, trying to figure out what I had just said. I said it again, this happened several times. He finally said I was asking him where the bench was. He then proceeded to tell me how to say it; over and over again we both tried to get understanding from each other, but to no avail. Talk about frustrating. He told me I had to say it from the top of my mouth. I tried very hard but still could not figure it out.

It was months later, maybe a year when I happened to study some linguistics that I found the answer to that problem. The answer was found in phonetics. I know it can be a daunting word to even think about but it was a life saver. I found that this language didn’t even have a letter “t”. Instead the only sound relatively close was the sound “th”. Immediately I went back and thought about my bank, bench fiasco and had a significant uh huh moment.

Phonetics can seem like an overwhelming source of study for foreign language learning but only a couple steps are required. Find the phonetic alphabet for the language you are learning and it will immediately reveal to you the sounds that you will not need to produce in that language. You can avoid trying to say what shouldn’t be said. Listen, if you are going to say it, you might as well say it right.

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