Thursday, 5 March 2015
I have often marvelled at how ineradicalble are the speech patterns we grow up with in our first language. I used to think it was a matter of intelligence whether a person could pick up the correct speech rhythms in a second or even third language. I have since had reason to change my mind. At one time in my life when I lived in Israel for two years, I used to give private English lessons: one of my students was a highly intelligent German gentleman, aged about 65, who wanted to eliminate his German accent. Not matter how hard we tried he simply could not pronounce a "w", it always came out as a 'v'. We gave up and he and his wife enchanted me with their 'Shakespeare evenings' when they would invite friends over and listen to records of English actors reading Shakespeare plays. I've also wondered how it is that some people simply can't read aloud. An example would be young children performing their annual Nativity plays: some pronounce their lines entirely naturally, others are stilted and with weird intonation. My husband can't read aloud: when he reads me things 'out loud' I have to cringe when he takes a breath in mid-sentence and mispronounces words. But he is an intelligent being. Does this disability stem from bad teaching when he was learning to read? Surely a teacher explains that a reader must send his eyes ahead of his brain so that his words sound natural? It's not something I embarrass him about: you learn to sweat only the small stuff. Similarly, I love certain accents and dislike others. e.g. I love a Texan and a Bronx accent but I really dislike certain African voice speaking English to the extent that I switch off my radio. What does anyone think?