Teach English in Zhaozhaizi Zhen - Liaocheng Shi

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Preface: I am Indian living in the USA for more than 37 years. This essay is about my journey of speaking Indian English, problems I faced, and how I managed to learn American English accent. I am not presenting a research paper on all the pronunciation problems that an American will come across in India. These are my experiences learning to speak English in India and how it has changed over last 40 years. Background: Indian English is a recognized variety of English spoken by many in the Indian subcontinent. . Indian English comprises a number of sub-varieties, influenced by the first language or languages spoken in different regions. Therefore, the Indian English has many distinct pronunciations based upon the large number of indigenous languages spoken in various parts of India. English teaching starts at the elementary school level in most of the schools in India. The emphasis is on grammar and spelling rather than the pronunciation. Pronunciation is never considered a problem because teachers also speak English with the same local accent as students. Origin of the Problem: For many years the English pronunciation problem was not a real problem. People were able to communicate with each other with their English within India. Unfortunately, English speakers in India were really not aware of the importance of pronunciation. A very few people, mostly the students, who came to the USA, UK, or Australia faced this pronunciation problem. They struggled and learnt the correct way to speak in the country they were studying like me. The wide usage of the internet, booming IT and tourism industry, and job opportunities in the USA has brought this problem into limelight in last 25 years. All of a sudden the interaction of businesses increased globally and this resulted in a large number of professionals from India had to talk and deal with their contacts in USA, UK, and many other counties. My English Learning: I learned English the Indian way during my early school years. I never realized that my pronunciation was not correct. I had heard m being pronounced as “yum” and n being pronounced as “yun”. I grew up learning that • “v” and “w” are interchangeable sounds • There is not much of difference between “z” and “j” sounds except that “z” has some fizz • Wednesday is pronounced as wed-nes-day • Breakfast is pronounced as break – fast • Women is pronounced as woo – men • Poem is pronounced as poy – em • Asthma is pronounced as astha – ma There were many more such words. Ignorance was bliss. I never felt my pronunciation was a problem because I understood what others were saying and they understood me. I always thought that English is a illogical language. I wondered why “but” and “put”, or “moon” and “good” are pronounced differently. Or, why “right” and “write” with different spelling pronounced the same way. Problem: I came to the USA as a graduate student in early eighties. I realized the day I arrived at Villanova University, nobody seem to understand what I am talking. The situation became worse when I had to teach a Calculus class. I saw blank faces in front of me and I asked them is it the content or my accent. The whole class responded that it my accent. Since that day till now I am still trying to Americanize the Indian English accent. I am not there 100%. Now, my grandchildren correct me. The first pronunciation problem I faced was pronouncing the letter Z. In India, it is always pronounced as “zed”. I had to unlearn “zed” and start pronouncing it as “zee”. I found by my experience that there are three basic categories of pronunciation problems Indians have. I call these categories as “three S”: speed, sound, and stress. • Speed: One of the key issues with Indians that is difficult for American listeners to understand is speed. My students commonly felt that I talked ‘too fast’. • Sound: I had a great difficulty in differentiating the sound of “V” and “W”. In India, both these are used interchangeably. Even the teachers in India did not know that “V” and “W” have to be pronounced differently. I always wondered about their redundancy. Another sound was the “R” sound. The American R is a strong, straight sound. It took me many years in changing my pronunciation. My children who grew up here in the US helped me many times to modify my pronunciation. • Stress: We Indian English speakers tend to stress the first syllable in a word, where American English speakers stress different syllables, depending on the word. These three are not the only problems. There are other problems with Indians speaking English such as intonation, phrasing, and pausing. While I was working in the US slowly but surely improving my American pronunciation skills, I had many opportunities to interact with IT professionals from India. They reminded me of my own situation many years back. I never knew that English is a stress-timed language. Both syllable stress and word stress, where only certain words in a sentence or phrase are stressed, are important features of English pronunciation. No one taught me about syllable stress back in India. My teachers didn’t even know what it was. Therefore, when some Indian speakers speak, they appear to put the stress accents at the wrong syllables, or accentuate all the syllables of a long English word. Other than the “Z” and “V/W” problem, I had many other pronunciation problems. I could not order pizza correctly. It always sounded like “peeza”. I had to learn to use American English syllable stress patterns correctly and speak slowly with pauses. There in fact many sound differences are produced because of Indian English pronunciation. For example, p can sound like “b” at the starts of words or t can sound like “d”. There is a long list of such pronunciations on the website https://www.speechmodification.com/free/indian-english-common-pronunciation-errors. Not every English speaking person from India will have all these problems. People from different parts of India will have different pronunciation problems based upon which native language has influenced their speaking. Fortunately, I did not have many problems. I am thankful to my students in my first Calculus class who taught me the American way of speaking English. I must have done well in learning American English as many of my students came back to attend my subsequent classes on other subjects. Later, in my professional life when I had a chance to visit India on business, I realized that how much I have changed. I had difficulty in understanding the same Indian English that I spoke once. I had to ask my Indian counterparts to slow down so that I can understand what they are saying. I had to teach Indian IT professionals who worked on my project the American way of speaking English as part of their project orientation. Problem Solution: I had to learn speaking American English very quickly. I started watching TV shows such as Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. These shows taught young children how to speak correctly. There weren’t any language schools then. The internet never existed commercially. Therefore, I never learnt the American English speaking in a classroom. It was all like on-the-job learning. I always tried to strike a conversation with my students outside the class about various other topics. I always watched news reports by Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw to learn the intonations and pauses. I also watched Three’s Company, not just because it was funny, but I learnt of colloquial language from that show. My biggest teacher was teaching a classroom. I had to be always alert and open to learn from my students. I had told my students to correct my pronunciation whenever they felt I was wandering off into Indian English, and they did. Conclusion: I am happy to be where I am now in my life. I am looking forward to help young IT professionals from India in learning American English so that they are well prepared when they report on their assignment in the USA.