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Monday, April 18, 2011

ESL Teacher Blog: Pronouncing Foreign Names - No Need to Mangle

After all, we’re capable of pronouncing foreign foods, names of famous painters and composers, car makes and international brands. We don’t butcher names of world leaders or sports superstars, even if our tongues don’t roll the right way at first. Aren’t we also fast to learn the exotic names of celebrity children?

Certain sounds are common is one language and non-existent in another, but if we insist our students say ‘Heather’ and ‘Cynthia’ with a well-pronounced ‘th’, why don’t we make a habit of learning how to pronounce the names of our diverse student population, even if they’re difficult?

Taking a special English name seems to be common to Chinese students, not so much to other cultures - probably the way we say ‘x’, ‘q’ and ‘c’ in their names makes them cringe. Secretly, it does make me happy when a student adopts an English name; but, I’d never make anyone pick a different or short name unless they’re willing to. Inability to pronounce a name is my problem, not theirs.

I think the best way to get the name right is to repeat the name and ask if you pronounced it right and just keep saying it until they approve. To retain the right pronunciation, I try to append the names to all my oral exchanges with the student: “Yu, can you read the next sentence, please” or “Xian, please turn around and discuss this question with Qadam-Ali”. Once I learn to pronounce the name with ease, it’s not difficult to remember it. I know they appreciate the effort and feel more relaxed in class.

It’s time-consuming to familiarize ourselves with different phonetic patterns, but not impossible. I think even getting close would make the students pretty happy.

Here are some links that help pronouncing foreign names: + list of Wikipedia links related to foreign names online guide to pronouncing names of world leaders an article about mispronounced streets in Toronto and GTA (might be of interest to Canadian teachers)

We may still sound funny, but at least we tried.
POSTED BY Olga Galperin AT 12:44 AM
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