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Foreign Language Learning Essentials – Pronunciation & Speaking

Whereas in the past it was crucial for foreign language learners to attend formal classes dispensed by native speakers to learn how to pronounce properly the sounds specific to a language, massive expose to different foreign languages through the media in the present days make of this aspect of foreign language learning a lot more accessible, as well as much easier. Indeed, nowadays, thanks to satellite television and radio broadcasts, learning of the phonetic aspect of any widely spoken foreign language has become relatively easier than in the past; and a lot more fun too, as the learner has acquired a certain degree of autonomy. A large number of web sites are also available nowadays, where the pronunciations of single letters and words are recorded by native speakers and uploaded to the sites, providing a helpful instrument to foreign language learners. Podcasting (audios and videos uploaded online) has in fact become a major language learning aid. Online libraries of documentary films and movies in foreign languages are also available, to which foreign language learners may subscribe to have access. Many ratio stations all over the world broadcast online as well.

Lending Keen Ears

Even though, as mentioned above, wide opportunities exist for people interested in learning a foreign language to be exposed to the language in question in an informal setting and to pick up its phonetic aspects, thanks to the media and the internet, learners will never acquire reasonable proficiency, let alone native speaker level proficiency, in a foreign language unless they develop their listening skills. After all, only keen listening leads to sharp speaking and pronunciation skills. It is precisely for this reason that the immersion method and the audio-lingual method are such popular techniques used by foreign language teaching specialists as part of their academic programs. In fact, some of the modern language teaching methods assume that the proper multimedia experience can help one understand and acquire language skills much more efficiently, especially phonetic skills. Multimedia programs, whether online or dispensed over the mass media, offer clear pronunciation of native speakers and access to hundreds of words and phrases. These can help any foreign language learner practice his or her conversational and pronunciation skills, while making of foreign language learning an enjoyable activity. However, unless the learner learns to make the most of these opportunities by developing keen listening skills, s/he will not fully benefit from them. Then again, listening is not a stand-alone technique for effective learning of pronunciation and speaking skills in any foreign language. Repetition and constant practice are just as important.

Reading Pronunciation

It certainly sounds odd, but foreign language learners may alternately acquire pronunciation and speaking skills by having recourse to reading material! Indeed, thanks to the invention of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), the most accurate and used (both in grammar books and dictionaries) among the so-called systems of guided pronunciation, foreign language learners can develop their pronunciation and speaking skills, especially when wide exposure to the foreign language is lacking. The IPA is a transcription of linguistic sounds from all languages, using a specific set of symbols, each of them matching with one single sound. Most dictionaries, including translation dictionaries, provide guidance regarding pronunciation of words by making use of the IPA. Moreover, other phonetic systems try to re-write a foreign word using the spelling rules of one’s native language, yet oversimplifying and misrepresenting the subtle nuances and distinctive features existing within the phonology of the target language.

It requires a lifetime, sometimes even more, to be naturally exposed to all the words existing in any language, so rich are the linguistic treasures of the world. The two ways to learn pronunciation and speaking, as explained above, are in now way alternatives but rather complementary methods of learning. Whereas foreign language learners may instinctively pick up the common words in a language through exposure, either through the media or from first-hand experience, they might need to check the dictionary every now and then to learn the correct pronunciation of less commonly used words.