「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら
「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら


Mind your sheep

By Samantha Loong


"I'm a fool," said my student. I asked her what she had done that made her feel foolish. "I had a big lunch," she explained, clutching her stomach. "I'm a fool."

I tried to clarify: "So, you feel stupid because you ate too much?" She shook her head. "No, not stupid. FOOL."

"So you feel full?" I asked again.

"Yes. Fool."

What a difference a short vowel sound makes. Unless you plan on never actually speaking the language you're learning, pronunciation is key to being understood. Unintentionally lengthening or shortening sounds can get you into all sorts of trouble. Instead of enjoying a farmstay surrounded by adorable woolly animals, you might end up being taken to a harbour to look at large, floating metal objects. Small changes in pronunciation were what kept my brother and me watching a particular cooking show back in the '90s. It was hosted by a delightful Frenchman who would often ask viewers to "prepare your cookie sheet" — but he had a habit of mispronouncing "sheet," which would send my brother and me into fits of giggles every time we heard it.

The French language got its revenge on me when I found myself in Paris, unable to pronounce anything in my phrasebook. I felt like I was destroying their language, but after 24 hours of only being able to say "merci," I finally perfected that tricky "r" sound. So I let myself graduate to the next level, and attempted to order a single chocolate macaroon from an intimidatingly fancy patisserie. "Please macaroon chocolate one," I asked the woman in French, flashing a smile of what I hoped was confidence. Without returning my smile, she corrected my word order with amazing efficiency: "You want one chocolate macaroon?"


I may have got my word order and grammar completely wrong, but she could understand me. It was a good day.

Like French, words in English are rarely ever pronounced how they are spelled, so I encourage my students to copy what they hear, not what they see. The students with the most natural pronunciation often come from less formal English-learning backgrounds, having learned a lot of their English from watching movies or listening to music. Listening to native speakers helps your ears get comfortable with the sounds; even if you can't immediately get all the sounds correct, your brain will get used to it and your mouth will soon follow.

In some cases, your brain will need to readjust depending on what kind of English is being spoken. New Zealanders are known for being lazy with their vowel sounds, with "beer," "bear" and "bare" all being pronounced exactly the same, much to the frustration of some non-New Zealand English teachers.

So don't ever feel like you're a fool. Native speakers themselves don't always stick to the rules. Instead, feed your brain a diet of English sounds and, before you know it, you'll be enjoying all the wonderful flavours the language has to offer.


ある生徒が自分のことを"I'm a fool,"と言うので詳しく聞いてみると、どうやら「おなかがいっぱいだ」と言いたいらしい。単語の母音の長さが違うだけでその意味は全く違ってしまうのだ。

The Japan Times ST: May 24, 2013

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート




2018年6月29日号    試読・購読   デジタル版