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Moving from B2 to C2

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garyb
Triglot
Senior Member
ScotlandRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 3401 days ago

1468 posts - 2411 votes 
Speaks: English*, Italian, French
Studies: Spanish

 
 Message 161 of 177
09 March 2015 at 11:30am | IP Logged 
I'm glad that pronunciation has been brought up, as I've found it to be the hardest aspect to master. Most other areas can be improved with a combination of more input and specific work as needed, but pronunciation seems a tough one. I agree that, quoting s_allard, "one could possibly be quite proficient in various features of a language and have rather mediocre pronunciation".

There have already been various debates about how important good pronunciation and accent really is, and I really don't want to start these again. The general conclusion tends to be that, while flawless native-like pronunciation isn't realistic or at least isn't worth the effort for the vast majority of learners, decent pronunciation is possible and worthwhile.

It seems to be one area where personal ability/talent is the biggest determiner. Some people have never studied French but can put on a convincing French accent. Some can pick up the pronunciation quite easily just from lots of listening. Then at the opposite end, there are people like me who've studied French for over a decade if you count classroom instruction and self study, gotten tons of input and done a reasonable amount of study and work specifically on pronunciation, yet still struggle.

I agree that working with someone else is surely the best way to do it, but finding that person isn't easy. Most native speakers, even professional teachers, don't know how to teach pronunciation. I've worked with a few, even one who mentioned "accent reduction" in their profile, and their method begins and ends at making the student read aloud. Feedback, if any, is only on obvious mistakes and not more subtle points.

Another issue is that bad habits in pronunciation seem to be particularly tenacious. I mentioned this in my last log post; it seems like I have to do very frequent work on pronunciation just to maintain the correct habits and stop the incorrect ones from creeping back in. Even if I temporarily improve my pronunciation, it quite quickly gets worse again if I don't continue to work on it. Avoiding the bad habits in the first place would be ideal, but hardly realistic between native language interference and imperfect learning/teaching. A lot of my own bad habits in French came from classroom learning and then self-studying without paying enough attention. But even with Italian, for which I made a conscious effort to focus on pronunciation right from the start, I certainly didn't avoid them.

Edited by garyb on 09 March 2015 at 11:34am

2 persons have voted this message useful



s_allard
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 3624 days ago

2704 posts - 5424 votes 
Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
Studies: Polish

 
 Message 162 of 177
09 March 2015 at 3:59pm | IP Logged 
I think that garyb's observations are so true: after one has achieved a certain level of fluency and intelligibility, it is
often very difficult to improve pronunciation. The big problem is that self-diagnosis and self-correction is
impossible despite all the listening in the world. In theory, one could compare a recording of oneself with that of a
model voice and focus on the differences. But how do you go about making the corrections? And since speaking is
so automatic, how do you implement these changes in everyday speech. It's not that easy. As garyb said, those bad
habits are so tenacious.

I don't have much experience in this area myself. So, I'm loathe to give any specific advice. The one thing that
comes to mind is, in addition to working with a good resource person, a review of the basics. This would be a
systematic study of the sounds of the language with special attention to connected speech and intonation. Maybe
other people have better ideas.
1 person has voted this message useful



Serpent
Octoglot
Senior Member
Russian Federation
serpent-849.livejour
Joined 4791 days ago

9753 posts - 15776 votes 
4 sounds
Speaks: Russian*, English, FinnishC1, Latin, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese
Studies: Danish, Romanian, Polish, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Croatian, Slovenian, Catalan, Czech, Galician, Dutch, Swedish

 
 Message 163 of 177
09 March 2015 at 4:16pm | IP Logged 
Gary, you mentioned that you speak French with non-native speakers a lot, and that you took classes too. These are definitely negative factors in terms of the pronunciation. I once overheard a Spanish class at my uni. I had only listened to native Spanish speakers and I could barely understand the Russian accent at first! Similarly, in Italian I've had so much input that I can tell when I sound off, including if I'm not putting my tongue into the right place etc. That was one of the few AJATT things I disagreed with until I really did enough listening combined with an absence of bad models.

Of course Spanish and Italian are not the hardest languages to pronounce for a Russian speaker. (and Finnish helped me where Russian failed)

Edited by Serpent on 09 March 2015 at 4:52pm

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garyb
Triglot
Senior Member
ScotlandRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 3401 days ago

1468 posts - 2411 votes 
Speaks: English*, Italian, French
Studies: Spanish

 
 Message 164 of 177
09 March 2015 at 5:39pm | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:
Gary, you mentioned that you speak French with non-native speakers a lot, and that you took classes too. These are definitely negative factors in terms of the pronunciation.


I agree; I acknowledged that a lot of the bad habits came from my classes at school, and yeah, speaking with other non-natives won't help either. Hopefully my recent decision to cut down on meetups and try to speak more with natives will help my pronunciation as well as my usage.

However, with Italian, which I speak almost exclusively with native speakers, I've still struggled with pronunciation and developed bad habits. And it's a phonetically simpler language than French. So I'd say bad models are a source of problems, but not the only one. A lot of listening gives me a great idea of when my own speaking sounds off, especially from hearing a recording, but figuring out what exactly about it is off and how to fix that is tougher and has required studying phonetics and prosody. Some people do have much better ears than I do and seem to be able to figure out tongue positions etc. naturally.

The real hard part is implementing the changes in everyday speech as s_allard says. One thing I've found useful is to slow down a bit when I'm speaking, so I have a bit more time to focus on doing it correctly. If I try to go too fast, the automatic mechanisms (i.e. bad habits) take over. I always compare it to music: you play a piece slowly until you can do it accurately, then you can speed up. But when I'm trying to keep up with a group of native speakers, slowing down can be hard! Remembering to take it slowly is, yet again, a question of habit.

I've recently had an idea of doing regular pronunciation "check-ups", perhaps weekly, instead of doing bursts of work and then neglecting it. I'm hoping that that will help me keep up the good habits and catch any bad ones that are trying to return. This is just an idea, and an idea for my particular situation, so I don't know how well it'll work.

Immersion does seems to work well for a lot of people. I've met quite a few who have spent a year or two in France, and while their usage of French isn't always great, most have very good pronunciation if they've avoided the expat bubble. Maybe the several hours per day of native input is enough to put a solid feedback loop in place and "brute-force" good pronunciation and overpower bad habits: you hear good pronunciation and compare it to your own so much that you eventually figure out all the tongue positions and the intonation and all the rest. By that logic, AJATT-style extreme levels of listening could have the same effect. Now I just need to find a spare few hours per day to test this theory out :).

After spending two weeks in the countries, I noticed my pronunciation improved significantly, but sadly the effect wore off again quite soon. Perhaps a longer period would make the improvements more permanent.
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Gomorritis
Tetraglot
Groupie
Netherlands
Joined 2472 days ago

91 posts - 157 votes 
Speaks: Spanish*, English, Catalan, French
Studies: Greek, German, Dutch

 
 Message 165 of 177
09 March 2015 at 6:23pm | IP Logged 
garyb wrote:
Most native speakers, even professional teachers, don't know how to teach pronunciation. I've worked with a few, even one who mentioned "accent reduction" in their profile, and their method begins and ends at making the student read aloud. Feedback, if any, is only on obvious mistakes and not more subtle points.


They don't know how to teach pronunciation or they just don't care? Because I have been taught pronunciation by non-teachers by simply saying a sentence in their language and asking them if I sounded native. It didn't seem hard for them to understand and explain which details were giving me away, so maybe after repeating the sentence 50 times they finally agreed that I sounded native (or maybe they were just bored and they just said that to shut me up).
1 person has voted this message useful



robarb
Nonaglot
Senior Member
United States
languagenpluson
Joined 3253 days ago

361 posts - 921 votes 
Speaks: Portuguese, English*, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, French
Studies: Mandarin, Danish, Russian, Norwegian, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Greek, Latin, Nepali, Modern Hebrew

 
 Message 166 of 177
09 March 2015 at 6:35pm | IP Logged 
Gomorritis wrote:

They don't know how to teach pronunciation or they just don't care? Because I have been taught pronunciation by
non-teachers by simply saying a sentence in their language and asking them if I sounded native. It didn't seem
hard for them to understand and explain which details were giving me away, so maybe after repeating the
sentence 50 times they finally agreed that I sounded native (or maybe they were just bored and they just said that
to shut me up).


I've tried to do this with a student, and he simply could not understand what the problem was or how to make the
correct sound. It was a Hindi speaker who wanted to learn American English pronunciation. I was able to identify
to him that the "th" sound was giving him away, but he wasn't familiar with the terms from phonetics to
accurately describe what he had to do. If I spoke at full speed, he couldn't track what i was doing. If I slowed
down to exaggerate it, he would overcompensate, and then still do it wrong.

I think there is a subset of talented learners who can take feedback about the problem areas of their
pronunciation and actually fix it. Some people can even achieve near-native pronunciation just by listening and
imitating. This seems to be relatively uncommon, though. Many people seem to get stuck with an accent that
essentially uses their native-language phonemes, and it's really hard to shake them out of this pattern. I think
competent teachers are able to help the talented group--who need it less, and benefit only slightly--but most
don't know what to do with those who are locked into their accent, and don't try. I'm not aware of any
professional method that teachers could even learn, but there may be something in the field of speech therapy.
3 persons have voted this message useful



1e4e6
Octoglot
Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 2484 days ago

1013 posts - 1587 votes 
Speaks: English*, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, Dutch, Swedish, Italian
Studies: German, Danish, Russian, Catalan

 
 Message 167 of 177
09 March 2015 at 7:51pm | IP Logged 
I know that there seems to be some belief that teachers are the only ones who can
teach pronunciation, but regarding my Spanish, after I actually started studying it
seriously after I stopped classes in secondary school (i.e. after 2007), the reply
that I got from Hispanophones was from what part of Spain I was, or based on my
accent, how old was I when I moved from Spain to Argentina or vice versa, because I
tend to be able to mimic whatever I hear, even without wanting to. My accent is messed
up now because I mix Rioplatense and Peninsular, but at least I do it such that I
sound like someone from Buenos Aires who moved to Madrid or vice versa, rather than an
Anglophone who is trying desperately to sound like a native.

I am not sure if this is usual i most people, but that is why when I have big problems
when I converse with people with widely differing accents--in English when I had a
friend who had a Texan accent, just hearing it I picked up part of his accent. Just
living in Newcastle I picked up a partly Geordie accent. Living in San Francisco, I
picked up a part Bay Area/skater accent. Mix that up with Lancashire drawl from living
in MAnchester, and I sound similar to David
Lloyd
. No one taught me, it just happened like diffusion, which means that my
accent in English is very messed up.

So I do not believe that anyone is needed to teach pronunciation. It does not help
that the teacher that I had for Spanish for one year was a native Anglophone, so with
all due respect, if his pronunciation was Anglicised, why would he be able to teach me
pronunciation better, Anglophone to Anglophone? One of my Mandarin teachers was also a
native Anglophone. And one of the German teachers was a native Korean speaker...

Another one who can do accents is, you must know if you watch Aquí no hay quien
viva
, the actress Malena Alterio, who is
actually was born in Buenos Aires and moved to Madrid as an adult for her career. I am
not sure if she had training or not, but I have not seen anywhere listing it. Her
accent, nonetheless, sounds to me pure Peninsular, both grammatically and in prosody
instead of Rioplatense. She plays Belén Vázquez López.

Edited by 1e4e6 on 09 March 2015 at 10:04pm

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s_allard
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 3624 days ago

2704 posts - 5424 votes 
Speaks: French*, English, Spanish
Studies: Polish

 
 Message 168 of 177
09 March 2015 at 9:19pm | IP Logged 
If one is fortunate enough to have an innate ability to imitate accents, then acquiring good pronunciation is not a
problem. No teacher is needed. Great. What about the rest of us? What's the advice for the many people who find
speaking with a good accent so challenging?


2 persons have voted this message useful



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