New Trend - Language Snobbism
There is an ongoing debate in France about the appallingly low level in English obtained by French high school graduates. In spite of seven years of study, most students are incapable of communicating orally in even basic English, and they score very low on international language tests. The French government invests more than most countries in education, which makes these unsatisfactory results even more unacceptable.
Very little speaking practice and next to no valid oral evaluation
Here in France we are constantly being told about the very high level in English skills obtained by students in countries such as Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands. The reasons for the discrepancy with these nations are multiple. In the case of France (and undoubtedly other countries) the problem lies in the way foreign languages are taught with an emphasis on written materials, with very little real speaking practice and next to no valid evaluation when it comes to oral skills.
Inadequate English on French radio and TV
Moreover, the French seem to suffer from a nationwide inferiority complex when it comes to languages and a tremendous fear that words coming from other tongues will somehow “pollute” the national idiom. This can be observed regularly on French television or radio where journalists or program leaders will very often say jokingly, “Please excuse my poor English”. And it is true that their English is indeed very poor—not only their grammar but also their pronunciation. Moreover, there is little opportunity to listen to English or other foreign languages on national television, as dubbing is the norm for films or series, and if a foreigner is being interviewed, an off-voice translation makes it impossible to even hear what is being said by the native speaker in a news report or documentary.
The example of Swedish media with only subtitling
On the other hand, in a country like Sweden the media rarely offer any oral translations of what is being said in another language. Instead subtitling is used everywhere even in live broadcasts. So people get used to foreign voices and enjoy listening to the authentic accents of world famous celebrities, politicians or television personalities. As all Swedes have a fairly good to excellent level in comprehension, they do not like to listen to programs dubbed in their own language. Most Swedes have grown up with foreign cartoons for kids and series for adolescents that are broadcast in English or other foreign languages. So they actually prefer the original versions.
Being bilingual makes you more intelligent and puts off Alzheimer’s
Another point I wish to bring up is that there is no substance to the argument that listening to other languages diminishes the language level in one’s native tongue. All research proves the exact opposite. When you have studied foreign tongues and have mastered other languages, you respect your own even more. Lately scientists have shown that being bilingual or polyglot helps you become more intelligent and even puts off aging ailments like Alzheimer’s.
Let’s avoid making English words sound foreign
There are many solutions to improving language learning, but I would like to suggest just one way to help young people better their English here in France or elsewhere. It would help tremendously if on television or on the radio people used English words with the correct English pronunciation instead of adapting them to the phonetics of another language. With this habit of making English words sound like French, a native speaker like myself cannot understand what is being said even though the word or words are in English. I am certain there are no advantages to this tendency, and the average French native speaker still has problems understanding the English word or words that are used even if they have been made to “sound” French. Often the meanings of these words have not been learned properly in school—in spite of five, seven or even more years of courses.
Saving time and energy in teaching
Most of us believe we should help young people learn other languages. Why then do we continue to make things difficult for them by using foreign words incorrectly in the media and then requiring students to “relearn” the proper pronunciation later on? What a waste of time and energy!
So what is the solution? In brief, I suggest we adopt "linguistic snobbism" or simply “language snobbism”, in other words whenever we employ a foreign word, we should try to give its correct pronunciation in the language it comes from. This may seem arduous at first, but you’ll soon get used to it. People may react thinking you’re a bit of a snob, but this is a concrete way of helping our young learners. In a country like Sweden this is the general tendency and everyone excepts it. No one ever considers you a snob for pronouncing a word correctly in the language of its origin. In the next episode I will give you some exercises to do and you’ll see it quite easy in fact to adapt to English pronunciation.
Examples of English words frequently used in other languages
Let me give you a few examples of English words frequently used in other languages.
Group 1 (Meanings are not changed but pronunciation is often modified)
- coming out
- making of
- speed dating
The first group includes English nouns or adjectives created by adding the “ING” ending to verbs. Often by simply respecting the stressed syllable and saying it correctly, you will obtain the US accepted pronunciation. The rule that can help you is “never stress the ING syllable”. That is what learners tend to do and why they sound foreign.
Now we will consider a second group:
Group 2 (Compound words)
Here again by simply stressing the first syllable and pronouncing it correctly the student will approach the authentic pronunciation.
We can also consider pronouncing correctly words used in the world of computers and the Internet. Here are examples from two different groups.
Group 3a (Proper nouns of companies and products—Notice that the first syllable is the one that bears the stress.)
Group 3b (More computer terms. Notice that the stress is always on the first syllable.)
If students can realize the importance of stress in English they will improve their pronunciation dramatically. In all the examples given in this article the stress is on the first syllable.
If teachers wish to have their students work on the pronunciation of these words, oral exercises are available: Your English Podcast 61 or and Your English Podcast 62 either on www.qualitytime-esl.com or on iTunes. Recordings and scripts are provided free of charge.
We would like to encourage people all over the world all use the original pronunciation of “borrowed words” when speaking their native languages. This of course implies learning the authentic pronunciation in the language that created the words instead of just reading the written word and using another set of phonetics to get the oral equivalent. But stimulating such curiosity especially among young people could definitely help in conquering the barriers to learning foreign tongues. So please contribute, whenever you can, to our trend of “Language Snobbism”, which is both a way to give credit to the language that invented a word and a means to help young people trying to learn English or any of the other amazing languages spoken on our wonderful planet.