I have loved languages ever since I had the opportunity to take both French and Spanish in High School. It never even occurred to me that as a child growing up with a grandmother who spoke to me in Kweyol, which I answered in English, that I was learning. However at the crucial transition between high school and college, I was forced to choose between French and Spanish.
I chose French.
Not because I thought that I was miles better but because of my trouble with the “rr” rolling sound. As far as my Spanish teacher was concerned, my grammar and conjugations were fairly good but my pronunciations were letting me down a little. My “r’s” sounded like “l’s”. It was like the ability to roll one’s tongue being genetic. My tongue just wasn’t Spanish enough.
With French on the other hand, I naturally was able to make the throaty “r” sounds which assisted greatly with my French oral exams!
For years it was all classroom learning until I got the opportunity to work for a week in a hairdressing salon in Rouen to practice my skills. I was so nervous that I called a lady whose hair I was shampooing, ‘Monsieur’.
Fast forward a number of years to the job that gave me the opportunity to put my language skills to the test. On a weekly basis , I was sent to work in a different European location, encountering languages that I had never had the exposure to before; Slovakian, Hungarian, Danish, German, Dutch, Polish as well as various French and Spanish dialects from Switzerland and parts of Spain and Belgium. It was a dream and I loved it.
I loved being sent to Paris. I would use my pigeon French to navigate the metro or to order some food. The response from Parisians was great. I would sometimes be corrected on my grammar and make my apologies, which would then lead to conversations about why I was there and things I should visit or eat. My French came along in leaps and bounds.
I made a point of learning at least one phrase in every language of the country I visited. And that was when I learnt to watch people’s mouths.
My best tip for improving pronunciation is to mimic the mouth, positioning and shape of the lips and the tongue of the speaker (in my humble opinion of course)
I began pursing my lips more and narrowing my mouth for French and using a flat, relaxed tongue to create more lisping sounds for Spanish (though I’ve bitten my tongue, literally, very many times using this method). I’d pay close attention to what native speakers were doing with their mouths and I found it an interesting clue to speaking their language.
I’m not a linguistics buff at all and don’t profess to be fluent in these languages but noticed my pronunciation improve when I used this mimicry technique. Grammar is a whole different story!
What are your experiences with language pronunciation and linguistics? What languages do you speak or hope to speak?