Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Bending Motion or a Vending Machine?

I am teaching a low intermediate pronunciation class and trying to impress upon my students the importance of syllable stress in English.  The concept is not obvious for them because if you're a Spanish speaker, the syllable stress is marked with an accent over the vowel. In Japanese, syllables are not stressed.  That is a problem for me when I'm in Japan because I am Japanese by blood, but I am third-generation American Japanese. English is my first tongue, so when I speak Japanese, it is hard for me to eliminate the tendency to stress, for example, the second syllable of America (when I identify myself as amerikajin). Unless students go out into the world and are misunderstood by native speakers, they don't ever quite grasp how syllable stress can lead a native speaker to make a wrong inference. 
View details
Bending MOtion

Recently, a non-English-speaking San Diegan asked for help at the public library. My son was working at the front counter and was stumped by the question. The man asked for a bending motion  /'bɛndiŋ 'moʃən/.  My son and another library patron tried to make sense of the query, but because the man mispronounced the 'b' for a 'v' and put the stress on the first syllable of the second word, the image of someone bending came to mind. It made no sense, so the listeners continued to ask for clarification. At that point, the Korean man's face turned red. Rather than repeat himself a third time, the man was able to explain that he wanted to buy a bottle of water.  
Vending maCHINE

Suddenly, the other patron and my son understood the object of the man's query - a vending machine /'vɛndiŋ mə'ʃin/.  I explained to my class that even with a mispronunciation of the first part of the word ("mo" instead of "ma"), if the man had put the stress on the second syllable of motion and said, "moTION," the native speakers might have understood the target word as "machine."  A little knowledge about the importance of syllable stress can go a long way toward anticipating and resolving problems of miscommunication. When learning a new word or new expressions, always listen to where the stress falls in the word or phrase.

No comments: