Listen to me if you want to live!
The Flow of English is finally completed, and it is slated to be the best English pronunciation program this planet has ever seen.
Like all my other Flow Series Courses, The Flow of English uses song-training to develop the learner’s ability to perceive and produce the real sounds of English.
I put emphasis on the word real because there is an enormous difference between what we think English sounds like and what it really sounds like.
This is important, because we learn and teach languages based on what we think they sound like. In other words, English teachers and learners are teaching and learning the wrong stuff!
Let’s take a closer look…
Reason #3,087 why Literacy-Training is TERRIBLE for Language-Learning
Anyone who is familiar with my philosophy knows that I identify literacy training as the number one reason why adults struggle to speak a foreign language.
To give an illustrative example – the letters “din” combine to make the sound /dɪn/ in the English writing system. In the Portuguese writing system, however, these letters would combine to make /dʒĩ/, which is completely different in sound and articulation.
So for a Brazilian to learn to read and speak ‘”din”- /dɪn/, he needs to do three different tasks:
- Disassociate the sound-script association of his native language of Portuguese.
- Learn to actually hear and pronounce these English sounds.
- Develop a new English sound-script association to exist parallel to his Portuguese one.
This might not sound like it’s too much work until you consider two important facts:
- An adult Brazilian will have re-inforced his ‘din’-/dʒĩ/ association millions of times over his lifetime of reading to the point where it is automatic. This is NOT something that’s easy to turn off.
- This is just one of many script-soud associations he will need to reprogram and juggle in his head to learn oral AND written English.
Some people have an easier time managing different sound and writing systems in their head, but most people suck miserably at it.
For this reason, the majority of foreign language pronunciation errors come from the person reading the word with his native writing conventions.
This complications of pre-mature literacy training for language-learners is a universal one, but in no other language is this issue more relevant than for English.
Why is that you ask? Because…
English Has Too Many Sounds and Too Few Letters
Most languages with a phonetic script writing system do a decent job of representing sounds with letters. But in English…not so much.
Why is there a letter ‘g’ in the word “tough” when it actually sounds like /təf/. Ah Okay! I see the pattern – “tough, enough, rough”… – the “-ough” suffix in English is always read as an /əf/, right?
But wait…what about “though”? That’s not an /əf/ sound…it’s an /oʊ/ sound. And hold up…I thought /ou/ was written ‘ow’ like in the word “bow.”
Wait… It’s only /boʊ/ if you’re shooting arrows out of it…if it’s waist-bending gesture of respect then it’s pronounced /baʊ/.
Wait… /aʊ/ you can also write ‘ou’ like in the word ‘house’ and mouse…so that means that…but I guess it’s that way only if…I don’t….but…GAAAHH!!
I’m sure every non-native English speaker reading this right now can relate.
There are many historical reasons why English an inconsistent spelling system. But the root of the problem is simple – English has too many sounds and not enough letters.
In kindergarten they taught us that there are 5 vowels – a, i, u, e, o (and sometimes y!). In my Flow of English course, we distinguish as many as seventeen unique vowel sounds.
Imagine having to babysit seventeen children who share the same five names. So whenever you asked for “Which one of you is Johnny?”, 3 or 4 kids would raise their hand at the same time.
To make things even more confusing, everyday the kids switch names among one another. So when you call for Johnny tomorrow, a different set of 3 or 4 kids raise their hands.
To make things even more confusing, all seventeen kids look and dress the exact same. The only difference between them is that they each have a unique tone of voice.
In a situation like this, how would you go about distinguishing one from the rest?
Well, you should forget about their names since they are useless and instead focus on distinguishing each child by the way he sounds. Unfortunately, the world of English language education does not follow the laws of common sense.
Instead of focusing on the basic skill of recognizing each individual English sound, English teachers and learners focus on learning an inconsistent writing system.
It should be no surprise then that the sounds of English remain elusive to the vast majority of English learners.
But pre-mature literacy training only accounts for the half the problem; the other half is even more sinister…
Written English and Spoken English Are Very Different
Because English is so phonetically rich, the sounds of words change based on their context.
Whenever English speakers talk, they change consonants, merge several words and alter vowels so much that the final phrases barely resemble the original words.
For example, take this Flow of English song lyric from the Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song” – “Today I don’t feel like doing anything.”
ɛ ni θiŋg
ɛ ni θeŋ
- /u/ dropped from “today”
- /ɪ/ dropped from “today”
- /ɪ/ dropped from “I”
- /oŋ/ transforms to nasal /õ/
- /t/ dropped from “don’t
- /ɫ/ dropped
- /k/ dropped from “like”
- /g/ dropped form “doing”
- /iŋg/ in doing transforms to /ɪn/
- /g/ drops from anything
- /θiŋg/ transforms to /θeŋ/
The Most Common Sounds in English Are NOT What You Think They Are
What do you think the most common consonant and vowel sounds are in English? If you are a fan of Wheel of Fortune, you might say /e/ and /t/…but then you would be wrong.
These are the most common letters in written English. After transcribing the phonemes of over 500 syllables for my Flow of English course, I was surprised to discover that:
- The most common English vowel sound is /ʊ/
- The most common English consonant sound is the alveolar tap. I like to represent this with an ampersand – /&/
You may recognize the /ʊ/ vowel from words like “good” and “would.” This sound is only supposed to exist in words like these examples. But if you pay close attention you will hear that this is actually a sort of default sound for North American English speakers.
This is because the sounds /ə/ and /u/ often reduce to this sound we speak fast. For example, in the song “Wordplay” by Jason Mraz (also in The Flow of English), he says /ʊ/ for the word “a” in the lyric, “…like a new religion”
What’s most ironic about /ʊ/ and /&/ being the most common sounds in real English is that:
- Neither of these sounds have their own letter in written English.
- These are the LEAST common sounds in word for word English.
Think about that for a second. The most common sounds in real English barely even exist in the English that 99% of us are learning and teaching.
What does that tell you? To me it says one thing- the ESL worlds is in desperate need of a reality check.
Thankfully the Flow of English Course is now available and many of the sound-training resources will be free to all to use.
More on that later…