Sunday, October 26, 2008

Correct stress is crucial

One of my current students is the chief financial officer of a large global company. He is a very energetic person and can communicate his message quite well even though his pronunciation of English does interfere with his message.

We were practising language from one of his financial presentations and he was reading figures, for example 70,650 and 80,124. As I am a language person and not a number person I was having trouble keeping up with his reading of the spreadsheet because I kept hearing different numbers to those I was following on the spreadsheet. In fact what I was hearing was 17,650 and 18,124. The issue here was of course misplaced word stress.

It is very important that people practise words that they need at work and know where the stress is placed on these words. A lot of miscommunication due to pronunciation can be traced back to misplaced stress.

With the above mentioned student we then worked on the stress of numbers such as:

'seventy, seven'teen

'eighty, eigh'teen

'fifty, fif''teen

One of the methods I use at the beginning of a course is to brainstorm as many work words as possible and work on the appropriate stress.

I was working at Oracle, a large American software company . I was working with Japanese and Korean employees. One of them kept saying what I heard as Orakarlay. I couldn't work out what this particular student was saying as she said it often. Finally I realised she was saying Oracle with the stress pattern from her first language. She was actually talking about the company she worked for and I couldn't understand what she was saying!!

A lot of work was needed to get the correct pronunciation of Oracle - word stress, use of the unstressed vowel sound (the schwa) and the final syllable finishing with and /l/ sound.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why pronunciation matters 2

Jo’s mother had suffered a number of strokes and was undergoing an assessment to see if she needed to be institutionalized. The doctor asked her a number of questions then asked her to spell what she heard as ‘W E L L’. No said the doctor. She tried again – once spelling W I L L and then trying W O O L, both times to be told she was wrong. Jo was angry as she had heard the same word and thought her mother’s spelling correct. Finally the mother took a guess and spelt ‘W O R L D’ which was correct. Jo was very angry and spoke with the doctor’s supervisor. The consequence of this doctor not pronouncing the ‘r’ nor the final consonant ‘d’ could have been serious.

Doctors and their employers need to be aware that clear communication is essential, particularly in cases such as this one. In Australia, doctors who have achieved the right to practise have worked hard to get through the compulsory exams. After registration there is still a duty of care responsibility to make sure that communication is not impeded by factors such as pronunciation difficulties.

This is especially the case in the area of psychiatric medicine.

Related to this area of communication difficulties is the ability of overseas trained doctors to understand colloquial language. I heard a radio interview with a doctor who on his first day on the job in a country town was puzzled when his patient said, "I think I've got a nasty wog."

Most Australians will know this to mean, "I think I have a bad case of the flu."

Pronunciation Matters training provides customised, specifically designed courses and researches the needs of each participant.