In my previous post, I discussed the pronunciation of 'monk' by our guide in Bhutan. In this picture, he is on the left, wearing traditional Bhutanese dress.
He asked me how to improve his pronunciation. In fact, his English was excellent, so I was reluctant to criticise anything; but seeing as he asked for feedback, I provided him with a brief overview of some of the non-standard features of his pronunciation, including 'monk' as [mɒŋk] even though I'm not sure that it matters too much. Here are a few of the other features, some of which might be a bit more important for maintaining intelligibility.
- /b/ and /v/ are sometimes confused, so 'visit' might be [bɪzɪt]
- complex consonant clusters can be simplified, so the /r/ is omitted in 'extract'
- /ɑː/ is generally used when 'a' occurs in the spelling, even when /ɔː/ is expected, including the first syllable of 'always' and 'August'
- stress is generally on the first syllable, even for verbs where it is expected on the second syllable, such as 'subdue' and 'converted'
So, which of these is important? Confusing /b/ and /v/ can be a problem, and so can consonant cluster simplification. But what about the others? I'm not sure that /ɑː/ in 'always' would ever be misunderstood, and perhaps stress placement is not too important in English in an international setting.
In fact, the most important advice I could give him was to slow down when using difficult words. And sometimes, intelligibility can be enhanced by avoiding imitating native speakers too closely. For example:
- 'deity' is an unusual word, so it needs to be clearly three syllables, even if native speakers might often merge the first two syllables; the first time he said it, I heard 'dainty'
- 'eighteen' and 'eighty' are easily confused; the best way to say 'eighteen' is to stress the second syllable clearly, even when native speakers do not! For example, in the phrase 'eighteen years', native speakers tend to shift the stress to the first syllable of 'eighteen', but in order to maintain intelligibility, it is best not to do this
- 'guava' starts with the unusual cluster /gw/, and I heard it pronounced as [gɑːvə], which is not easy to understand; to avoid this, it might be best to make it three syllables: [guˈɑːvə] (so long as stress is placed on the second syllable)
I don't know if this advice was helpful. I suspect that, like most learners of English, he was a bit alarmed at my advice to avoid imitating native speech patterns.