Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blog # 7 What Are You Sinking About?

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Think or sink?  This is one of the common mistakes of pronouncing a foreign language word: replacing an unfamiliar sound with a familiar sound of one’s first language.  Some English learners from China may have the same problem, because we don’t have a th sound in Chinese, you may have heard Chinese learners say Sank you instead of Thank you. 
As a long-term English learner, I would say speaking is one of the hardest parts for many Chinese learners.  Back the time I started learning English, the predominant approach to instruction was grammar-translation, reading and writing were the focus of teaching.  Not until college did we have native speakers to teach us Spoken and Listening.  But the gap between students’ writing and speaking proficiency had been long-existing and hard to be changed.  So, opposite to the common belief that English learners would grasp daily communication skills before they reach academic language level, Chinese learners seem to reverse the 2 phases. A good example would be my husband: he has no problem conducting research and publishing scientific papers in English journals, but when it comes to daily conversations and phone calls, he is not as skilled as in written English. He is also very self-conscious of his accent, and dubs his English “Yunglish”, because he was born in Yunnan China.
Another problem that frustrates English learners, is the difference between the textbook language and the authentic language spoken by the native speakers. We learned words such as wonderful, excellent, great, terrific, amazing, perfect in China, only to found Americans are actually saying awesome!  Slangs, idioms and phrasal verbs could be confusing too.  Firoozeh Dumas, author of Funny in Farsi, depicted a real story in which she and her mother went to supermarket in searching for “elbow grease”, because the American repairman who fixed their washing machine recommended in using it to remove the stain on the floor. 
Learning a second language is a long and twisted path.  When my Chinese and English are fighting in my brain, my tongue and teeth are fighting in my mouth, I couldn’t help lamenting when my English will be the same proficient as my Chinese, and when can I talk as fast and laugh as hard as my American classmates do!
I am thinking, and do not want to be sinking!

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