I Talk Funny

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Sir? Madam? Please check Google Earth. I am from the same beautiful planet on which you live. 

However, I grew up in a small neighborhood in which people care about their farms and livestock more than how fax should be pronounced.

Taking an accent reduction course wasn't part of my daily chores. Neutral accent, British accent, and American accent were all alien to me. 

I thought speaking with correct sentence structure was good enough. But then I could overhear people around me loud enough. 

They said my pronunciation sucked.

Compared to vocabulary and grammar, pronunciation of sounds that we do not grow up with is real tough. It had driven me nuts for years. 

IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols initially looked like Egyptian hieroglyphics to me.

In fact, I'm still curious. It seems that most native speakers don't worry too much about how their mouth actually makes the sounds. Do all of them exert super-human effort to master IPA? I have serious doubts.

In school, IPA seems gospel. Yes, in fact, one classroom scene remains fresh in my memory. My English teacher demonstrated the sounds of English by way of Ugh, Ehh, and Ooh. Great job. 

She described what it is and how it works.

Seeing her demo, I was thinking how cool it was to have an understanding of these concepts. But I found it hard to decipher the act. She sounded as if she was stabbed. 

I looked around the room and witnessed my classmates listening with equally puzzled facial expressions. Sitting there, I wondered if mastering phonetics was the only way to learn.

Listen – There is a reason we were given two ears and one mouth! 

— Robert Kiyosaki 

Reading has done a good job at improving the following: 


But it had failed to improve my pronunciation. I only started to pay very close attention to the way I speak in 2006. Too late. Too many mispronounced words needed fixing.

After all, it had only been my precious me talking. With no other choice, I forced myself to like and revisit IPA. Above all else, one key ingredient cried out for an ultimate fix— listening.

When it comes to English sounds, I failed miserably being an active listener. I had heard movie casts talk. I had heard music artists sing. 

But as a non-native speaker of English, there's just too much going on in my head. Sentence structure and word choice consumed my whole attention.

Over the years, I had talked and thought I sounded right. I did not pay attention to how words should be pronounced. I just heard them exactly like how they went in one ear and then out the other.

But you must understand. It is never supposed to be just hearing. Hearing is a sense. Hearing is a no-brainer. Hearing simply happens. 

If you ask me what I hear right now while writing this part of the book, well, I hear dogs barking and cats meowing. Do you get it?

Listening is way different. Listening demands deliberate and conscious mental effort. It is a skill. You hear with your ears, but you listen with your brain. All being said, you either have poor, good, or excellent listening skills.

Do you have poor pronunciation? Chances are, you have poor listening skills. Improving the skill takes being razor-sharp focus when you listen. 

You have to be mindful that there is something very important going on and that it involves you. You have to be ready where the action (potential trouble) is.

One simple example is the "Beware of Dog" sign. This warning grabs the heck of my attention. When I see one hanging on a front gate? It gets every bit of my being fully activated. It tells me that something isn't right.

"Kenjie, be aware or get bitten."

To some people, paying attention is a struggle. I did go through that kind of struggle. I was listening to a pop song one time and I wasn't attentive to nor conscious about how words were pronounced.

The reason had to do with me trying to guess the meaning of the lyrics' unfamiliar words. I was trying to understand some confusing sentence structures in the song. 

These things that occupied my head while listening took me somewhere else.

That is, I went on a mental vacation. So, I scolded myself, "Wake up! Your grammar and vocabulary classes are over. It's time to fix the way you speak!" 

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