I'm going to start tutoring a Vietnamese guy in English.
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11-04-2012, 07:26 PM
RE: I'm going to start tutoring a Vietnamese guy in English.

As someone who's taught ESL professionally both in the U.S. and abroad, I have some thoughts:

You and your friend need to think carefully about your goals: What exactly are you aiming for? Why? And what goals are realistic in this situation?

If your friend wants you to help him lose his accent completely so he sounds just like a native-born American, chances are you're both in for a lot of frustration. Young kids are amazing at picking up languages with native competence, with no foreign accent whatsoever. But very few adults can do the same. (Linguists have various theories about why that should be true, but no one knows for sure. It used to be thought it had something to do with brain lateralization around the age of puberty, but that's been called into question.)

If he's extremely motivated and has a "good ear," he may eventually be able to come close to sounding native--with an awful lot of work. But why should he want to lose his accent completely? How you sound is part of who you are, part of your sense of yourself. It's an aspect of your identity. Is your friend uncomfortable with being identified as someone of Asian origin? Then I'd look at that as a more important problem to work on than having a foreign accent.

We in the States are generally pretty accepting of foreign accents, much more so than in many other countries. Think of Henry Kissinger, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Zbigniew Brzezinski (Carter's national security advisor)--three Americans with distinct foreign accents who nevertheless made it to high levels of government. (I'm not sure the equivalent thing could happen in, say, France.) We tolerate foreign accents and sometimes even think they're cool--as long as we can understand the person without a problem.

And to me, that indicates the direction you should head with your friend. Don't focus on trying to make him sound like he was born in Baton Rouge; instead, help him correct whatever aspects of his pronunciation are making him hard to understand, which is a very different thing.

A couple of examples:

Take the word "didn't." Say it out loud a few times as you normally say it, paying attention to how it sounds. You'll notice you don't pronounce the second d like the first. The second d is sort of "swallowed" and pronounced through your nose. (The technical term is "nasal plosion.") If you try to pronounce the second d as a clear d, you'll get something like "dih-dint": perfectly understandable but not the way native speakers talk. Now . . . should you try to get your friend to pronounce "didn't" (and other words with nasal plosion like "hadn't," "sudden," "gotten," etc.) like a native speaker? If you're successful with that, my hat's off to you--it's really hard for both student and teacher. But the point is, why try? The "foreign" pronunciation is completely understandable.

On the other hand, suppose a non-native speaker can't distinguish between the "long ee" sound (as in "read," "beach," "sheet") and the "short i" sound (as in "rid," "bitch," "shit"). THAT's a problem! There's a real potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication there, so working on the distinction is clearly useful. A good way to procede is to tackle perception before production. In other words, first train the student to hear the difference, which is not as easy as it sounds; then get him to produce the difference in his speech.

I have a resource I'm not using that might come in handy; if you're interested, PM me and I'll tell you about it.

Finally, if you ever need some comic relief: the hamburger scene from Steve Martin's "Pink Panther":

Good luck! Hope it's fun for both you and your friend.

Religious disputes are like arguments in a madhouse over which inmate really is Napoleon.
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11-04-2012, 07:50 PM
RE: I'm going to start tutoring a Vietnamese guy in English.
For your next student .. please teach Clouseau how to say "ze pewp".

"But that's a priceless Steinway"
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