Programa 112: Hoy Patrick Keynote Response

Hoy Patrick nos mete cerita, al menos a nosotros. Y hace bien. Nos encanta que nos indique los fallos y nos corrija. A ver, de entrada joroba, es la verdad, pero una vez escuchamos, vemos que tiene toda la razón. Y si no lo hace con los de casa… La verdad es que es una suerte poder tener alguien que nos ayude tanto. Aquí os dejamos el podcast y a continuación la transcripción.

Welcome to Keynote Response 6.

Today, I’d like to give some feedback to Key to English Programme 101.

For starters, I’d like to applaud Stephen’s initiative to channel microdonations to charity organisations.

And his excellent tip about making mistakes.

 As he says, what is important is communication.

This is also something Leo talked about and you all know it’s something I always insist on.

Salvi mentioned listening to Stephen’s podcast as a way to relax after listening to the BBC.

That’s actually a good idea, to alternate between what Salvi considers the harder BBC broadcast and what she says is the easier Send7 podcast.

Or vice versa.

You could listen to Stephen or his colleague Juliette as a sort of warm-up

before going on to the harder BBC.

And it might be interesting to do it with the same news item, to see how they compare linguistically.

And, for a change, back to Salvi’s recurring bugbear: she insisted, once again completely ignoring everything or much of what I tell her, that Spaniards’ pronunciation in English is worse than that of other nationalities.

And she gives the example of Swedes and Germans.

Well, I’ve travelled relatively extensively, and over several years, in Sweden and Germany, as well as their neighbouring countries

and I must insist, once again, that my experience simply doesn’t coincide with what Salvi says.

Generalisations, like averages, are simply a reference for convenience and obviously do not accurately reflect reality.

So, while it’s true that many of the Swedes I’ve spoken to in English have a remarkably high level of fluency, and an especially clear pronunciation, I have also met many Swedes, of all ages, whose pronunciation has not resulted in smooth communication.

This is obviously something that I’m interested in as a language teacher and I can assure you that I’m continuously surprised at how many people, of all nationalities, and all generations, have a lower level than might be expected because of their job or position or international projection.

Politicians, scientists, musicians, business people.

Even diplomats.

The only consistent exception is that of actors and actresses, who generally tend to be quite fluent, possibly as a sort of second nature of being able to imitate what they hear.

In the case of most of the German speakers I’ve spoken to or heard speaking, a far lower percentage of them had as clear a pronunciation as the Swedes.

Indeed, the German accent tends to be especially thick when speaking English and German English speakers tend to make far more grammatical mistakes in English.

I don’t remember much of what I studied in comparative linguistics, but I would imagine that this can be explained simply because Swedish grammar is probably more similar to English grammar than German grammar is.

But, once again, I’ve been surprised at how many Germans do not speak any English at all.

And then, of course, we also need to distinguish between a person’s

perceived level and their accent.

Here is where it gets tricky.

I know foreigner speakers of English, including Spaniards who, after some time living in Scotland or the US, to give the example of two very distinct accents, have acquired an amazing Scots or Yankee accent but who continue to make even very basic grammatical mistakes.

So, they’ve got a great accent, but their communication isn’t necessarily very good, grammatically speaking, at least.

In fact, I think everyone should keep their own accent because it’s part of their personality and reflects where they come from. Why try to falsify reality?

I’m not Spanish. I don’t speak with a Spanish accent. I really, honestly, don’t make any attempt to speak with a Spanish accent.

So, to communicate effectively, your accent isn’t as important as your ability to speak with an understandable pronunciation and intonation, which, as I’ve pointed out before, is not the same as a correct pronunciation, nor an English accent.

Javi mentions the French accent, but I could add the Italian or the Greek or the Chinese or the Japanese or whatever non-native speaker of English you care to mention.

This is not a criticism, and I must insist on this point: it is not a criticism of all the people in the world who make an effort to speak in a language other than their mother tongue.

It’s admirable, however well they do it.

It’s true that we sometimes hear people of all nationalities speaking other languages very fluently and with what we could consider perfect accents.

But that is not the norm.

And, as I keep insisting, this is not, in general, due to them being more intelligent or better students but more because they, as individuals,

have that natural ability, just like some people have a natural ability to sing or whistle or draw or swim or play the guitar.

And in the case of language, as in most of the cases I’ve just mentioned,

the key is to practice speaking not just study the theory.

Can you imagine learning to whistle by first having to study music theory?

You could argue that the theory may, later, help you improve,

depending on how we define or measure improvement.

But if you only study the language and don’t practice speaking, you just ain’t gonna get fluent.

So, back to the fact that we often hear public figures, especially career diplomats or functionaries at international organisations, with an excellent level of English.

In many of these cases, you’ll find that they come from families with a cosmopolitan background and outlook on life and they grew up learning English, and whatever other foreign languages they speak, probably specifically aimed at a future career at an international level.

I’ve had several students here in Spain who work in the international sphere and whose level of English is excellent.

They may simply come to me for preparing a particularly important speech or just because they want conversation classes to maintain their fluency in topics outside their normal working life.

And their level of English is just as good, and in many cases even better, than that of their colleagues from other countries with whom I’ve spoken or I’ve heard speaking.

Even if they themselves don’t always believe it.

But just as an example of how everything is relative, and how every case is different,

I sometimes tell the anecdote of an international figure, a German academic, who was fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French and Latin

and who was able to converse in other languages.

One of the biggest frustrations in his life was not having the same level of fluency in English as he had in all those other languages. And, most especially, that he could never overcome his strong German accent when speaking English.

Right, so now we come to the part where I’d like to introduce a new feature which may, or may not, make me very unpopular with Salvi and Javi.

As you know, the main aim of the Keynote Speeches is to focus on pronunciation.

However, as the aim of these Keynote Responses is to give feedback on the content of specific Key to English programmes, whatever Salvi and Javi may feel about it, I’m comfortable about including this new subsection.

And, after Salvi and Javi manage to get over their initial shock, I feel confident that they will take this in the spirit in which it is intended… which is none other than to help them, and all you listeners out there, speak both more accurately and more fluently.

So, deep breath everyone:

My new contribution is to pick out, and explain, some of the most typical mistakes or errors that Salvi and Javi make in the programme.

I will not, under any circumstances, comment on their guests’ mistakes or errors because these guests already do more than enough, simply by agreeing to be interviewed.

I’ll focus on those that are common to most Spanish speakers and I’ll try to balance it all in such a way that neither Salvi nor Javi feel that I am picking on them in any way.

As I just pointed out, I shall only comment on those things that are useful to all Spanish learners of English and that everyone can learn from, whatever their level.

So, here goes:

Javi used the verb “resume”. This is a great false friend.

And like most false friends, extremely confusing.

So the typical situation in which you will hear this verb is in a meeting, for example, just before adjourning for lunch.

The chairperson may say something like, “OK, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll resume this discussion after lunch”.

That does not mean that after lunch the people attending the meeting will make a summary of the morning’s discussion but that they will return to what they were discussing before they left off.

What Javi meant to say is “summarise”, “make a summary”or “sum up”, which are some of the translations of “resumir” in Spanish.

One of the problems here is that there is a noun, “résumé”, with accents over the two Es, and which is most often used as a synonym of CV, curriculum vitae. The difference between a résumé and a CV is that the former is a shorter version of the latter.

Salvi said that “the news are common for everyone”.

But don’t forget that the word “news”, even though it finishes in “s”, is an uncountable noun, which means we use it in the singular, like the word “information”.

So we say “the news is interesting”.

If we want to refer to separate “bits” of news, different “pieces” of news, we have to say “news items” or “news articles”.

So, although most plural nouns in English finish in -s, the fact that a word finishes in the letter S doesn’t mean it’s a plural.

There are several nouns in English that finish in S that aren’t plural, like bus, kiss and boss.

But there are several that don’t finish in S but are plural, like children, women, people, data and criteria.

Another thing that cropped up is that of word stress.

Javi said record, which, among many other meanings, is something you can listen to, read, write or keep.

It can also be something you set at a sporting event, for example, like a world record or an Olympic record.

However, Javi meant the verb record,

which means putting something on tape, film or online and is what you do, for example, in a recording studio.

We’ll talk about this phenomenon soon in a future Keynote Speech, but basically, most two-syllable nouns in English have the stress on the first syllable whereas two-syllable verbs tend to have the stress on the last syllable.

So we say doctor, garden and sofa,

but repeat, decide and agree.

Obviously I’m exaggerating here, but you get the idea.

Salvi said “frustrated”, making the vowel sound of the letter U sound like the U in words like “put” or “push”.

Don’t forget that the letter u followed by two consonants is usually pronounced /ʌ/, like in “summer”, “butter”, “under”, “Sunday”, etc.

So, the correct pronunciation is “frustrated”.

Of course, as I point out at the beginning of each Keynote Speech, this pronunciation is based on Standard British English.

Javi used the term “starters” instead of “beginners” when referring to new language learners.

Normally, “starters” are the small quantity of food that is served as the first course of a meal.

Another meaning of “starters” refers to the people or animals who take part at the beginning of a race even if they do not finish.

And notice the expression I used at the very beginning today: “for starters” to indicate that something is the first item or point in a series.

A similar expression would be “To start with…”.

Another interesting error that cropped up is the difference between “get” and “manage to”.

So when Javi said “I think you get it”, referring to Stephen being successful in doing something, the expression should have been “I think you manage it” or “you manage to do it”.

So, one of the many, many meanings of “get” is that of “understand”, and Javi’s comment, “I think you get it”, really means “I think you understand”.

In other words, if someone has explained something to you and then realises that you’ve understood, he or she might say “I think you get it”.

Another use of “get” in this meaning is if someone tells you a joke, you can either “get it” or not get it.

In fact, a typical English slang expression you sometimes hear when people are telling jokes is “Geddit?”.

If we mean that someone is successful in something that seems difficult, we use the expression “manage to”.

So I could ask myself  “How did Salvi manage to convince me to collaborate on these podcasts?”.

We could also use it sarcastically, for example “How did you manage to lose the keys, again?”.

I now leave it for Salvi and Javi to do their homework, for a change, and come up with a good translation of that expression, “Geddit?”

I’d also like to point out the difference between an interpreter and a translator.

Although the dictionary definitions refer to them as being synonymous,

the basic difference is that interpreters work with the spoken word whereas translators work with written texts.

Simultaneous interpreting refers to interpreting while the speaker is speaking.

Consecutive interpreting refers to interpreting after the speaker has finished speaking.

In this context, I’d also like to comment on Salvi saying that Stephen works “as teacher”.

If you were paying attention to my previous reference to “an interpreter and a translator” you’d have noticed the use of the indefinite articles “a” and “an” before the profession.

So Stephen answers that he works as “a primary school teacher”.

Don’t forget that we always use the indefinite article before a profession or an occupation (in the singular).

So “Salvi is a physiotherapist”.

And, of course, if we use another word in front of that noun, we modify the indefinite article accordingly.

So I could say “Salvi is an experienced physiotherapist”.

I have no idea what Javi does, so I’ll just say that he’s a podcaster.

And if I want to qualify that in any way, I could say that “he’s an experienced podcaster”.

So, we can say “John is an engineer” but if we need to specify using a word that begins with a vowel sound, not a vowel letter, we would say “John is a chemical engineer”.

I’ll be talking more about vowels sounds soon in a Keynote Speech on general aspects of pronunciation.

OK, that’s the end of my new subsection of these Keynote Responses.

As usual, I hope you’ve all found this interesting and useful.

And, as usual, if you have any questions or comments regarding today’s Keynote Response, I’ll be happy to answer them.

But before I sign off, and regarding my very brief explanation of the use of “get” and “manage to”, I’d just like to point out something I said earlier: “However, after Salvi and Javi manage to get over their initial shock…”.

That’s another little gem I leave for them to figure out for homework.

Bye for now!

¡¡Hasta la semana que viene!!

Un micrófono con una flecha hacia un archivo de word indica una transcripción de un trabajo oral a su equivalencia escrita.