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Why Pronunciation is Important

Last week I wrote about the importance of learning correct pronunciation when studying a foreign language.  If you did not read that post, click here to find it.  Today I want to give a more specific, and quite hilarious, example of an English mispronunciation.

One of the things that makes pronunciation difficult is the fact that each language has its own unique set of sounds that native speakers learn as babies.  When learning a foreign language, sounds that are not part of your native language can be very difficult to replicate, as your mouth isn’t trained to make the new sounds.  This is the reason people have accents when speaking a foreign language; the speaker does their best to produce the sounds of the foreign language, but it is very difficult to make sounds that are not a part of the speaker’s native language, resulting in an accent.  For example, the “th” sound in English is not found in many other languages, resulting in a challenge for non-native English speakers.

(I promise there is a funny story coming.  I just need to share the background of pronunciation challenges before sharing the story!)

In the Japanese language there is no “l” or “r” sound.  Instead, there is a sound that is like a combination of the two, a sort of “soft r.”  Native Japanese speakers have a very difficult time pronouncing the “l” and “r” sounds in English, and they often use the two letters interchangeably.  Many times when my Japanese friends wrote my name in “English” they wrote “Sala” instead of “Sarah.”  This R/L pronunciation difficulty is where we get the term “Engrish,” referring to the funny misuse of English by native Japanese speakers.  There is a hilarious website dedicated to English mishaps- check it out here!

One of my favorite “Engrish” stories from my time in Japan came when I was on the Kwansei Gakuin University cheerleading team.  My university had one of the best American Football teams in the country, and when I studied there, American-style cheerleading had recently become a big fad at the football games.  Having been a cheerleader in the USA, I decided that joining the KGU cheer team would be a great way for me to keep up my skills and make friends.

Because we cheered for American Football, the cheerleaders in Japan did their best to emulate American cheerleading.  Many of our dance moves and stunts were taken from cheerleading movies and footage of cheer competitions on ESPN.  A few of the cheerleaders on my team had even been to California to attend cheer camps and learn from American cheerleaders.  In order to be as “American” as possible, we often cheered in English.  This in itself was quite comical, as the translations of the cheers were never very good, and when combined with the Japanese accent made the cheers utterly unintelligible to a native English speaker.  The best English cheer mishap, however came in written form.  As we learned new cheers, the captain would pass out a sheet with the English cheers written down for the team to learn.  This particular cheer was meant to rouse the crowd into joining us in repeated clapping of our hands.  Because of an unfortunate L/R mishap on the part of the captain, I was handed a piece of paper that said:  “Crap! Crap! Everybody Crap!  Ret’s All Crap Together!”   Somehow I managed to keep a straight face, but this remains one of my favorite stories from my time as a cheerleader in Japan.


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