Me Enunciate Pretty Someday

I don't know if I have any fellow-travelers on the road to learning French, among the horde. But for those on the road to any foreign language, I want to suggest a little prep-work with the IPA. By IPA, I mean the International Phonetic Alphabet not Indian Pale Ale--though that's good prep-word too. Specifically, it seems like a good idea to learn the IPA for English and then for the language your studying.


Gabriel Wyner explains why:

It makes vocabulary easier to learn, it brings that vocabulary to your tongue with more ease, and it makes native speakers continue to speak to you in the language instead of switching to English out of pity, desperation or frustration. 

Learning accurate pronunciation in the beginning also means that you won't spend years building bad pronunciation habits, only to try and unlearn them later on -- an extremely difficult task when your tongue has been pronouncing words incorrectly hundreds of times. 

For the non-singers out there, you should know that it's not only possible to perfect your pronunciation from the beginning, but that classical singers do it all the time. Most singers develop good accents in French, Italian, German and Russian without even learning how to speak most of those languages. It's just a separate skill that you can train like all the other language skills -- reading, speaking, vocabulary acquisition, etc.
I'm currently trying to master the English IPA system with hopes of moving over to the French in a couple of weeks. What I've noticed is that it's very difficult for me to discern the pronunciation of French words by looking at them. I can't even intuit. I just don't know the sounds. 

And it isn't simply about speaking, my aural recognition is woeful. I read and write well enough for a beginner. But I speak poorly, and hear worse. I'm hoping to fix that.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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