Life in the US: The unexpected language barrier [2]

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Our first parent/teacher conference here in the US, back in October last year, was great – the teacher was full of praise for our, then, 6yo.

He had settled successfully into his new school. He was doing well in all subjects. He was a confident, sociable boy, who got on well with his classmates.

But, there was a small issue with his vowels…

We didn’t need to worry though, the speak therapist had been consulted. His vowels would be fixed within a year or so.

I resisted the urge to point out that there was nothing wrong with his vowels, and that in fact, his vowels were quite correct, thank you very much… much to the relief of my husband!

The problem, of course, was actually accent versus phonics :)

So, I started to listen more closely to the American accent.

We live near Boston. B-aw-ston is B-ah-ston if you speak to a native Bostonian. I began to see where the problem lay!

When the 6yo was listening to words with short vowel sounds; like hot, hat and hut; he was struggling to differentiate. To be fair, hubby and I struggled too!

When hot (h-aw-t) becomes h-ah-t is the teacher saying hot, hat or hut?

And when that teacher is a tinny voice in an online phonics programme, you’re really screwed!

Thankfully (or not, depending on your perspective) the 7yo has absorbed an American accent – phrasing, intonation, the lot – and no longer has any problems at all with his phonics.

I still resolutely say B-aw-ston. And mum.

10 thoughts on “Life in the US: The unexpected language barrier [2]”

    1. Ha! It’s so funny the things we don’t realise we’re saying :) Two syllable words throw me every time, Americans always seem to put the inflection on the opposite syllable than we Brits do! It’s so much more than just accent, it’s intonation, phrasing, everything!

    1. It hadn’t occurred to me either, but some of the vowel sounds are subtly (or not so subtly) different – ‘a’ and ‘o’ seem to be the most different. And don’t get me started on the lack of a ‘t’ in the middle of words… They all seem to become ‘d’ – water/wa-dd-er :) I’m starting to sound like my mother ‘wa-t-t-t-er’!!

  1. I moved to Maine via Illinois and Detroit, MI and then Prince Edward Island Canada. In PEI they say yeah and swallow something – sounds like they are gagging. This is supposed to be an affirmative? They are storm stayed instead of snowbound. They are getting some dirt if it’s snowing. Once here, I worked for LL Bean for several years on the phone and all the customers comment on how I don’t sound like a Mainer. I couldn’t resist saying Yup. And thanks for your awder. And we have great weatha today —— sometimes you can get the best laughs – I have never been to Bawston but I sure as heck want to go. It’s not far from us and I’m planning it for the fall when the summer plague (tourists) is over.

  2. As much fun as it was to work in New York a those years ago, I still can’t get over the fact no one could pronounce my name Craig, It always came out Creg.

  3. Be thankful they are teaching phonics at all. Accents were not a problem here (in my corner of Michigan) where you can spell words however you want in elementary school as long as you are “writing” creatively. I am not joking. I’ve heard on numerous occasions that spelling is overrated and that because everyone has access to computers with spellcheck that not knowing how to spell is not a hindrance in reading and writing.

    I lived on the East Coast for six years, so I know that Boston accent well. I love New England, by the way. But I do think that a teacher, who is teaching using phonics, should make every effort to speak “without” an accent of any kind stressing to pronounce the word properly.

    1. To be fair to his teacher, his accent is relatively mild – but I still found it very interesting that there was a need to consult the speech therapist, implying that my sons pronunciation was ‘wrong’?! I know what you mean about spelling – there is a lot of emphasis on learning words of the week and they have spelling tests weekly, but any story writing etc is still fairly creative in a spelling sense :) He reads well though, so I’ll roll with it for the moment, but I have to actively stop myself from correcting his spelling! Thank you so much for commenting xx

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