4.2 Fall 2022

September 13, True lies

I had to review the pronunciation of “delicious” with my fifth graders.

I feel like I teach them phonics and then they work really hard to unlearn it, so we embark on a neverending cycle of practicing and then forgetting short vowels.

Is it because once a week with me isn’t enough? Or do the other English teachers in their academic life, whether public school or hagwon, have a strong accent?

So we reviewed “delicious” which the kids tend to pronounce evenly spaced and with even syllables, very uncommon for English as it is a stress-timed language. Korean is a syllable-timed language, which is why sometimes Korean speakers might sound very stilted and slow while speaking English, because they are carrying over the pronunciation rules of Korean to English.

Spoken English - RMIT Training
Source. Example: “Want to get a coffee?” and “Why don’t you come and have a coffee?” Take the same amount of time in English to speak. The space between the stressed words is made to be the same length as the length of the stressed words.

I have the reverse problem in Korean, of course. The word “Americano” particularly grates my ears coming from my own mouth. In the US at a cafe, I’d say “uhmehriKON o” but in Korean I have to say “AH MEH REE KAN O” which feels lumbering and clumsy coming out of my stress-timed-accustomed mouth.

As a result, my own students usually say “DEH LEE SHOSE”.

I absolve myself of potentially offending other teachers by prefacing all my phonics reviews with “Here is how we pronounce this word in America. Let’s try it with the American accent.”

I elected to tackle this word that day.

“Let me give you a secret tip. We Americans actually say ‘diLISHis’.” I explained.

The first pass came out as:

DI LISH IS. Emphasis and timing exactly even across all three syllables. Well, we’re getting closer.

The next pass:

di LISH issss

Okay. Closer still.

“Here, look at this.”

I rewrote the pronunciation as [d’LISH iss]. For native speakers of a language that is syllable timed, getting these kids to shorten and de-emphasize syllables is a trial. I think in part because most Korean English teachers are also unaware of this and pass on their pronunciation.

The final pass:


There it is!

I asked one girl to demonstrate. “Wow, you must be American! Why are you in Korea?” I told her.

I asked the kids to repeat after her.

“Wow, great pronunciation! Are you all American students?” I complimented, laying it on too thick.

“Teacher, don’t try to flatter us,” complained one girl in the back.

“Okay, okay.” I conceded.

But still, progress!

Of course, the most awkward part of all is that Americans rarely use “delicious” to describe food in favor of simply saying “It’s good” or “it’s really good”.

No matter how natural one might be at pronouncing “delicious”, the only people using that word regularly are non-native speakers.

Suggested Reading:

A Linguistic Comparison: Stress-timed and syllable-timed languages and their impact on second language acquisition, Madeline M. Conlen

P.S. I read a lot of these types of papers for fun, and I love that it’s usually a passion graduate project! I see you, linguistics lovers!

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