In the movie Forbidden Kingdom, a teen from Boston finds himself in ancient China surrounded by people speaking a language he cannot comprehend. When he speaks, no one understands his gibberish. His lack of language skills is life-threatening, as a band of soldiers are hunting down an artifact in his possession.
When Lu Yan, one of the eight immortals (Jackie Chan), comes to his rescue, the boy looks at him and shouts “I can’t understand you!” The immortal looks at him and says, “That’s because you not listening.”
For a student of foreign languages, listening skills are important. The foundation of accurate sound reproduction is in how one hears the sound. Few people can hear it correctly or accurately the first time, so constant repetition of the sound is required before one is ready to try to repeat the sound for the first time. If you smell a rose, you will forever remember its scent, for the sense of smell goes straight to long term memory. However, what you see and hear will go into short term memory, and are easily forgotten. Sight and sound have to be repeated again and again until it is moved into long term memory. Think of it as a nail that has to be hit on the head again and again until it is deep enough for it to be of good use. If the depth is too shallow, it will easily be pulled out of the wall. It is through this process that I have learned to say “thank you” in ten languages.
Croatian - hvala
Japanese - domo arigato
French – merci beacoup
Italian – gratzi
German – danke shan
Thai – korp kom karp Lao – kawp jai
Khmer – aw gooan
Spanish – gracias
While I do have a small collection of phrase books for other languages, they are useless without a native speaker to help me understand the sounds. Also, it helps to see the shape of the mouth and know the placement of the jaw and the tongue in making some of these sounds. There are differences in tongue position and the shape of the mouth that affect the sound quality, distinguishing the differences between the “z” and the “v” and the “f” sounds. One needs to see the difference in positions in order to properly hear the difference in these sounds. Students of foreign languages should not be afraid of their teacher getting in their faces.
One South African teacher I worked with in Seoul would get into the face of each of his students when showing them how to make the “th” sound. He got his students laughing, and the students tried hard not to lose their composure when the teacher made them mimic his actions. It was important for him to see what the student was doing so he could help make corrections in their pronunciation. Be thankful for language teachers who get in your face. They care enough to listen to you attempt to make a sound, so give them what they want. You will be glad you did.