MEI Market Note 204 – Drilling Deeper into Spanish-202
In Market Note 203, we continue our reports on the art and science of intercultural communication. We urge a linguistics-informed understanding of the Spanish phonological system as the path to improve one’s ability to hear and speak Spanish in professional situations. We build on earlier reports on the theme of “Overcoming the American Accent in Spanish.”
What is fresh is our insistence that to speak better the student has to learn to hear better; and–here is the unexpected part–in order to hear better the student needs to learn basic concepts from linguistics. Our experience is that as one’s hearing improves improvements in speech follow naturally.
Some people react negatively to this approach, remarking “What difference does it make if you say /es.sta/ or /es.ta/? The Spanish speaker will understand you in either case.” There are at least two answers to this objection: one answer is that what may be true for speaking may not be true for listening. Thus, if you don’t know the rules of liaison in French, hearing the spoken language is impossible. Said differently, if you don’t know what to listen for, you won’t hear it.
An answer of a different character is about the body language, so to say, of being able to speak Spanish with most of your phonological luggage left on the other side of the linguistic border. Speaking Spanish without a heavy accent in English, French or Korean tells the native speaker something about your intellect and character that cannot be communicated in words. It tells the native speaker that your have cared to listen attentively to the way his linguistic community communicates. It tells that native speaker that you can be trusted not to misinterpret something important that is being said. Said differently, you build trust as you learn to listen better and speak with fewer carry-overs from your native language.
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