Preemptive tongue untying
March 24, 2009 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Finding pronunciation-intensive courses abroad for French or German.

My dream would be to work with a (French or German) teacher, going over each individual sound in excruciating detail to make it automatic, gradually building this into larger units, as well as intonation and other key patterns. If it takes an hour to nail done the exact vowel sound, then so be it. I don't need grammar or basic vocabulary or other basic 101-level stuff. I do need active correction, however, as opposed to passive listening methods.

I know from bitter experience you have to start right: I've studied languages without doing this, which means excruciating and long unlearning of bad habits and a lot of problems that persist to this day.

Grammar and vocabulary have always come pretty easily to me, and i would be happy to work on this myself with other materials. But while my pronunciation could be worse, I know that without intensive work my accent and diction will not naturally just "get better" over time. Knowing this has really made me self-conscious in speaking foreign languages, and if I could overcome this barrier at the very beginning I think I could progress very quickly in other parts of the language.

I mentioned French and German because of the places it'll be easiest to do this (and my interests), but if there are similar courses in any other languages I would be happy to hear about them as well.
posted by trouserlouse to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Alliance Francaise in Paris offers phonetics courses as well as private lessons which you can tailor to your own needs.
posted by fire&wings at 3:51 PM on March 24, 2009

Seconding the Alliance-Francaise phonetics class. I took it at AF-Chicago and it was great, very helpful, especially for learning the slight differences you can just barely hear. There was also practice on the things like intonation and how to use it for emphasis (or how /not/ to use it by accident!).
posted by sldownard at 4:03 PM on March 24, 2009

There's probably a Goethe Institut in a major city near you. There are group classes, but you can also sign up for personal lessons/tutoring; the latter can easily be tailored to your own needs. The group classes vary a lot city by city, so you may or may not have any luck finding a (cheaper) group pronunciation-intensive course.
posted by ubersturm at 4:03 PM on March 24, 2009

For German phonetics I recommend Christopher Hall’s Modern German pronunciation: An introduction for speakers of English (2nd edition).

For Russian (there are probably others) I recommend Stilman and Harkins’ Introductory Russian Grammar.

For Romanian I recommend Liana Pop’s Româna cu sau fără profesor.
posted by vkxmai at 6:22 PM on March 24, 2009

I looked at the AF website...there isn't anything more affordable, is there?
posted by trouserlouse at 10:05 PM on March 24, 2009

I just want to clarify that you want something abroad, right? Like, in the country where the language is spoken, so France (or wherever) for French, etc?

Language courses at a reputable school, with actual teachers and not just people who happen to be native speakers, are pretty much going to be expensive. What kind of class/school format are you hoping to find?

If you want cheaper, you should do what you suggest in your post -- just find someone and tell them that you want them to correct the hell out of your pronunciation (a French person certainly would be happy to do that). But finding someone who's also good at explaining to you how to make the sounds might be hard. I think that's more of an innate ability (the teaching, not the pronouncing) and not necessarily something that comes with being a trained teacher. My best pronunciation teachers have been non-teachers, usually people who spoke English very well but also had learned one or two other languages -- I think the more other languages you learn, the more you start to understand about your native language.

On a side note, Hanover in Germany and Tours in France are the cities considered to have the "purest" accents, respectively. (Non-Hanoverians will dispute that, while Tours's supremacy is widely accepted.)
posted by thebazilist at 10:41 PM on March 24, 2009

I've been thinking along the lines of what thebazilist said, to find a person who happens to be good at teaching sounds, of course the question is how to find that kind of person. Any ideas for concrete ways?
posted by trouserlouse at 12:34 AM on March 25, 2009

Possibly tangential suggestion - you could learn some phonetics independently, enough to understand the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) and this can be very useful in whatever foreign language you happen to be learning. If you live near a university with a linguistics department, you could ask if you could sit in on Phonetics 101 or equivalent.

Once you are familiar with the huge range of possible sounds, you can then narrow your interest to the particular subset used by, say, French. It all starts to make much more sense then, I found.

If your languages are at a reasonable level and you want to go abroad, pretty much anything that involves constant immersion in a native-speaker environment will ultimately be good for your pronunciation - particularly if you have got yourself some phonetics knowledge beforehand.
posted by altolinguistic at 3:21 AM on March 25, 2009

There are always native speakers on Craigslist looking to tutor. I've never arranged lessons that way, but I think it would be reasonable to suggest meeting for coffee first before paying for an actual lesson, like for 15 minutes, just to get to know each other and see if you would mesh. At that point you could try them out: "I'm especially looking for help with pronunciation, like I could never get xyz sound." And then see how they approach it. Ask them about their own accent in their native language, or to demonstrate their different regional accents. If they can't put their finger on the differences or can't produce those other accents, that's a bad sign.

You could also try the language/nationality meetups to meet native speakers, and just become acquainted with them. Since English-speakers go to these to practice, apologize for butchering their language and say that you always welcome obsessive pronunciation correction. If you find someone good, offer to pay for lessons. Also try to find someone who can distinguish between English accents (eg, New York vs Irish). Many native English speakers aren't good at this, and I find in non-native English speakers, it's a really good indicator that they have a good ear for pronunciation.
posted by thebazilist at 9:49 AM on March 25, 2009

What you are describing is exactly the labor that actors and singers working in another language do with a diction coach. Teaching the sounds of another language is a very specialized skill, not just being a native speaker works. I have personally worked in German, French, Italian, and Czech, and know coaches who work in Russian. Goethe Institut is not very diction intensive as far as I could tell in the course I took. German is hard though because every area has a different accent, and singers (for instance) use High German which is only spoken in one city. You may want to look up diction courses. I have never done this and always worked with private coaches. For coaches you could look on craigslist or on boards at music schools. Since you are interested in speaking only I would specify that so that if they can't help you they can point you in the right direction or to another person. I don't know what cost restrictions you have but for this kind of intensive and specialized work it may be expensive. Coaches charge any range of prices from $40-$200 so you may find someone to help you in your price range. I would also suggest studying the International Phonetic Alphabet which will familiarize you with the sounds involved.
posted by scazza at 10:43 AM on March 25, 2009

Oh and duh, not abroad but famous.
posted by scazza at 10:47 AM on March 25, 2009

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