Today, Vu Hai Dang, M.A, one of the rare 9.0 IELTS Writing candidate will explain why although it takes much time to learn new words, the same can’t be said about remembering them.
The underlying problem, often going unnoticeable, is your poor pronunciation. Why do I use the word “unnoticeable”, you ask? Firstly, it is not uncommon to see English teachers in Vietnam glossing over their pronunciation. And when even the teacher gets it wrong, no one does it right; everyone can blissfully beignorant of their mistakes. So poor pronunciation becomes an unnoticeable yet problematic issue of all English learners in Vietnam.
Most of English learners in Vietnam have some trouble when pronuncing the “hard s”, “hard d”, and “hard tr” sounds (in academic context, they are called voiceless postalveolar fricative, voiced postalveolar fricative, and voiceless postalveolar affricate, respectively). Differentiating those sounds is not a pedagogical problem; for example, most Vietnamese are able to tell the pronunciation difference between “sung” (bổ sung) and “xung” (xung phong), with the former using a “hard s”, and the latter a “soft” one. However, in real life, things get complicated; Vietnamese (especially Northern dialect) often subtitute the “soft” sounds for the “hard” ones simply for the sake of convenience.
The problem lying in translating these habits into your English. Many students keep misspelling common words, for example, “xua” (suə̯) instead of “sure” (ʃɔːr), “te-le-vi-dan” (tɛlɛvizan) instead of “television” (telɪvɪʒən), “chen” (cɛn) instead of “change” (tʃeɪndʒ). And ironically, the more they keep reading out loud these words, the more confidence they get. Unfortunately, wrong pronunciation simply means language inefficiency in the eyes of the native English speakers, because they cannot comprehend what you just said. The problem further exacerbates when you realize you have already taken a lot of time to learn these mispronunciation, and now you need even more them to un-learn them and re-learn the right ones.
INTONATION, STRESS, AND RHYTHM
In Vietnamese, tones play a major role in terms of semantics and emotion conveying. However, English is a non-tonal language; it uses a combination of intonation, stress, and rhythm to achieve the same goal. This is the biggest difference between Vietnamese phonology and English. In Vietnamese, you can speak without sentence intonation, and it still makes sense. But you are not allowed to do the same with English.
Take a look at these two sentences: We sat down, and we looked at the world from that perspective. We breathed in the new inspiration, new motivation.
To create a prosody, a native English speaker will not read it monotonously; rather, he will break down the sentence into different chunks. The result will have a prosodic nature, like a song, thus attracting the listener.
The above technique is demonstrated as the following:
Stressing: We SAT DOWN, and we just LOOKED at the WORLD from that PERSPECTIVE. BREATHED in the NEW inspiration, NEW motivation.
Rhythm: We SAT down / and we just LOOKED at the WORLD / from that PERSPECTIVE./ We BREATHED in / the NEW inspiration, / NEW motivation.
It seems to be deceptively simple, but actually not easy at all. You need to do it slowly to “feel” it naturally. However, it is apparent that practicing these skills is not an easy task without proper guidance, especially to beginners. So who are going to be your mentor?
THE SNOW QUEEN
Dang Vu shares his story: “Being an English teacher, I have heard about Elsa Speak and downloaded into my iPhone for a long time, but it is not until recently that I tried it. I do not use it for myself; rather, Elsa is a pronunciation assistant for my students. It is truly a wonderful application for being capable of correcting many mistakes that are both drilled hard and difficult to be re-learned.
At my class, I sum up all the common pronunciation mistakes so that my students can note them down and try to correct themselves. But we soon found ourselves in an exercise in futility. What makes Elsa stand out from the rest is the diversity of topics– each has its own vocabulary exercise. And then, by being exposed to the standard accent, the user can reinforce the correct way of pronunciation.
There are also some other merits. Firstly, Elsa is your pocket pronunciation trainer. It also gives score based on how native-like your pronunciation is. And the lesson is conveniently short, which means it is suitable for a quick lesson every day.
Once mastering the vocabulary, you will move on to practicing sentence intonation with more than 400 topics and more than 2,000 bite-sized lexicon items. For those who are going to take the IELTS exam, these resources are also great for learning a lot of words for IELTS Speaking.
If I have to name an issue of Elsa, then it must be the inability to assess intonation in long sentences. I tried to speak English with a thick Vietnamese accent, but the application still rewarded me with a high scoring. That being said, its phonological assessment is still exceptional, and that is a good point.
When looking at the vocabulary table of many learners, I immediately understand why it is a vicious cycle of learn-then-forget. People often try to memorize many obscured words like “nadir” or “scrummage”, while leaving out what truly attracts them.
Once you finally notice the problem, quod erat demonstrandum. In this case, just do the opposite! Start by ignoring difficult lexicon, and prioritise the easier and more emotional ones. This way, you can avoid making mistakes because you are learning with your heart – that is where the idiom “learn by heart” lies on.
Still, it is easier said than done. From my teaching experience, nearly every student has some trouble in choosing which word to learn. So recently, I have made FRESH 360 on VU HAI DANG IELTS group. FRESH 360 will be posted at 9 pm all day to help you learn and absorb vocabulary faster. By how, you ask? The vocabulary is chosen and presented in an interesting way, rich in images, and close to the Vietnamese language in an unexpected way, along with animation work”, Dang concludes.
Mr Vu Hai Dang is one of the few who scored 9.0 in IELTS Writing, awarded with the Chevening Scholarship by the British Government. He is also the founder of IELTS Kungfu, the famous IELTS test centre, the “I get 9 points IELTS writing” Facebook page, and IELTS Vu Hai Dang Facebook page. You can join his FRESH 360 through the Vu Hai Dang IELTS group or Self-study IELTS 9.0 group (currently having nearly 200,000 members).