In one of his TED talks, Wade Davis tells how in 1957, five missionaries attempted to contact the Waorani tribe in North Eastern Ecuador and made a critical mistake. They airdropped 8”x10” glossy photos of themselves in what they considered to be friendly gestures, but forgot that the rain-forest tribesmen had never seen anything two dimensional before in their lives. Picking up the photos from the forest floor, and failing to find the figure behind the form, the tribesmen concluded that the photographs had to be calling cards from the Devil. When the missionaries arrived a few weeks later, they were speared to death. The moral of the story? Know your audience. Here are three things I have learned about my audience, Chinese students, now the world’s largest TEFL audience, over the last decade.
1. Teach weak forms
When words are put together in Chinese, they don’t change. In English, they do. As a result, Chinese speakers tend to pronounce words, ‘too fully’. For example, “cup”, “of” and “coffee” when put together sound more like “cuppa coffee”. Show your students when and where this happens.
2. Teach ellipsis
“Where are you going?” “The shops.” Sounds perfectly natural, right? But how often do we teach “I’m going to the shops” in response to this question? In English, we can miss out the “I’m going to” bit. The bits you can miss out are different English in Chinese. This is ellipsis.
3. Teach elision
Elision is when we miss out sounds after putting words together. Try saying these separately, and then together; “second”, “hand”. When we put them together, the “d” in the middle disappears. Don’t believe me? Try, “text”, “book”. BOOM! The “t” has disappeared from the middle. A good rule of thumb is when there are three consonants in a row, the middle one disappears. Amaze your friends! Help your students.
Your students are unlikely to spear you to death for not knowing them well enough. But if you don’t get to know them and help them accordingly, they may sound bad enough to make listeners want to spear themselves to death.