pronunciation of a foreign tongue

Putting aside the sufferings of the early martyrs, few men, I suppose, have gone through more than I myself went through in trying to I attain the correct pronunciation of the German word for church — “Kirche”. Long before I had done with it I had determined never to go to church in Germany, rather than be bothered with it.

“No, no,” my teacher would explain — he was a painstaking gentleman; “you say it as if it were spelt K-i-r-c-h-k-e. There is no k. It is —.” And he would illustrate to me again, for the twentieth time that morning, how it should be pronounced; the sad thing being that I could never for the life of me detect any difference between the way he said it and the way I said it. So he would try a new method.

“You say it from your throat,” he would explain. He was quite right; I did. “I want you to say it from down here,” and with a fat forefinger he would indicate the region from where I was to start. After painful efforts, resulting in sounds suggestive of anything rather than a place of worship, I would excuse myself.

“I really fear it is impossible,” I would say. “You see, for years I have always talked with my mouth, as it were; I never knew a man could talk with his stomach. I doubt if it is not too late now for me to learn.”

By spending hours in dark corners, and practising in silent streets, to the terror of chance passers-by, I came at last to pronounce this word correctly. My teacher was delighted with me, and until I came to Germany I was pleased with myself. In Germany I found that nobody understood what I meant by it. I never got near a church with it. I had to drop the correct pronunciation, and painstakingly go back to my first wrong pronunciation. Then they would brighten up, and tell me it was round the corner, or down the next street, as the case might be.

I also think pronunciation of a foreign tongue could be better taught than by demanding from the pupil those internal acrobatic feats that are generally impossible and always useless. This is the sort of instruction one receives:

“Press your tonsils against the underside of your larynx. Then with the convex part of the septum curved upwards so as almost — but not quite — to touch the uvula, try with the tip of your tongue to reach your thyroid. Take a deep breath, and compress your glottis. Now, without opening your lips, say ‘Garoo.’”

And when you have done it they are not satisfied.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel

definitely deceased

You can’t beat the classification of human mortality by the master coffin maker Bezenchuk. Ditto the classification of avian mortality by Monty Python.

We used the famous sketch in the intermediate English class during the CELTA course I attended in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The students were asked to — and did — find all the words and expressions related to the poor bird’s state.

Customer. Hello, I wish to register a complaint… Hello? Miss?
Shopkeeper. What do you mean, miss?
Customer. Oh, sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint.
Shopkeeper. Sorry, we’re closing for lunch.
Customer. Never mind that, my lad, I wish to complain about this parrot that I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.
Shopkeeper. Oh yes, the Norwegian Blue. What’s wrong with it?
Customer. I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. It’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it.
Shopkeeper. No, no, it’s resting, look!
Customer. Look, my lad, I know a dead parrot when I see one and I’m looking at one right now.
Shopkeeper. No, no sir, it’s not dead. It’s resting.
Customer. Resting?
Shopkeeper. Yeah, remarkable bird the Norwegian Blue, beautiful plumage, innit?
Customer. The plumage don’t enter into it — it’s stone dead.
Shopkeeper. No, no — it’s resting.
Customer. All right then, if it’s resting I’ll wake it up. Hello, Polly! I’ve got a nice cuttlefish for you when you wake up, Polly Parrot!
Shopkeeper. There, it moved.
Customer. No, he didn’t. That was you pushing the cage.
Shopkeeper. I did not.
Customer. Yes, you did. Hello, Polly, Polly! Polly Parrot, wake up! Polly! Now that’s what I call a dead parrot.
Shopkeeper. No, no, it’s stunned.
Customer. Look, my lad, I’ve had just about enough of this. That parrot is definitely deceased. And when I bought it not half an hour ago you assured me that its lack of movement was due to it being tired and shagged out after a long squawk.
Shopkeeper. It’s got to be pining for the fjords.
Customer. Pining for the fjords, what kind of talk it that? Look, why did it fall flat on its back the moment I got it home?
Shopkeeper. The Norwegian Blue prefers kipping on its back. Beautiful bird, lovely plumage.
Customer. Look, I took the liberty of examining that parrot, and I discovered that the only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been nailed there.
Shopkeeper. Well of course it was nailed there. Otherwise it would muscle up to those bars and voom!
Customer. Look, matey, this parrot wouldn’t voom if I put four thousand volts through it. It’s bleeding demised.
Shopkeeper. It’s not, it’s pining.
Customer. It’s not pining, it’s passed on. This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot. It’s a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn’t nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies. It’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot.
Shopkeeper. Well, I better replace it then.
Customer. If you want to get anything done in this country you’ve got to complain till you’re blue in the mouth.
Shopkeeper. Sorry, guv, we’re right out of parrots.
Customer. I see, I see. I get the picture.
Shopkeeper. I’ve got a slug.
Customer. Does it talk?
Shopkeeper. Not really, no.
Customer. Well, it’s scarcely a replacement, then, is it?