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Saturday, July 27, 2002


Do you speak like (pause) a teeeacherr?

Australian researchers have discerned that we use three different voices: one when talking with other adults, one with elongated vowels for talking to babies, and a high-pitched voice for talking to pets.

Anyone who teaches English knows that there is one more voice the Australian researchers overlooked: the one used when talking to ESL students. The ESL student voice, with its many characteristics, is likely to change the way you speak forever. As an Italian woman told me the other day, "I can tell you're an English teacher by the way you speak." Are there any other English teachers out there? C'mon, raise your hand if you're an English teacher! Ha! I thought so. This column is for you.

The foremost characteristic of the ESL teacher voice is significantly slower speech. Even if Mount Fuji erupted, spewing purple lava, you would appear to be relaxing on the beach with a margarita while explaining emergency procedures: "Doooooooon't panic. Everyone . . . (pause) pleeeaaassse . . . (pause, sip margarita) taaake cooooovvvvvveeeeerrrrr."

Of course, if your students don't understand, they will panic and run around the classroom. No problem. In this case, you will speak even more slowly, while raising your voice for maximum effect. You'll also be inclined to take the time to explain difficult words. "Taaake cooovvver. Taaake cooovvver meeeaaannns (pause) hhhiiide frooommm the (pause) lllaaavvvaaa." If you still get puzzled looks, you will know to go over the pronunciation of key words: "Cann eeverybody saay lava?" You will spell it for them: L-A-V-A. "La-la-la" you'll say, opening your mouth wide enough to expose years of expensive dental work.

Furthermore, you'll take the time to give simplified definitions of unfamiliar terms: "Lava, (pause) is the hhot vommmit of the volcaaano."

By this time, the students will have forgotten the emergency at hand and will be more concerned with repeating your commands, "faaaaaaaaaast, raba." "No, not raba, (pause) laaa-vaaa," you'll say with extreme patience while absentmindedly cleaning your fingernails. They'll repeat, "raaabaaa." At this point, knowing you are a complete failure as a language teacher, you will tell them that their pronunciation is definitely improving so you can move on to the next task . . . adjectives.

"Purple," you say in a spunky version of the ESL teacher voice. "Paapuuurruu," the students repeat. "Purple!" you repeat, using your free hand to do some routine personal hygiene maneuver such as cleaning out your ear canal with the fingernail of your baby finger. "Paapuu," say the students. "Purple (pause) lllava," you say, flicking the ear wax off your fingernail. "Papu raaba" they say. "Gooooood," you say, sucking down the last of the margarita and wondering why people have to learn to speak English anyway.

Meanwhile, rescue vehicles have surrounded the building and the lava is getting closer. It's about time to wrap things up. But before you do, you ask "Are there (pause) aaany questions?" The students consider this for a long time and you wait patiently while using the nail of your baby finger to stroke the bottom of the nose, eliminating any crusty spots. "Nothing!" the students say.

"OK (pause), pleeease get intooo the rescuuue veeehicles ouuutside," you instruct them. As you leave the classroom with your students and pile into the waiting vehicles, you scratch your armpit and think to yourself, "Whyyyy am I soooo tiired? I've only taught (pause) one claaass.

Contact Amy at amychavez2000@yahoo.com or visit the "Japan Lite" home page at www.amychavez.com

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