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During my high school years, I spent summers working at a camp. One particular week, all the campers had various special needs, and my job was to help serve the meals to their tables. As I was going about my duties, one of the campers motioned me over and tried to tell me something.
“Ah-ee,” he said.
“Excuse me,” I replied.
“Ah-ee,” he said again, more emphatically.
Still confused, I asked, “What?”
“Ah-ee! Ah-ee!” he kept saying, growing increasingly exasperated at my ignorance.
Finally a counselor noticed our predicament and came over to help. “He wants coffee,” the counselor interpreted.
“Oh, of course,” I said and ran to get some.
Those few moments of time are still a vivid memory all these years later. In my mind they epitomize the confusion that can happen when enunciation is absent. Now, that camper couldn’t help his enunciation; he was not able to speak consonants. But the uncomfortable feeling that I experienced when I could not understand him still motivates me today. I don’t want my listeners to feel uncomfortable.
Enunciation is an important part of good communication—whether in everyday conversation or when reading aloud.
Finish the Word
We’re in the midst of a series on tips for reading aloud well. So far we’ve looked at Charlotte Mason’s counsel to breathe through the nose and to read at a pace that allows you to look ahead at what is coming up and prepare for it.
Today let’s look at her advice for the fault of poor enunciation.
Tip #3: Enunciate distinctly and carefully. Pay special attention to final consonants.
“Faults in enunciation should be dealt with one by one. For instance, one week the reader takes pains to secure the “d” in “and”; the other letters will take care of themselves, and the less they are heard the better. Indeed, if the final consonants are secured, d, t, and ng especially, the reading will be distinct and finished.” (Vol. 5, p. 221).
First, don’t try to correct every enunciation fault at once. Charlotte often gave counsel to approach things one at a time: habits, improvements in the student’s writing skill, and now, enunciation challenges. So choose one aspect of enunciation and deal with it until it begins to feel natural; then choose another. Consistent work toward the goal will yield much progress.
Second, I love her tip on final consonants: “If final consonants are secured,” . . . “the reading will be distinct and finished.” Think about how we often drop those final consonants in our everyday talking. We leave off the final d in “and”; we drop the final t in “can’t” (unless someone asks us for clarification, at which point we overemphasize the final t to make up for our lack of it the first time).
If we focused just on final consonants, we would take a great step toward clearer enunciation in our reading aloud. Here are two great examples from one sentence of the book excerpt we looked at last week.
“In 1905 Albert Einstein spent his days in an office in the Swiss city of Bern, working as a patent clerk” (Stories of the Nations, Volume 2, by Lorene Lambert. Taken from chapter 11, “On a Beam of Light”).
Read that sentence aloud and concentrate on giving words their final consonants. Did you notice how the phrase “Swiss city” could sound like a snake has jumped into the middle of it? To make sure that location is perfectly clear to our listeners, we may want to insert a slight break between the two words. Not a gaping pause, just a slight break. Give it a try.
The second phrase that will give us good practice is “patent clerk.” It would be easy to slide over “patent” without pronouncing either t. Many people do when conversing. It sounds something like “pa-en” with a little throat sound instead of the t‘s. Such a slipshod pronunciation could be very confusing to our listeners. (What’s a “pa-en-clerk”?)
But put the final t back in, and the word is understandable—even if you leave off the middle t: “pa-enT clerk.” Try it. Interesting, huh?
Final consonants can make a huge difference. You don’t have to overemphasize them; just make sure you don’t drop them.
Next week we’ll talk about sympathetic reading.