How important is pronunciation?

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H. Humphrey

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May 9, 2010, 2:15:55 PM5/9/10
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Pronunciation seems to have lots and lots and lots of rules and is
confusing. Exactly how important is the correct pronunciation of words
in Russian?

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Harry

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May 11, 2010, 10:14:14 PM5/11/10
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It is very important, I believe much more important then in English.
Here in the USA we have become a custom to people who do not have good
enunciation. This is not unexpected in a melting pot of people who
are speaking English as a second language. We have become 'tolerant'
of bad English. However this has grown to an acceptance of bad
language habits. This acceptance of poor English I am sure does not
make it any easier for those who are trying to learn English as their
second language.

The FSU is not a melting pot. In Russia and the FSU you just will not
be understood if you can not pronounce words properly. Let's not
forget stress. Stress emphasis is just as important as being able to
string together three consonants in being understood. There are many
examples of words that have different meanings depending on where you
put the stress. For example, the word for flour can mean torture if
you stress the wrong syllable.

If you could get with a native speaker who is also fluent in English
to help you learn the different sounds that would be ideal. It is
difficult and takes determination but once you learn how to break a
word down by syllables it is not that hard. Since the language is
purely phonetic you can be reading in just a few weeks. If I could do
it anybody can.

Just my humble opinion :)

Good luck!

Harry

rambles2003

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May 12, 2010, 3:17:29 AM5/12/10
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Hello, I would like to venture a reply in the absence of any other
answers.

On a scale of 0 to 10, I would give pronunciation about 7 for
importance. I have two, opposing reasons for saying this. On the one
hand, a Russian native speaker friend told me not to worry too much
about pronunciation. He said that so long as I spoke Russian as it
was written then most Russians would be able to understand. On the
other hand, when I first started out, my attempts at speaking Russian
were met with completely blank looks of puzzlement and incomprehension
by true Russians. One even said to me, "Peter, please stick to
speaking English!" So pronunciation does need to be given some
attention.

The most important thing is to remember which syllable has the stress
because some vowels change their sound completely, depending on
whether they are stressed or non-stressed. Perhaps the most
significant is "о" which sounds like the "augh" in naught when
stressed but changes to "a" or even "u" when not stressed. But the
textbooks explain this much better than I can.

I find it very valuable to have a speaking dictionary on my computer.
That way I can listen to the correct pronunciation when I want to
learn any new word; it is better to learn the correct pronunciation
from the outset and it is much easier to hear a word spoken than to
try to apply a lot of rules of pronunciation. It needs to be a
dictionary with recordings of native speakers, not a synthesized
voice. I like Abby Lingvo from:

http://www.abbyy.com/lingvo/

Another strategy is to ask a Russian friend to read out loud some
Russian text and make a recording. By listening to the recording over
and over again, comparing it with the text, it is possible to see how
the written word is vocalised. I was very surprised when I first did
this to hear how much stress my friend gave to the stressed syllables,
while the unstressed syllables were gobbled up and almost inaudible to
my unaccustomed ear.

We must accept that as non-native speakers we will never have as good
a pronunciation as native Russians. But then there must be many
dialects among true Russians as well. I'm told that there are
distinct differences between the Moscow and St Petersburg
pronunciations. And our well-meaning Russian language teachers don't
speak the same Russian as the person on the Moscow Metro; they speak
more slowly and put greater emphasis on the word endings that they are
trying to teach us.

Peter (aka rambles2003)
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