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Speaking with rhythm

Many Singaporeans speak with what phonetics teachers call a “machine-gun” rhythm. The following video will show you what that means.

the noose – taxi drivers learn french.

The taxi driver and the Chinese auntie speak in staccato. This means that every word is given the same emphasis. Ignoring accents, one example is Mrs Molly Tan as she complained. Another very clear example is given right at the end, when the taxi drivers were told to pronounce the “french” condominium names.

They said:

La Su See. La Vil lie, La Chai Tow Kuay.

In other words, not just every word, but every syllable is given equal strength of tone. This is very typical in Singapore and is hardly surprising. Chinese as a language does not have rhythm in speech. Every word is of equal importance. Also Chinese words are single syllable unlike English language. Malay too, though they do have multi-syllable words, the syllables are all given similar emphasis.

Speaking in this staccato fashion, though very well in the Singaporean context, has its setbacks. First, it is easy to fall asleep because the speech lacks colour and vibrancy. Furthermore, if you speak like this to an English speaking Caucasian, he will find it difficult to understand you. The unfortunate part is many teachers in Singapore do speak like that. What is worse, when someone speaks with the proper rhythm, like Adrianna Wow, the person is seen as being “atas”. This really should not be the case. We learn English not just to communicate with fellow Singaporeans but also with people from different parts of the world.

How then do we prepare our young ones for proper speech? Switching to Singlish is not a problem if the child has a good foundation. One of the best ways to do this is via reading rhymes. Some of the best books for children for this sort of practice is Dr Seuss’s books and even old fashioned nursery rhymes. Let me just demonstrate with a nursery rhyme.

In the song- Goosey goosey gander – Br accent the syllables in italicized bold is where you can clap time.

Goosey goosey gander

Whither
shall I wander

Upstairs and downstairs

And in my lady’s chamber

There I met an old man

Who would not say his prayers

I lift him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs

Note that I chose a video with hardly any animation. That is because the other cuter ones pronounced “prayers” wrongly. Precisely because of the staccato rhythm that gives equal emphasis to syllables, the singer pronounced it as “pray – yers”. The word should be pronounced “Pr –air –s” in one go, ie similar to press, but the vowel within sounds more like “air” – which in technical language is a dipthong.

This clapping technique can be applied to speech. An excerpt from my children’s favourite book ‘How many trucks can a tow truck tow?’ reads like this


How many trucks can a tow truck tow?

One two three four I don’t know

But I’m sure as I’m sure I’m a little tow truck

That a tow needs a tow when its down on its luck

The underlined ones coincide with the claps. Reading this way helps build rhythm into speech. It can be done occasionally as drumming activity.

Finally, many words are mispronounced because of the inability to recognize rhythm. One eg is:-

Pho – to- graph –phy, ie stressing every syllable, instead of photography – where to is stressed and is where the clap should sound.

The other example is shown earlier – the word prayers.

One of these days I will blog about the tow truck book. I’ts really a great buy – everyone I read it to loved it. More about that later.

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  1. Lee Hing Yen
    June 22, 2011 at 3:10 am

    Wow ! I am 55 and learning English pronunciation all over again. WELL DONE !

    • SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
      June 22, 2011 at 3:23 am

      haha – thanks.

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