Thursday, June 3, 2010

The two most common mistakes of Mandarin podcasters

I listen to Chinese podcasts to learn Chinese, and I accept it's perhaps a little off-colour to be commenting on their English. But there are two very common mistakes I hear these podcasters make - which (oddly) seems to be as common with the native-English podcasters as with the Chinese - and I really need to get this off my chest.

1. pronunciation
The word is "proNUNciation", and not "proNOUNciation". I know it's a little confusing because the verb is "proNOUNce", but when it becomes a noun it loses the "O". Yes, the spelling actually changes. Given that this word is often heard on language-tuition podcasts, this mistake occurs regularly.

(And if you don't believe me, look it up in a dictionary :-)

2. mnemonic
Again, this word is commonly used, and often pronounced incorrectly. The correct phonetic pronunciation (proNUNciation, BTW) is "NE-mon-ic". It is not "NOO-mon-ic". Maybe you're thinking of a word like "pneumatic", which does indeed begin with "NOO-...".  But not this one.

(And if you don't believe me ... )

There, I've said it.  I feel better now.  Thanks for listening.  (And if you can think of a mnemonic for getting the pronunciation of "pronunciation" correct, let us know :-)


  1. Funny you're mentioning that now. It's only been a couple of months that I found out that pronunciation is actually spelled pronunciation and not the much more intuitive pronounciation! I was absolutely dumbfounded and couldn't believe it for days :)

  2. Haha - yes, sneaky spelling, isn't it!

    Actually, when I wrote this it was more of a moan about the pronunciation of people in a public broadcasting context. But your post reminded me that this is yet another indication of how challenging English is.

    And so we really shouldn't feel bad with Mandarin when we do 'silly' things, like spell péi​xùn (培训) as péi​shùn, simply because we confused ourselves with the spelling of the word shùn​lì​ (顺利) :-)

  3. rather than write a whole rant about pronunciation, I'll just state quickly that I hate when "new" is pronounced "noo", but this has nothing to with Chinese podcasters :)

  4. Wow! That was a good start to my day. That was hilarious Greg, and sadly podcasters aren't the only people who get these words wrong :)

  5. Funny you should write this, because I've been having to spell check "pronunciation" when I've been writing it lately. Not sure why I couldn't get it due to not really having ever had any other problems spelling LOL Maybe it's just a momentary lapse for me haha

  6. Don't feel bad though ... I was about 20 when I discovered that I had been spelling 'religion' wrongly all those years ('religeon'). Sigh.

  7. Greg, join LiveMocha! I heard on the news that it was a good site to learn a language on so I joined :)


  8. Hey Kara, I am already a member, although I haven't used it much. Maybe it's time to experiment more ...

    If anyone hasn't alreayd joined, you can use this link, which will immediately put you in as my friend, and also (if there are 3+ who join) you all get a free travel crash course.

  9. Mnemoic for "pronunciation": Imagine a NUN beating you over the head with a ruler for saying "pro--NOUN-ciation."

  10. Haha, did nobody ever correct you, Greg? :D

    And btw, English has nothing on Mandarin! ;) The odd unintuitively spelled word just doesn't compare to a non-phonetic script at all! ;)

  11. So. True. Also, it's not just the Chinese ESL speakers (trust me on this one...)

  12. Cesar: Good image - one which smacks (pun intended) of a Catholic school upbringing!

    phyrex: I probably just used that word so little, that there was no opportunity to be corrected. Or maybe I surrounded myself with people who had the same spelling-disorder.

    jp: You know. And I know you know :-)

  13. It wasn't until I did a course on teaching English as a foreign language that pronouncing "whales" and "whine" as if they were phonetically identical to "Wales" and "wine" was more than just a quirk of a few local English dialects such as cockney. I was quite shocked to find that those of us (e.g. Scots) who still aspirate our "wh" are now globally in the minority. The phonetic system taught on the course didn't even have a way of representing the two sounds.

  14. As an English-speaking South African, I can confirm that we also de-emphasised the 'h' in 'whales', and I don't know why 'why' sounds like 'y'. The southern states of the US seem to have strong 'h' sounds (at least, they do on TV :-)

  15. Which Podcasts do you listen to that help with your chinese? (FYI I signed up for LiveMocha so you must be close to 3 if not over)

  16. Hey Temujin, thanks for your comment and your sub. The podcasts I listen to, in order of frequency, are:

    ChinesePod (affiliated link)
    Popup Chinese
    Learn Chinese Online
    Slow Chinese

    I know that there are others that are probably really good, but I don't want to spend my time looking for more, when already in the list above there is more than I could listen to!

  17. Awesome thanks very much! I'll check them out sometime this week, I hope.