Hooked on Phonics

You all know that I’m a perpetual French student; it’s how I justify to the French government my need to stay in their country every year. In fact, I’m now on my fourth semester of French classes here, the third time at the highest level they teach at my school. I truly enjoy both my grammar class and my French culture seminars. There’s just one class that I simply cannot stand:

[fəˈnɛtɪks]

Phonetics class is where I spend 5 hours a week, every other week, sitting in a soundproofed cubicle, wearing headphones, repeating French sentences … over and over and over … and then listening to a recording of my voice saying these things … over and over and over. It’s a quixotic quest to improve what Michel continues to assure me is a charming American accent. (Of course, I have to take that compliment with a grain of salt, since he’s not exactly a unbiased observer.) Phonetics class is, simply put, a torturous experience … but it’s necessary. I recently had an experience that comically demonstrates why.

Friday afternoon, I took my Swedish friend Helena to my new favorite Paris sweetshop, Sugar Daze. We ordered a few cupcakes and some coffee and sat down to chat and catch up with each other. Incidentally, Paris schools were on fall break this week, so the children of Sugar Daze’s owner, Cat, were hanging out in the store as well. At one point, Helena and I started talking about our phonetics classes, I pulled out a page of my phonetics exercises, and I started reading them aloud. That’s when Cat’s adorable, bilingual five(?)-year-old daughter — who apparently had been listening to us — interrupted in a completely serious, inquisitive tone:

“Why are you speaking Spanish?”

<ba-dum-dum>

Classic! I just couldn’t stop laughing!

And voilà, folks: a case in point for why phonetics classes are in – di – spen – sable (pronounced with the proper French accent, stress, and rhythm, please)!

<sigh>

Back to the soundproofed cubicle.

© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

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