Not what it sounds like

Monday June 18, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2012/6/18/focus/11489992&sec=focus

AS a linguist and a parent, I was shocked to find a major flaw in the English Year Two (SJK textbook) by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, which is among my daughter’s school books.

This textbook claims to follow the new KSSR syllabus, which is what the current Years One and Two pupils are doing. And the syllabus includes phonics for primary school.

The idea sounds interesting. However, on page 99 of the textbook, it says “ure” is pronounced as /ue/ (as in the vowel sound /ue/ in the wordpoor). If that is the case, then the word sure, segmented by the book as “s-ure”, should be pronounced as /shue/ (again, imagining the sound /ue/ from the word poor), which is a colloquial pronunciation or Malaysian English for the word sure.

The exact phonetic transcription from the Cambridge dictionary can be found on http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/sure_1?q=sure, which has the /sh/ and the long /o/ sound for the Received Pronunciation (RP) version, or what we call UK English. As we know, due to our colonial history, Malaysia follows the RP English.

If we allow the case as mentioned in the textbook, then the word pure –segmented as “p-ure” – would be pronounced as “poor”! The correct phonetic transcription is here:http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/pure_1?q=pure .

The key here is the /j/ symbol or sound, pronounced as the Y sound. That is the key which modifies the pronunciation of all the words mentioned here, as in pure but not poor. The same goes for curelureand secure.

Now I’m not saying that all the teachers would follow the book. But if the students were to study by themselves and follow the advice or concept provided by the book, then cure would be pronounced as /kue/, lurewould be /lue/ and secure would become /sikue/. Imagine that!

Mistake No. 1 is the authors have ignored or neglected the /j/ sound, hence giving the wrong pronunciation. With the /j/ sound, the words sound completely different. Bear in mind that this is a national-level syllabus and is used by students at the foundation levels.

The authors may argue that the /j/ sound is a consonant sound but using the Bahasa Baku way to teach students phonics or phonetics is just wrong, because the English language is not like the Malay language. It doesn’t help students to understand phonics correctly or properly, and there is a big possibility that they would make many mistakes in pronunciation.

Mistake No. 2 is that the syllabus should not implement phonics in this manner (the Bahasa Baku way) because you can never explain the pronunciation fully and properly, even if the argument is that it is just for the young ones and there is no need to delve too deeply into phonics. I understand that this can help the children read by sight (sight words) but it should be done the right way.

CONCERNED PARENT,

Ipoh.