When do corrections need to be made with language learners? When does Erasmian pronunciation cross the line and need to be corrected?

Children need a stress-free environment for play and learning. Parents correct their children’s speech, but not everything all at once and most of the time most any understandable utterance is accepted and praised. The child eventually cleans up the language, one piece at a time, but only when they are ready to do it. Pushing too much too early just creates stress. It will still take a natural amount of development time before the child can control all of the pieces.

Language teachers are like parents. They need to correct students, but what is helpful?

One rule of thumb is that corrections need to be made when communication breaks down. Here are two amusing examples. One of an English learner, the other of Greek.

A girl from our neighborhood in Israel once met my son in Los Angeles. She commented “I’ve just been to the bitch.” My son thought she had just been through some disturbing experience. But she was smiling. After several rounds of questions it dawned on our son that the girl had just visited the beach. Israeli Hebrew does not have an open ‘i’ sound like in the English word ‘pit’. This girl had learned that, but was over-correcting and putting the open-[i] sound into the word ‘beach’ by mistake. She probably knew that people smile at Israelis when they say the English word “sheet” for a common profanity. So our son corrected her “beach”. She had just come from the beach. Yes, she was at a stage where she needed that correction. Communication had broken down.

Yesterday I landed on a Greek website where the doxology was being sung. I had heard it before. I don’t know who was singing, but I was startled, something like my son in the situation above. Clearly and melodically someone was singing “be praising the female goddess here!” in Greek. They were waxing lyrical in Dorian dialect, often used for choruses. I had visions of Astarte, with prostitutes inviting one into a pagan temple, yet the song continued with a (mispronounced) Christian conclusion. Rather strange, to say the least. I recognized the tune and realized what had happened. The singer had substituted an ‘a’ sound [alpha] for an ‘o’ sound. “Erasmians” (especially from the USA) need to be careful when using a pronunciation system that does not fit the Koine Greek language. Yes, that definitely needs correcting. Communication is breaking down. Humorous errors like that have happened to me and most anyone who has learned a second language. But there are some things that teachers just can’t let slide. ταν θεαν the female goddess has got to go. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt if that Erasmian pronunciation joined her, but first things first.

For a Koine pronunciation that fit the times, see www.biblicalulpan.org

and http://www.biblicalulpan.org/pages/Common/Greek%20Pronunciation%20(2008).pdf