The first class I faced as a student at BBTI was Articulatory Phonetics, a study of how sounds relating to language are produced by the human mouth. The amount of knowledge and enjoyment students get from this class depends on the students’ level of participation. Phonetics is a hands-on, or rather lips-on, course. As well as learning the theory behind how sounds are made, students are required to learn how to record and reproduce all the sounds that they hear. Like any skill, phonetics takes practice, so much class time is spent doing oral drills (which to the uninitiated sounds like an international market).
So what, you ask, is the point? Why should a missionary learn phonetics? The answer is that English, or any language for that matter, is limited in the sounds it utilizes. When a missionary goes to a non-English speaking country, he will often come across sounds in that language which he has never made before. The English speaker’s tendency is to replace new and difficult sounds with English sounding equivalents. The result is a missionary who speaks with a horrendous accent and constantly mispronounces even basic words. With an understanding of phonetics, however, he is able to learn to speak the language like a native regardless of how “difficult” the sounds may be to make. This kind of fluency is important if the gospel message is to be fully understood by the hearers.
If, like me, you plan to go to a non-English speaking nation, you should consider taking a phonetics course first. It’s extremely practical, it’s fun, and what other course gives you credits for successfully purring like an outboard motor?
Cara is a native of the island of New Zealand who was saved as a result of an American missionary. She is currently a student at BBTI, preparing to serve the Lord in Ukraine.