I’m Sorry, Did You Say Hear or Here?
March 12, 2012
Now for another language interest of mine, pronunciation of words that sound the same though are spelled differently—homonyms! Whoot Whoot!
Here and hear, not so similar on the page, but when you're speaking, you don't get that nicety of seeing the word. They're written differently but said the same way, simple yet fascinating, right? Language is such a contextual beast. I hear you versus I am here does not equal I here you or I am hear. I couldn’t switch the words hear and here and rightfully still call myself an English Major (which now lets you in on the secret that I’m a word nerd, but a nerd in general; it makes life fun).
A similar occurrence appears in the German language with "schon," meaning already as in "I have already been to the store" and "schön" meaning beautiful as in "It’s a beautiful day. The difference is in the umlaut or the two little dots above the "o," which changes the pronunciation, but it’s almost the same word anyway—okay, not really, but to those unfamiliar with the language it seems really not much different—as it seemed when I first started to learn German. I remember thinking unenthusiastically, "Oh, joy." But happily to my unenthusiastic, erroneous assumption, it got easier after hearing the language for a while, and understanding the contexts in which it had to be one or the other.
Now, you say both of these words are the same except the one with the umlaut; you purse your lips together in front when saying the “ö” part. Now, how confusing is that? Very! And to a non-native speaker, it’s very tough to hear. So we have to rely on context when we speak. I would never (okay, probably not) say in German “Das wetter ist schon,” translated to “the weather is already.” So if that’s what I heard I can clearly assume I misheard and so can safely say it is “Das wetter ist schön.” That or I’m hearing someone else who is just learning the language too. It’s probably just my hearing that was off. Sadly, I’m only in my twenties.
Anyway, I honed my ear in class lecture for sure but also with Mango Languages, because using library databases is cool. The fact that I could use my own Bluetooth headset and computer at home to hear particular words in conversations more easily certainly helped improve the listening part of my test scores—and my teacher for that matter. That’s a neat feature I really liked about the database. It was really, truly helpful and now I can tell you that I know the difference between "schon" and "schön."