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Learning A Foreign Language: The Ventriloquists' Lesson

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By Gabrielle Guichard

>From a certain point of view, ventriloquists are poets: what matters is not only what they say, but also the way they say it. To master a foreign language, adopt the ventriloquist's attitude. The main feature you have to master, in order to call yourself a ventriloquist, is to speak without moving your lips. It is not that difficult. There is a trick, of course. The sounds M, B and P make your lips move, as make the sounds V and F but in a lesser way. So, in order to be a ventriloquist, you should ban any word with m, b or p inside and avoid to pronounce f-v words. If your name is Mabel or Patrick, choose a stage name! Try to say where you come from. Try right now. It is the best way to understand how it works exactly. "I come from...". No, your lips are moving. Try again: "I was born in..." Far better! You are almost a ventriloquist. There is a competition of this kind among teachers; for example: How to express "I have lost my cell phone and my credit card near the 4WD garage" in Latin. (I agree, Latin teachers are, well, Latin teachers.)It is very alike the game you played in the schoolyard: you had to answer to a lot of questions using such required word but avoiding such other. Remember! It was not easy to place "rhinoceros" and avoid "zoo" when asked: "Where were you on Sunday?"; nevertheless, you managed to! You were a gifted ventriloquist and avoided the m-b-p word "zoo". In your own language, you use circumlocutions to exclude certain words. In a parallel step, speaking a foreign language is learning how to use circumlocutions in order to avoid some words: those you don't know. Think of the words you do not know as your m-b-p words. Do not try to pronounce m-b-p words without moving your lips, you would spend precious time for nothing. Do not fight against obstacles, get round them. Ventriloquists do not master the movements of their lips, they choose their words. Whatever language you choose to learn, there are always several ways to express something.

About The Author: Gabrielle Guichard, a French teacher who can be reached on GabrielleGuichard.com and listened to on FrenchPodcasting.com