Charlotte – foreign, a strong accent, but every word heard

This afternoon (Saturday) I was in a sizeable party of people touring York Minster with one of the official guides, a German girl named Charlotte. At the same time the Black Dyke brass band was rehearsing for a concert this evening.

Many have suggested to me over the years that orthoepic (i.e. correct, whatever that means) vowel sounds make you more coherent. I don’t agree and say so. I always urge people to cherish their accent and preserve it as an important part of their personality, taking other steps to perfect their diction – steps like those I describe in my booklet, Every Word Heard.

Charlotte could not have made my case more powerfully. She has a strong German accent; our party exceeded 20 in number so couldn’t cluster tightly around her; the brass band were making a hell of a lot of noise (though a nice one); the acoustic in the cathedral allowed the sound of a practising brass band to penetrate the whole building and to deny the existence of a quiet corner; and I am quite deaf. Frequently she gave up speaking, believing that she could not be heard, and every time it was I who piped up to tell her that she was coping brilliantly.

And she was. Everyone takes a little more care over speaking a foreign language and often that means not indulging in idle habits like squashing syllables together. Charlotte spoke highly fluent, idiomatic English – but clearly. And as a result, against that catalogue of huge opposition, made her every word heard.

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