Chicago via Liverpool: A pronunciation odyssey

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Chicago via Liverpool: A pronunciation odyssey

As widespread as English has become, both as a first and second language, it’s only natural that regional differences in pronunciation or usage have developed. Tomaeto, tomahto, either way it’s a nutritious red vegetable (or is it a fruit?). But some things are just wrong, no matter where you’re from.
In my first year of teaching in Korea, I worked at a haGwon where the students would spend a session with a native English speaker (like me) and then go repeat the same lesson with a Korean teacher who would explain the tricky parts in Korean. One day, when I was about halfway through what I thought was a brilliant lesson on present participles, one of the middle-school students in the back of the class raised his hand.
“Teacher,” he said, “why do you say ‘watched’? Wonjang teacher says ‘watch-id’.”
I smiled and, referring to the haGwon director, said, “Mr. Lee says ‘watch-id’ because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I say ‘watched’ because that is the correct way to pronounce the word.”
Needless to say, this raised a few eyebrows in the class. “Did he say the wonjang teacher is wrong,” I heard one student ask the boy seated next to her. At this point in my tenure, I didn’t mind raising a ruckus, so I just forgot about it and went on with the lesson.
The student who raised the question did not forget about it. After the session with me was over, the students headed across the hallway to the wonjang’s classroom to hear his take on the proper use of present participles. From what I was told, the same student asked the director the same question he asked me. Of course the director’s answer was slightly different than mine.
At the beginning of our next class session the student raised his hand.
“Teacher,” he said, “wonjang teacher says that the reason he says watch-id instead of watched is because he speaks with a British accent and yours is American.”
When I heard that, I had to laugh. To my knowledge, the director of our school had never been to England, and the only English person he had ever met was a teacher he had recently hired from Manchester.
I asked our resident Brit, who had a free period at that time, to help me clear up the matter. She came into my classroom, I wrote “watched” on the board and asked her to read.
“Watched,” she said.
So much for the British accent theory.
Puzzled, the students shuffled off to their session with Mr. Lee. At the end of that lesson, the inquisitive middle-school boy who started it all came running up to me.
“Teacher, teacher,” he said. “Wonjang teacher says he meant to say that he speaks with a Chicago accent.”
“Well then,” I said, “go Cubs!”

by Dylan Alford

Mr. Alford teaches high school in Seoul.
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