“Never make fun of someone if they mispronounce a word. It means they learned it by reading.” (Anonymous, posted by McKay Books – Nashville)
The quote reminds me of the various vocabularies we carry in our heads. We have a speaking vocabulary, a listening vocabulary, a reading vocabulary, and a writing vocabulary. In other words, we have words we can say and read and understand that we might not use in our writing (sometimes because we do not know how to spell a particular word). We have a listening vocabulary of words we understand but might not use a lot. Evidence of a listening vocabulary is really demonstrated in young children who can listen and understand words’ meanings without the ability to use the word in reading and writing or for that matter be able to say the word yet. We have a reading vocabulary which encompasses the words we know from sight and the words we can determine from context. Rarely are all these vocabularies at exactly the same place for most of us.
The interesting part about words is that once one encounters a new word while reading and is able to determine its meaning, then it seems the word is used a lot more than we thought in other contexts. For example, the first time I encountered the word verdant, I could figure out what it meant in the context of the story, but I was unsure how to pronounce it. A little while later, I heard someone use the word verdant and then I could put a meaning and a pronunciation together. My internal pronunciation was incorrect, so if I said the word aloud, my pronunciation would be incorrect.
Readers spend a lot of time figuring out the meanings of words, and often just worry about the pronunciation when they need to go public with their reading. When a reader reads silently, there may be less concern about how to pronounce all the characters’ names correctly as well as all the other words. As long as the text is making sense, a few mispronunciations here or there does not impede progress very much. However as soon as a reader’s words become audible, then difficulties arise as one tries to comprehend and sound right all at the same time. For example, a student reading aloud in a class has an extra burden of proper pronunciation while trying to keep the meaning of words in his or her head. Anyone who has spent much time in a classroom with younger children remembers how some school children feel the need to pounce on classmates’ mispronunciations when classmates reads aloud. Unfortunately, all this “help” often leads to the reader making more mispronunciations which impedes comprehension and causes a lot of angst.
Students in college classes may also need some help with pronunciation while they grapple with unfamiliar words. As we teach our classes, spending a little extra time on pronunciation of key terms is helpful. In a few cases, students may ask “How do you say _____?” but usually most adult learners think everyone knows how to pronounce terms, so they do not ask. Timely help on instructors’ parts can put the proper pronunciation into a reader’s head; thus, adding another support for understanding.