Study conversational English in this interview with PBS Broadcaster John Merrow. See how even professionals use reductions and contractions all the time, and learn some new vocabulary.
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R: Learning Matters. Well, I don’t know if you are aware of this, but one of the terms for the Standard American accent is Broadcaster English. So, people all over the world are looking to people in America who deliver the news, as a standard, for speaking American English.
J: Okay, I think that’s a compliment to our profession.
R: I think so too. So where are you from? Have you had to change anything about the way you grew up talking…
J: You mean you can’t tell where I’m from?
R: I can’t, which is exactly what you want I think!
J: I’m actually from New England.
J: But not Massachusetts.
R: Okay, so you didn’t have a regional accent.
J: I think not, yeah, I think…I grew up in Connecticut. So I guess it’s sort of neutral country.
R: Yeah, more neutral.
R: And when you are preparing something to read on camera, how do you prepare that? Do you say it out loud? How much time do you spend with it?
J: I usually write what I say. We don’t have a teleprompter, it’s public television, and so I memorize it. *R*: Wow!
A teleprompter is a device you can attach to your camera that lets you read a script while you look right at your camera. I was very surprised to hear that Mr. Merrow doesn’t use one. Even I use one for some of my Rachel’s English videos.
J: And… but I have a good short term memory. I can hold it for a little while and then it’s gone.
R: Yeah, so what do you do when you have a name or something, a place, that you’re not sure how to pronounce?
J: Phonetically work it out.
J: Phonetically. And English is a very complicated language.
R: It is.
J: There’s so many words that
J: ……bow and bow…
R: My users know that.
Yes. *J*: Yeah, I mean, it’s a tough language. It’s… I think more irregular than other languages I have some familiarity with. I applaud people who are learning English later in life …
R: Yeah, right.
J: Because we…. We don’t make it easy for them.
R: No, we certainly don’t. It’s a bear. So are there any words in American English that are difficult for you to pronounce?
J: Besides ‘maintenance’?
R: Well, let’s hear about ‘maintenance’. Now that’s not how you say it!
J: No, that’s right, it’s ‘maintenance’ but I was in Graduate School in Indiana and I ran into some one person, I’m not disparaging the State of Indiana, who pronounced it ‘maintainance’. My older sister was with Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School and I told her that just as kind of a funny story and then that came up on a spelling test and she spelled it ‘maintainance’ instead of maintenance and she has never forgiven me and I was you know… 40 years ago, so. *R*: Okay, oh boy.
‘Maintenance’ is an interesting word. The verb is ‘maintain’, with stress on the second syllable, and the AY as in SAY diphthong, maintain. But in noun form, the second syllable changes, and we have a different spelling, and a different pronunciation. Now we have the schwa, and the ‘T’ becomes a Stop T instead of a True T. Maint-en-ance. Maintenance. Maintain. Maintenance.
R: So ‘maintenance’ not ‘maintainance’.
J: I know but it’s spelled maintenance, of course, yeah.
R: Right, right. Are there any words that you especially love in American English, or what’s your favorite word?
J: I like words that have very, very different meanings like ‘entrance’ and ‘entrance’. They’re spelled … but they have very different meanings, but they look the same.
R: Cool! Mr. Merrow likes words that are spelled the same but have different meanings and pronunciations. These are called ‘heteronyms’ or ‘homographs’. ‘Entrance’ as a noun has stress on the first syllable. The second syllable has the schwa sound, en-trance, entrance. This is a place to enter like a doorway. “Go through the entrance and turn left.” As a verb, the stress instead falls on the second syllable. Therefore, the vowel must change because you cannot have the schwa sound in a stressed syllable. Now that syllable has the AA as in BAT followed by a nasal consonant sound. AA-uh, en-trance. Entrance. This means to fascinate, to fill with wonder. “The ballet will entrance you.” Entrance, Entrance.
J: Language is fascinating, it’s a rich wonderful and always changing language. And you by the way are doing a great service to help folks master it.
R: Well, thank you, doing my best. And thank you so much for your contribution here by being in this video, I appreciate your time very much. *J*: I…. thank you very much.
R: So guys if you’re needing a good accent to follow, check out the PBS NewsHour and you might get to see John.
Follow Mr. Merrow on Twitter and check out his segments on TV or online for a great example of American English Pronunciation.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.