Reactivating your phonetic awareness

So you want to create a new language. First you will need to either pick letters or sounds. You might start with the IPA chart, you might not care and just use the phonology and phonotactics of your mother tongue. If you try to use the IPA chart, you find out that reading the description and producing a given foreign sound is hard. Shortly after toddler age, you became deaf to a lot of sounds because they weren’t in your language. The brain seems to process your mother tongue faster and more accurately if the other sounds are ignored. How can we re-activate the ability to hear foreign phonotactics so that we might at least use them?

On the way to work I read on the metro train. I don’t want to listen to the other passengers so I play podcasts. The most effective will drown out the sound of the train and the passengers, but doesn’t distract me. English news distracts me from reading, so that is out. For a long time I listened to Icelandic podcasts. I didn’t care if it was effective or not. As it turned out, it feels like it was effective. Now I can’t listen to Icelandic and read. I understand to much.

I have switched to listening to Voice of America podcasts– Georgian, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, African French. Plus others, like Swedish. The Vietnamese one is the most opaque– I understand nothing, except for the snips of English. When I listen to Georgian, the Russian loan words pop out and distract me. Korean is sort of distracting because of the word “shmida”, which is so common I’ve started thinking of Korean as the shmida language. I think it must be something like the word “the” or “is” in English, so common you can’t miss it.

The fake language I’m working on will use the phonotactics of Icelandic. But if I had a long expected life span, I might also make another conlang using all the sounds from podcasts I can listen to from languages around the world.

I listen to the podcasts as background noise and change when they intrude. But I’ve read in “Babel no more” that it can be very effective to absorb phonotactics if you try to repeat the broadcast as it is being heard. But that would require 100% of your attention.

Try it, let me know if it reactivates your ability to hear foreign vowels, consonant clusters and phonemes.

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