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Thread: Shape of the tongue to correctly pronounce Russian sounds

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    Властелин Medved's Avatar
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    Shape of the tongue to correctly pronounce Russian sounds

    Hi, guys.
    In this post I would like to clarify probably the most important issue about Russian phonetics for those who learns Russian and wants to sound natural and feel comfortable when making Russian sounds. Recently I've ran into quite a few issues when learners of Russian (nearly all categories from beginner to very advanced students) don't quite understand the position and the shape of the tongue when making Russian sounds. Books and sites for beginner learners of Russian describe an average Russian sound like "...the sound is very similar to ... in the word ..." like the Russian sound "У" is almost like "OO" in the word "gloomy".
    Even though this approach works to some extent, it causes problems with sounds that do not exist in the English language like the sound "Ы" or so-called "soft" or palatalized sounds. The phenomenon of palatalization in Russian is probably one of the most tricky features of the language for the learners. So this approach is "playing safe", it does work, but it's very unlikely that a learner who restricts his or her attitude with only these basic explanations, would achieve great success. That's all in my opinion, of course.
    What I would like to suggest is another concept; it's that a learner should learn and understand the very basic difference in shapes of the tongue when you speak Russian or English. As a learner of English I've been through all the trouble of learning English pronunciation, I've had hours and hours of talking with native speakers, been assessed and advised by them (in terms of pronunciation), etc. The key point when my success in English pronunciation started to advanc was when I realized how to modify the shape of my tongue when pronouncing English sounds. I'm not talking about articulation of particular individual sounds like R or Uh for instance; I mean the general line that stitches through all the English sounds, that encompasses the whole English pronunciation, and that is reflected in articulation of each individual sound.
    My point is that Russian has a similar feature that has a touch to all of the Russian sounds. If you haven't gotten the hang of it, Russian articulation may feel like hell to your mouth, or even it can be plainly impossible to pronounce correct Russian sounds. So here's what I got as a result of all my attempts of comparing the two languages.

    1. English. The average shape of the tongue is FLAT or even CUPPED, WIDE and RETRACTED. When you say "Aaaah" as in father in front of the mirror you can see the hole deep in your mouth, sides of your tongue mostly touch your premolars and molars (side and back teeth).

    2. Russian. The average shape of the tongue is ARCHED and NARROW so that you can't see the hole at the back of the mouth; we do tend to touch our front teeth when speaking or even when we are silent rather than the back and side teeth. When we PALATALIZE sounds, we touch the roof of the mouth in the most intriguing place -- right behind the alveolar ridge (you can feel this thing as a hard bump right behind your upper front teeth, one/fourth of an inch from the teeth towards the back of the mouth maybe). We touch it with the surface of the tongue, not with its tip. It feels like you are trying to squash a berry between the tongue and the palate. This is how we speak.

    Pay attention how the shapes of the babys' tongues are different in the photos above.

    So the key to correct Russian pronunciation, in my opinion, is that you should learn, memorize and repeat the shape until you feel comfortable with it when you are speaking.

    P.S. Of course there are scientific reports and investigations on the issue, like this one:
    But what I previously said is what I learned myself; I felt like it was funnier to make my own mistakes rather than avoid them by reading boring books.

    P.P.S. So when next time you feel you can't pronounce a Russian sound just try to arc your tongue upwards in the middle and narrow it so that it doesn't touch the side- and back teeth.
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    Почтенный гражданин xXHoax's Avatar
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