Stories indexed with the term ‘languages’

“What Did You Say?”


An Accent Reduction DVD shows a close-up of a speaker pronouncing the word "job." At the bottom of the screen, the word is spelled phonetically.

When Ann Arbor educator and entrepreneur Judy Ravin claims she can say, “What? What did you say?” in at least five different languages, she is not bragging about her multilingual prowess. She hears those phrases too often as she travels abroad. Just because she speaks the languages does not necessarily mean she is easily understood in all of them.

“And that doesn’t feel good,” she says. “None of us like that.”

It was mutual frustration (between speaker and the spoken-to) during her trips abroad that led her to think about how that must feel to immigrants in the United States as they attempt to set up their careers here.

And out of that frustration was the idea that eventually led to the Accent Reduction Institute, based in the Godfrey Building on North Fourth Avenue in Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown district. With a faculty of 18 contractors and three full-time directors, Ravin’s institute has been smoothing out the rough spots for immigrant speakers for about four years. The innovation behind the business is what is officially trademarked as the “Ravin Method,” which Ravin humbly says she feels “kind of silly about.” [Full Story]

Column: Adventures in Multicultural Living

Frances Wang

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang (photo courtesy of Mark Bialek)

“I’m not your ‘Mom!’” my girlfriend finally exploded at her kids.

The teenagers looked puzzled, “Then, whose mom are you?”

I know what she means, though. She does not want her children to call her the English word, “Mom,” but to call her by the Chinese term, “Ma Ma.” The dictionary may give the same meaning for both terms, but “Mom” does not have the same feel, the same nuance, as “Ma Ma.” My children are not allowed to call me “Mom,” either.

The question of how to address people often comes up in our family. I teach my children to always address adults as “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” “Auntie” or “Uncle” – never by their first names. In our local Asian American communities and in Hawaii, it is common to address one’s elders as “Auntie” or “Uncle,” even “Grandma” or “Grandpa.” It creates instant familiarity, instant respect, an instant family-style relationship where adults look out for children and children look up to adults. [Full Story]

Column: Adventures in Multicultural Living

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang (Photo courtesy of Mark Bialek)

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang (photo courtesy of Mark Bialek)

At a recent five-year-old’s birthday party at Jungle Java, after the children all gathered together and sang ”Happy Birthday” and cut the cake, a friend of the family burst out, “What, no Arabic? We’re supposed to sing the song in Arabic now!”

She and I started talking about how our families do the same thing. First we sing ”Happy Birthday” in English. Then we sing it in Chinese (or Arabic). Then (at our house), we open it up to other languages, and I have been thrilled to have various kids at times lead the group singing “Happy Birthday” in Spanish, Korean, Japanese, and Arabic. [Full Story]