MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) – Speaking German

Statement: German pronunciation is hard!

I have been writing a lot in previous posts about my trip last summer through Spain, France and Switzerland. Now that I have posted about the last stop, I want to get back to German teaching with this post; let’s focus on pronunciation. For those who come from even somewhat related languages (such as English), German pronunciation is hard to learn. In many of the romance language, some of the guttural sounds made in the throat don’t exist or are made in a different way. For example, I am teaching Spanish students at both A1 and B1 levels; the two sounds that they struggle with the German R, which is formed in the back of the throat and the hard ‘ch’ sound, kind of like a hissing cat, but farther back in the throat.

Producing sound

During the CELTA, we often spoke about the different parts of the mouth/throat that are used to create sounds. We used diagrams to illustrate where the tongue should be, what the lips should be doing (which is easier to show in person), and how sounds are produced. This could be kind of cumbersome as certain sounds are still difficult to show on such a static medium.

So why this post? I recently came across a video that shows someone speaking during an MRI; specifically a real-time fMRI of the head that showed movement. I had seen other fMRI clips of singers, but this was the first time that I had seen someone speaking normally, and to my good fortune, speaking German! It was something I could use in class to demonstrate tongue positions, so I did!

Speaking during an MRI

What I like about fMRI is both the real-time nature and the fact that soft tissues show up. These are the ones that have a higher water content; the MRI picks up their spins to create images. (Yay I was able to use my biomedical engineering knowledge for something!) These two facts mean the tongue, palate, lips, and the structures (larynx, pharynx) in the throat show up clearly. This is good way for students to visualise what is happening with their mouths when they make certain sounds.

Here is someone from the Max Planck Institute Institute for Biophysical Chemistry speaking German. He introduces the concept of fMRI at the University of Göttingen. Then he says the vowels, a selection of consonants, and numbers from one to ten.

My students found the clip very helpful, especially for those hard-to-make sounds that I mentioned above. I would recommend showing this clip during pronunciation lessons or even by learning the numbers since they are in there at the end of the clip.

Are there any other tools that you use to show pronunciation in a dynamic way? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!


Want more useful materials? You can view everything I have posted so far on the English Language Materials page.

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