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How Do You Say That?

 Has your name ever been mispronounced? How did it make you feel?

Consider the impact bad pronunciation had on the new head of New York City’s public schools.

Carmen Guillén, as she was called then, was marked absent for six weeks by her kindergarten teacher who mispronounced her Spanish surname.

The former classroom teacher Camen Fariña (the married name she now uses) has never forgotten that.

As the new education chancellor of New York City, where 40% of students are from Latin American countries, Carmen has promised parents that teachers will call students by their given name.

“Your children will be spoken to by the name you gave them,” she told them after her appointment was announced by the city mayor.

Teachers (and anyone else for that matter!) in New York, Madrid or anywhere, now have a tool to help them correctly pronounce a foreign noun or name:

Www.Forvo.com is an online pronunciation dictionary created by two information technology specialists in San Sebastian. In December 2013 Time magazine named Forvo one of the world’s best 50 websites in its annual roundup of places worth visiting on the internet.

Web designer Israel Rondón and computer programmer Félix Vela were tired of hearing Spanish newscasters continually mispronounce words like Google and Twitter and in 2008 decided they could do something to help.

They began building Forvo, whose mission statement is: All the words in the world. Pronounced.

Some have called Forvo the Wikipedia of sound because the audio files are created by registered users who volunteer to pronounce words in their native language. As of this writing, Forvo has more than 330,000 registered users who have pronounced more than 2.25 million words in 314 languages. 

“We come from the technological world. We decided to create a platform so that people could learn to pronounce words in other languages. We realized that it would have to be native speakers, so for this reason we opened our web to the world,” Forvo co-founder Félix told elconfidencial.com.

If Forvo had been around when Carmen was in kindergarten, her teacher could have typed in the name Guillén and listened to six different native speakers of Spanish—two from Spain, one from Mexico, others from Argentina, Ecuador and the United States—pronounce this family name.

“The majority of platforms dedicated to pronunciation use machines. Our difference is that the pronunciations are native, our own users do them, people contribute by voluntarily recording pronunciations. Also, there are different variations. It’s not the same a word pronounced in New York as in London, so for this reason we include both and show them on a Google map,” Félix told elconfidential.com in an interview last year.

By Paulette Flahavin


mispronounced - to pronounce a word or name incorrectly

impact - to have a strong and often bad effect on someone (or something)

surname - the name that is shared by people in a family

chancellor - the head of some US educational institutions

roundup - the finding and gathering together people or things of the same kind

newscasters - people who read or report the news on television, radio or the internet     

mission statement - is a statement of the purpose of a company or organization

*What’s a glossary?

 It’s a list of the definitions of hard or unusual words found in a text.

March 17, 2014

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