Book Review – “Whaddaya Say?”

As a Business English trainer working in-company, one of the main requests I get from my course participants is some variant of:

“I’m having trouble understanding speakers from country X”

“People with accent X are so difficult to understand. Can you help?”

“Can you give me some tips for understanding people from country X?”

This leads to another common comment:

 “If I see that somebody is calling from country X, I simply do not answer the phone because I know they will be difficult to understand. It’s better to just communicate with them through email.”

Of course country XX can be any country in the world. However, as an American working in Europe, I tend to get a lot of questions about tips on understanding American English. Many course participants communicate with partners in the USA weekly, and quite a few of them dread seeing that Native Speaker name on the invitation list or seeing the country code +01 show up on their phone. The reason for all this stress? The challenges that we Native Speakers can present without realizing it.

OnWhaddaya Saye of the many reasons for this challenge is the use of reduced forms (wanna, gonna, etc). Luckily, there is a nice book I came across a few weeks ago that deals directly with this named “Whaddaya Say?” by Nina Weinstein.

“Whaddays Say” has been around for more than 20 years. It was originally published in 1982 – with an updated second edition coming out in 2001. Don’t let the book’s age put you off however. E.T. and Blade Runner may have been in the theaters in 1982, but the content inside is as useful today as it was back then.

So what’s the book about? It’s written for the English learner who wishes to truly understand the English language as it is really spoken. Nina Weinstein, who did extensive research on the subject as a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, and as a teaching fellow at Harvard, gives us 30 chapters worth of common reduced forms.

Weinstein introduces us to a specific reduced form in each chapter, which is immediately followed by an example conversation segment. This segment is written in two ways:

  • With a clear & slow pronunciation
  • With a relaxed, fast pronunciation which includes the target reduced forms.

We then have some comprehension questions and a second part which presents the learner with a listening exercise and some practice questions. A creative trainer could adapt these lessons to use with those learners who need specific practice understanding the relaxed pronunciation most Native Speakers use.

Adaptation for A Raising Language Awareness Workshop

I personally plan to use this book as a resource for creating activities in a Raising Language Awareness Workshop with Native Speakers. Any aspect of such training should take a moment to focus on these reduced forms – which should be pronounced clearly when adapting to an international audience. If nothing else, the research done by Weinstein will save you time in trying to create your own list of reduced forms.

One might even think of using the example conversation scripts in the book in reverse, focusing on cutting out the reduced forms. Personally, I would suggest creating your own scripts/segments simulating typical business situations within the company of your group of Native Speakers taking part in the workshop.

Here are some of the reduced forms from the book:

  • going to ——> *gonna
  • want to ——> *wanna
  • can ———-> *kin
  • can’t ———> *kant
  • get ———–> *git
  • you ———-> *ya
  • used to ——> *useta
  • supposed to ——> *supposta
  • don’t know ——–> *donno
  • got to ————–> *gotta
  • have to ————-> *hafta
  • has to —————> *hasta

There are many more examples in the book! To be fair to the author, I won’t list them all. The best source of discovering these reduced forms would be to listen in on the conversations of your clients in order to discover which of them are causing the most challenges.

Link to an interview with Nina Weinstein from Wordmaster

Nina Weinstein’s website: www.easyenglish.us.com

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