Nurturing Young Minds

Nurturing Young Minds

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

1. The Barber Boy and a Billion Children: the Story of an Evolving Dream

Episode - 1: How a Barber Boy Ignited a Great Idea

A Sunday of 2007 in the small township of Ranchi in the state of Jharkhand, India.
It is the rainy season, which is especially bountiful in Ranchi with frequent drizzles and rains. The lush green surrounding of the HEC area adds luster to the Sunday moments that allow time to eye the green foliage which is hardly noticed on the work filled week days.

A 15 year old barber boy massages my head at my official residence in the sprawling backyard lawn, while I relax on this Sunday after a week's hectic and boring office schedule, rummaging through the Oxford Advanced Learners' Dictionary, trying to figure out what changes have been introduced in the phonetic symbols since I left college around two and a half decades back.

The barber  boy - Madhu Mangal - is curious to know what this strange phonetic alphabet is all about, so different from the usual English (Roman) alphabet! I explain to him that English is a strange language in which there is hardly any link between what you write and what you speak. You write PUT and speak, or pronounce, it as पुट. But when you write BUT you do not pronounce it as बुट. Instead, you pronounce it as बट. This is the reason the advanced English dictionaries give after every word the real pronunciation of every word using the phonetic alphabet. If one is really serious about learning spoken English, one has to learn the phonetic script in order to learn the real pronunciation of every English word from the dictionary.

Madhu Mangal picks up a sheet on which I had penned down the various phonetic symbols and their Hindi equivalent sounds. He takes the sheet away with my permission, promising to return the same the following Sunday. I explain to him that I am writing a book to facilitate learning of the phonetic symbols by Hindi knowing children so that they are able to speak better English, and hence he must not forget to return it. He goes away, and I forget about the episode, busy in completing my work on phonetics for Indian children, because I am sure this boy would not be able to make any use of the sheet material  without a proper initiation in phonetics. At least I had not found anybody till date who had been able to show that he could do this.

(Please wait for Episode 2. I will write the different episodes of the story one by one.)

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