I have three language hangups.
1) I love words and try to learn new ones whenever they present themselves.
2) When I travel, I like to learn some basic rudiments of the local language.
3) When people mispronounce words, like nuclear, athlete, library or ticklish, it feels like grating fingernails on a chalkboard to my ears.
In trying to learn Mandarin, I’m the fingernail scraper.
I looked up the name for one of my favorite Chinese desserts – Bok Tan Go. Thinking I knew what I was doing, I went to the bakery in Chinatown and instead of pointing, like I usually do, I said, “Four bok tan go please.” The person behind the counter stared at me as if I’d just asked for nonsense. So, I pointed. “Oh,” said the person behind the counter. “Bok tan go.” I couldn’t hear the difference between what the person said, and what I’d said. But obviously I made an error so egregious that I couldn’t even be understood.
I at least understand nookyoolar or liebarry, or athalete or tickilish. But what I’d said wasn’t just a mispronunciation – it was nonsensical.
I tried again when I met a Chinese woman at Toastmasters who was going to China to visit her husband’s family. I asked if she was going to visit Guilin, which I pronounced Gwee-Linn. Again, the blank stare.
When I described the pointy green-covered hills, the long river, the caves, the woman finally said, “Oh, you mean Gwee-Linn.” That’s how I heard it. I cannot hear the difference between what I’m saying and what I’m hearing. But there must be a huge difference to native speakers.
So, I wonder if the people who mispronounce words in English can hear the difference between what they are saying and what is accepted as the correct pronounciation.