I fortunately secured a few days of cleaning up and getting ready for the new semester th
is week. While organizing notepads I used last semester, I found several pages of notes from the first phonetics class. (There were plenty more notes, but most were disposed of last December.) Some were IPA transcription from dictation practices, and some were notes I made reviewing for the final test.
Ah… phonetics. The class brought a whole different level of challenges that I hadn’t experienced before: listening to unfamiliar sounds and identifying them. Maybe I had been introduced to the foreign languages I’ve learned gradually. I don’t particularly remember having such difficulty of distinguishing different sounds while learning them. Or I didn’t realize that I couldn’t distinguish them until this class. The notoriously similar pairs from English, according to my ears, were [ɪ]/[i], [d]/[ð], [æ]/[ɛ], [ʒ]/[dʒ]. I got them incorrect so often in class that even my classmates became aware of my weak spots. Ironically I taught a low level phonetics ESL class in the same semester. It was a constant switch of hats between the one who suffered hearing problems and the other who inflicted suffering onto the learner.
Learning a variety of non-English sounds was also enlightening. I was a fish in a bowl! Going through implosive, ejective, clicks, and etc, broadened my limited perspective of world languages. Believe me. Speaking (sorta) four languages, I used to think I was well-exposed to different languages. Wrong and wrong!
At the end of the semester, feeling defeated with some sounds that I never succeeded in identifying, I forwent the idea of pursuing phonetics as my area of concentration. However, all the noble challenges and knowledge that I got showered with were definitely worth taking the course. (It was a requirement though.)