Only ‘toats’?

I came across this sign in a hotel in Spain earlier this year.

Only toats

I imagine it raised a smile or two among those who managed to lift their thoughts beyond their stomachs (the sign was above the toaster in the hotel restaurant), but I hope that the English teachers who were having breakfast in the hotel (and there were quite a few) spotted what a lovely insight the mistake is into one of the pronunciation problems of Spanish-L1 speakers of English.

Spanish, as with a number of other languages, is not keen on consonant clusters, and one response to their appearance is to add a small vowel (technically known as ‘epenthesis’) in order to facilitate matters pronunciation-wise. Thus, ‘Spain’ becomes ‘eSpain’, and football is the national ‘esport’.

As teachers we often throw our hands up in horror on detecting the epenthetic ‘e’, but adding an extra vowel (an ‘e’ or an ‘i’) is far less damaging to intelligibility than deleting one of the consonants, which is the other strategy that learners apply to clusters. This strategy of deletion makes ‘I live in Spain’ sound like ‘I live in pain’, and many teachers do (live in pain) when they get too obsesive with these weak, instrusive, ‘e’ and ‘i’ vowels. Which is a shame, because they needn’t. OK, with ‘eSpain’ and ‘esport’ you have an accent. But at least you are intelligible, which is not true when you are ‘in pain’ or ‘insane’.

And the ‘toats’ in the hotel? Surely that’s just a spelling mistake, with the switching of the ‘s’ and the ‘t’? Well,  it could be, but I’d guess that the person who wrote the sign translated the countable ‘tostadas’ into the grammatically incorrect ‘toasts’, and then deleted one of the consonants in the impossible ‘sts’ final cluster.

It took me a long time to see how poor pronunciation invaded even learners’ written English, but as I explain in ‘Pronunciation Matters’ (English Teaching Professional 90, January 2014), nothing in learning English is free from the deadly effects of poor pronunciation.

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