Landing in Tenerife

I landed in Tenerife yesterday. I’m here for an English teachers’ conference. (Life is good sometimes). As we were landing one of the members of the aircrew ran through the usual arrival messages, first in Spanish and then in English. She started in English with ‘We have just landing in Tenerife North’.

Superficially this looks like a grammatical error, and it’s also possible that the air steward simply confused ‘landed’ with ‘landing’ as both words are used regularly throughout any flight. However, I’d like to offer a third explanation, and suggest that the real underlying cause is pronunciation.

The correct pronunciation of ‘landed’ involves two alveolar /d/ in quick succession. /d/ in Spanish is dental, so it’s quite difficult for a Spanish tongue to correctly articulate successive alveolar plosives. Faced with this difficulty and the need for real-time speech, it could be that the speaker’s tongue ‘blocked’ and that what came out as a result sounded (to me at least – most people probably weren’t listening) like velar ‘n’ – ‘landing’ and not ‘landed’.

Obviously, I could be wrong as to what happened, but I still think that it is worth suggesting that pronunciation is probably more often behind learner error in spoken English than we think. Missed ‘s’ on the third person singular present, or comparative ‘thinner’ instead of simple ‘thin’, are examples that come to mind immediately. My tourism students talking about fish with ‘crap’ sauce is another.

Pronunciation matters, something I’ll never tire of telling teachers. So keep your pronunciation antennae* on at all times. It’s behind so many mistakes in our learners’ oral and written production.

(* thanks to Paul Seligson for this delightful term)