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Friday, August 26, 2016

I pronounce it "ih-muh-ZEH-key"

As those who actually speak Japanese have told me, it really should be "Eee-mah-zeh-key" (equal emphasis) but it's definitely NOT 'Eye-ma-zeek-key', 'Ih-mask-ee' or (don't ask me why) 'Ihm-ski'. I'm not entirely sure why it's hard for people - in my mind, my name is actually pronounced pretty much how it looks but I think the proximity of a 'z' and 'k' throws people off. Interestingly, Spanish speakers tend to be the best at pronouncing it correctly because Japanese pronunciation of vowels is similar to Spanish.

But my entire life, on the first day of a class with a new teacher (and sometimes even those I'd had before), they would start calling roll, and I would brace myself as they got closer to the I's. Many times, I could tell when they got to my name on the roster because after a Joe Holmes or Jane Howard, there would be that slight pause, at which point I'd usually just jump in and call out my name for them, and the instructor would give me a thankful smile of relief.

That was my experience for 20 years of classes and yet, for some reason, up until literally a month ago, it never occurred to me to make any particular effort to learn how to pronounce my own students' names. Even as I write that, I am horrified to admit it. And yet, ever since I began teaching, I have gone into the first day of class and called roll, simply prefacing my name-butchering with a lame, "Please forgive me for all the names I am about to mispronounce." Sometimes I would add, "Teachers have been mispronouncing my name my entire life" as if that somehow made it OK for me to do it to them. I think because it happens so often to me, although it's mildly annoying, I just don't think about it much and I just figured it wasn't a big deal. And honestly, it can be really hard to learn certain names and even when I try, I sometimes can't get it right and then I feel like I must be offending that person even more.

But in July, I was in a workshop on inclusive pedagogy and one of the facilitators was talking about the little things that instructors can do that can make a big impact in how welcome a student feels, and she mentioned learning names. She pointed out that instead of calling roll from the roster, you could go around the room and simply have students say their own names - you could even record them so you could go home and practice saying it the way THEY say it. For some reason, a huge lightbulb went off in my head - DUH! I don't need to call out their names, I could make THEM tell ME how to say their names the way they want them said!

I honestly don't know why I never thought about this before. Maybe it's because I've never had a teacher who modeled this behavior. But what if I had? What if I had had a teacher who had shown that they were making a real effort to learn my name and say it correctly? When I have come across the rare individuals who actually pronounce my name correctly right from the beginning, it always makes a (positive) impression on me but I think I'm often even more impressed with the people who get it wrong but then keep trying, keep asking me to repeat it, until they get it right. I would have really loved to have a teacher who made that kind of effort.

To be fair, I have always made an effort to learn my students' first names and I know that they notice. I have often thought it makes a difference in getting some quieter students to participate when I can call on them by name. I have to think that if I had put equal effort into learning their last names and making sure I was pronouncing both first and last names correctly, it could have made an even bigger difference, particularly for students who are at highest risk of being marginalized (such as asian international students who I have noticed tend not to talk as much in my classes).

Do you learn how to pronounce all your students' names? Any suggestions for how to do it?

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