VOA Site Helps Reporters Pronounce Foreign Names

By: Charles Bowen

One of the many things I love about the Web is how it provides thousands of little tools that quietly go about their business of making our lives easier. To me, the ideal online tool is not a complex super utility that tries to tackle dozens of assorted tasks, but rather a friendly, simple-to-use site that expertly solves a single problem.

For journalists, a problem that has needed solving for a very long time is how to avoid embarrassing ourselves by mangling pronunciations when we open our mouths to talk about international events. Want to watch a broadcaster turn green? Hand him copy that contains names like Ahmed Abdallah Abderemane, Frantisek Hajnovic ,and Ryutaro Hashimoto.

But it is not only broadcasters who dread the Alexander Karadjordjevics of this world. Our print brethren are known to speak in public from time to time too, or at least are called to answer questions phoned in to the city desk. And, being less experienced in the oral arts, print editors and reporters are even more likely to come up with some colorful variations on, say, Tedo Dzhaparidze or Dimitris Koufodinas.

So, who out there in the oh-so-worldly World Wide Web can help us sort out our Constantinos, our Laszlos, and our Menachems? How about the people who have been working this beat for 60 years? The Voice of America offers a wonderful searchable online guide to pronouncing the names of world leaders. Entries include phonetic spellings. But even better still, it also has audio-file pronunciations so we can simply listen and learn.

To check it out, visit the site at http://ibb7.ibb.gov/pronunciations, where a simple page of data entry boxes gets right down to business, giving you four ways to search for the name you want to pronounce:

* Text Search. If you aren’t sure how to spell a name, enter the first few letters in this box.

* List Lookup. This option provides a listing of the entire database without pronunciations. Scroll down the list using the arrow at the right of the list box. Left click to highlight a name.

* Full List. This alternative lets you retrieve all names in the database and their pronunciations.

* Origin. Here you can access names by country of origin, highlight an entry by scrolling down with the arrow at right and then left clicking on an entry. After your search is complete, you receive a list of words matching your search request.

Entries with a speaker icon have a sound file that will give you an “audio pronunciation” of the selected record. This audio file can be heard using any Windows-compatible audio player that can play Real Audio files, but it should be noted that the files have been specifically optimized for the Real Audio player. If you don’t have Real Player on your system, the site offers links so that you can download a free copy online.

Other considerations for using the VOA Pronunciation Guide in your work:

1. By left clicking on the “Short List” link on the left side of the page, you will access the latest additions to the database and/or frequently recurring names.

2. If you can’t get the audio working on your system, you can still rely on the phonetic spellings provided with each name. And if you have difficulty deciphering the phonetics, click on the “Key” link in the navigation bar at the left of the display to reach a help file.

3. And speaking of the navigation bar, an interesting side trip available here is the “Languages” link accessible in the left column. Here you can learn what languages are spoken in the countries of the world.

To see Bowen’s last 20 columns, click here. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives. Search for “Bowen” in the “Author” field.

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