Dr Klaus Bung
© 2012 Klaus Bung
I have that printed out on a little piece of cardboard and stuck to the edge of my monitor and often have to use it when someone dictates an address or a postcode (BB1-8DL etc) on the telephone. You will notice that trained telephone operators and call centre workers use these words.
There is nothing you can do because you cannot repeat and listen again. If it is important, e.g. reference to the title of a book you may want to buy, you can can scribble down as many keywords as you can get. I often find myself in this situation when listening to the Radio. e.g. to the review of a new book or translation. The author has an unfamiliar name, it may be English, or also Arab or Indian.
I then scribble down, fast, while continuing to listen: approximate surname of the author; perhaps first name exactly if I can catch it; keywords from the title; keywords from the contents, e.g. name of a country, war, Nobel prize, etc. I try to get as many keywords as I can.
Then with these keywords I start googling and find the exact title of the book and the name of its author. So even if I wanted nothing but the NAME of the author, the additional keywords helped me find it.
If this happens often from the same source, make arrangments for recording such broadcasts on your computer. A free program called mp3DirectCut can be very useful for this.
Once you have recorded the material and it contains names you do not understand, you are in Situation 3.
You want to write down these names and you want to look them up in a dictionar so that you can confirm their spellings.
There is no foolproof solution to this problem since you can not look up pronunciations in a book, especially when you are not sure what you actually heard.
There are the following compromises. Listen to your recording with mp3DirectCut. This is better than an mp3 player because you can stop it every second, and listen repeatedly to just a tiny amount of recording.
When you have used all your brains and all your resources, you have two options,
(1) to consult a friend
(2) to consult a book
Use mp3DirectCut, select about 10 or 30 seconds of recording (to provide some context), save selection as an mp3 file, and email it to a friend. Let the friend solve the problem for you. That is most efficient, once you have learnt how to use mp3DirectCut, which is a very easy and simple program.
The book will probably be the English Pronouncing Dictionary.
Scribble down as much of the name as you can. The first letter and she early letters are most important. Let us assume that you heard /reɪf/ but do not know how to spell it. But you are sure that it starts with "r". Turn to letter R in the dictionary and look at all words starting with capital "R".
You can ignore words with small "r" because all names start with capital letters. If you are sure that the final letter has the sound / f /, then you know that the word will end in either "f" or in "ph" (the two most obvious spellings for the sound / f / ). Look at all these words and their pronunciations and try to find one which SOMEHOW MATCHES what you have heard. In our case, you will find "Ralph". You have your word.
If you are not sure whether you have a perfect match, play the word again, then look at the candidate in the dictionary, listen again, look again, until you are sure, or proceed to another word, another candidate.
Start a little notebook devoted only to names. Note some special names known to be trouble makers when you come across them. Make yourself aware of these names. Here are some examples, but as time goes by you will become aware of more.
You will learn, that Jack is a popular form of John, Dick is a popular form of Richard, Harry is a popular form of Henry, etc.
Frances (usually a woman)
Francis (usually a man)
Matthew (note the double t)
This is only an example of what is hidden in names. Similar stories can be told about other names.
John and Jon: Both names are pronounced the same.
John is more frequent than Jon. Jon is short for Jonathan.
John is from "John the Baptist" or "John the Evangelist", both are important in the story of Jesus. John is the same as Latin (etc) Johannes.
Most English Christian names occur in all European languages in a variety of spellings and pronunciations. These "foreign" versions of John are often found in England and in English literature, as names of immigrants (or their descendants) or characters in literature. Such "foreign" names are also sometimes given to English children by ambitious parents who think something plain, simple and honest like good old "John" is not good enough for THEIR offspring. That means you have to recognise them as if they were originally English names. It is part of your English studies.
Uneducated people often give their children names based on popular artists, pop singers, film actors, etc. These go out of fashion after a few decades. The children are saddled with their names for the rest of their lives. Unkind observers (prospective employers, etc), when they meet them later in life, will immediately conclude that these people grew up in uneducated households. This may be unfair, but it is a fact that names have an enormous emotional impact, and it is difficult for reason to overrule emotion. Life IS unfair.
Click on the image to make it larger.
If you cannot believe that all these names are the same, just with slight variations, look at this table. In each language a few letters have been added, or chucked out, or slightly changed. Seeing such relationships will help you in your European language studies.
The pronunciations of these names in various languages deviate wildly from their spellings. You have to look them up in the Pronouncing Dictionary or have them spoken to you by their owners (bearers), i.e. by the person who bears such a name.
Make an effort to build up a repertory of names (as you build up a vocabulary). Investigate, write down in one place and collect the names of people you meet, face to face, on the web, and even in your reading (stories, newspapers). Investigate the names; find out about their background (google) famous bearers of that name. All the versions of John which I have listed occur somewhere in English literature (including the Arabic one, in Richard Burton's writings, or the Hebrew one in Oscar Wilde's play "Salome"), i.e. they are worth knowing, however outlandish they might look.
Established Christian names tend to be of Hebrew, Greek or Latin origin (Bible and Christians saints). They usually do have meanings, but their bearers (most of them no longer being religious) often do not know them and do not care about them, unlike bearers of Arabic or Indian names, who are proud of the significance of their names.
Mike = Michael (Mi-cha-el) ( ميخائيل, ) means "Who is equal to God!" (meaning: Nobody is equal to God). This was the battle cry of the good angels fighting against the rebellious bad angels in the battle in heaven. The bad angels, led by Lucifer, lost and were cast into hell and became devils. Michael was one of the good angels, the general who led the good angels in that battle. The story is told in the Book of Revelations (Bible: New Testament, Last Book)
A corresponding Islamic story is that of the fall of the Iblis, who refused to bow to Adam.
When I meet from India (etc) and Arab countries, I make a point of asking them for the meaning of their names (if I have the time, LOL, which often I do have). That makes them easier to remember. Next time I meet a person of that same name, which happens frequenty, I understand it instantly and it eases the relationship. People with these "difficult" names are astonished and happy because they are used to natives (English) to being utterly incapable of handling their names LOL. I suggest you do the same. Google the meaning of European names of people you know because they themselves are likely to be clueless.