Foreign Priests Get Help Preaching in English The American Catholic Church has relied on priests from abroad to fill vacancies caused by the dwindling number of U.S.-born priests. But American parishioners often have trouble understanding the priests' foreign accents. A program in Texas is helping priests preach with better English pronunciation.
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Foreign Priests Get Help Preaching in English

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Foreign Priests Get Help Preaching in English

Foreign Priests Get Help Preaching in English

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For Catholics, who grew up listening to the likes of Father O'Leary and Father Flannigan. Nowadays, there's a different accent coming from the pulpit.

Monsignor ANDREI SAGRA (Catholic Priest): Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is at heaven.

AMOS: That's Monsignor Andrei Sagra(ph) originally from the Philippines, now in Dallas, where accents on a Sunday morning are often from India, Spain, Mexico and Vietnam. These priests fill a gap as the Catholic Church faces a severe shortage of homegrown clergy. Parishioners are happy, but some have trouble understanding Sunday sermons.

AMOS: In Texas, a company called Global English Training offers classes in accent reduction, helping foreign-born priests get past the English phrases that trip them up.

Monsignor SAGRA: Crib. Crib is the place Jesus was born. Shirt. I always wear black shirt.

AMOS: Meagan Cockram helped design classes that focus on teaching American English in a technique she calls Language Mimicry.

Good morning.

Ms. MEAGAN COCKRAM (Teacher, Global English Training): Good morning.

AMOS: Tell me a little about language mimicry. What are the examples of what you have these priests mimic?

Ms. COCKRAM: Linguistic mimicry is the repetition of natural speech to be able to perceive and produce those sounds that are very different from what your muscles in your mouth are accustomed to doing.

AMOS: How do you convince a priest that he's not reaching his parishioners?

Ms. COCKRAM: Well, actually a lot of them have realized that we have a very different pronunciation from what they are used to hearing in their home countries. And many of the parishioners will say something to the pastor at their parish. And they see it in people's faces, that they are not getting the meaning of what they're telling them so.

AMOS: Are there any examples that you can think of where, you know, a parishioner said, but I thought you meant this when you said that.

Ms. COCKRAM: Every single morning they have a list of words that they would like to know how to pronounce. And as they got more comfortable with doing that, one of them finally said, and how do you pronounce this word, got(ph)? I said, oh, God. Yes, that's an important word to be able to say. Another one is pronunciation of Isaiah or Isaiah. Many of them say it like Esaiah(ph), which, of course, sounds like Messiah. And probably, if you didn't have your liturgy in front of you, you might get a little bit confused for a second.

AMOS: What are the examples that you have the priests listen to So they get that American accent?

Ms. COCKRAM: We give them a DVD of a small section of "Seinfeld." It would…

AMOS: You have priests imitating Seinfeld?

Ms. COCKRAM: …imitating Seinfeld. We actually had them choose a character. Then, they would imitate a little bit of dialogue to get the rhythm and to understand really how the intonation works.

AMOS: After accent reduction, do you find that the priest are happier? I mean, their message is the same. It's just your tweaking how they delivered it.

Ms. COCKRAM: Yes. At first, some of them are very apprehensive. And then, as time goes on, the parishioners are very supportive and they get a lot of positive feedback. And they have lots of stories people about coming up to them and telling them that they can understand them better and that they noticed an immediate improvement.

AMOS: Thanks very much. Meagan Cockram with Global English Training, who offers classes in accent reduction.

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