Teachers and preachers: innovative program aims to help immigrant priests with English

It’s happening in Los Angeles, but I can think of a lot of other corners of the country (including my own) where something like this could reap dividends.

From The Tidings:

The group of nuns and priests sitting around the conference table had been invited to a historic event: an orientation meeting for the “Teachers and Preachers Learning Together” pilot program providing one-on-one elocution help for immigrant priests serving in the archdiocese.

“Congratulations, you are pioneers,” said Louis Velasquez, special projects coordinator for the archdiocese’s Vicar for Clergy’s office, during the Jan. 12 “TAP” meeting held at the Archdiocesan Catholic Center in Los Angeles.

Addressing the group of non-native “preachers” and women religious retired/semi-retired “teachers,” Velasquez noted that the archdiocesan TAP program, which may be the first of its kind in the U.S., grew out of a need to help immigrant priests improve their English pronunciation for American congregations. A total of 18 priests and 18 women religious will participate in TAP’s first session.

“Two years ago, the U.S. bishops said that the issue of pronunciation is the most important pastoral issue dealing with international priests,” said Velasquez.

He pointed out to the priests that, while taking English classes offers generic language instruction, the TAP program “is directly related to your ministry” as each “preacher” meets with his “teacher” for a weekly one-hour session to improve pronunciation during Mass.

Participating priests will email their written homilies no later than Wednesday to their TAP teacher, who will correct for grammatical errors in advance of their in-person or online “Skype” meeting to polish pronunciation.

“The sisters are the best possible teachers,” Velasquez said. “There is not a better ideal, a better combination that we could have come up with.”

Read more.


  1. For way too long, the PC police have forbidden any criticism of the pronunciation of foreign priests whatsoever. Like most other arbitrarily imposed “manners”, however, it eventually fell to reality, here, that too many foreign-born and raised clergy, while possessing decent English grammar skills, feel free to pronounce American English anyway they feel like, rendering themselves, on their best days, less effective, and sometimes making themselves utterly incomprehensible. Here’s one tip for teachers: explain the difference between conversational English (say, in confession) and proclamational English (say, in offering Mass). Even some American clergy offer Mass as if they were talking over the dinner table; it’s bad form, and becomes worse when accents are bad to start with.

  2. I might add some of my own pet peeves, some of which I have mentioned before:

    I generally find foreign priests to be more orthodox (true to the Magisterium) – when I can understand them! However, I have also encountered a fair number of native English speakers that are also unintelligible due to a combination of bad speech habits and horrible church acoustics.

    In some cases the acoustics can’t have much done about them due to the sheer horror of the church’s construction from an acoustic point of view and the lack of money for a proper PA system (or over-riding desire for “architectural beauty”, or over-riding desire to have the PA carry music to the extent that its PA function is compromised). In those cases, usually echo is to blame for unintelligible speech (however, chant, organ or orchestra may sound lovely – but to emphasize that over intelligible proclamation of the Word is to have wrongly ordered priorities, in my opinion).

    It seems so simple, but speaking with a reasonable and steady pace (and not swallowing parts of words!) can be the difference between a homily heard and one that is mis-heard – especially in the presence of massive echo. I don’t know how many times I have discussed a homily with someone after mass and found that either I or they had missed a key word and it totally changed the meaning of what was intended.

    Proper sound reinforcement, especially in older, more “picturesque” churches can be a major problem. Sometimes, sadly, even though a sizable amount of money has been spent on the church’s sound system, the combination of visual appearance restrictions and just plain ignorance of basic acoustic speech intelligibility principles leaves the church without the ability to have the Word proclaimed intelligibly – and if that can’t happen, isn’t one of the major purposes of that edifice frustrated?

    I read a different article by Deacon Greg on how a parish prioritized the school ahead of the church building. Truly noble and entirely according to Gospel principles! In like manner when a church is built the acoustics should be considered so that the Word may be successfully heard there. How do the people of God grow in knowledge, love and grace without receiving the Word, the Bread from Heaven, in all the forms it is offered at the Mass?

  3. Eugene Pagano says:

    When I was a Roman Catholic in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, I read that there was an accent reduction program at the Douglastown seminary that served the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre.

  4. I actually haven’t had too much trouble understanding the English of foreign-born priests. Where I think some might benefit from some coaching is in the area of cultural differences, particularly how the role of women here might differ from “back home”.
    I will relate a story which is a little humerous along those lines. A number of years ago a priest from India was in residence at the parish we belonged to. He didn’t have a car, and needed to run some errands. We offered to give him a ride after Mass. I happened to be driving. He was white-knuckling it, very visibly out of his comfort zone riding with a women driver. He would say, “There’s a stop-light ahead” about 1000 feet before the fact. I suppose it would have shocked him even more if I had told him that I was eleven years old the first time I drove a vehicle (don’t ask; farm and ranch kids in the ’50′s and ’60′s did a lot of things which wouldn’t have been OSHA approved!). I took pity on the poor guy and got in the back seat so my husband could drive on the way back; I didn’t want him to have a panic attack.

Leave a Comment