Fabio Perfects His Pronunciation By Karen Bossick


Fabio Aguirre used to try to hide in another store aisle when he saw his boss coming.

“I wanted to greet him with the words, ‘Hello, Chip!’ But I was afraid I would say, ‘Hello, sheep,’ instead. I couldn’t pronounce his name right.”

Fabio doesn’t need to run and hide, anymore. The Peruvian native has learned to speak the English of his adopted country, thanks to Nardagani.

“Until Nardagani, I had never found this kind of help with my pronunciation,” said Fabio. “It is my dream come true.”

Fabio, who grew up in Lima, came to Sun Valley 14 years ago at the suggestion of his nephew, who had moved to the United States to work for Sun Valley Resort. A hardworking, eager-to-please young man, he quickly landed a job behind the meat counter at Atkinsons’ Market.

But the outgoing young man was frustrated every time he tried to communicate with the customers. Unable to speak a word of English when he arrived, he had taken every English class he could find. But he still was unable to speak English so his newfound American friends could understand.

“I could see the confusion written on their faces. I could see that they couldn’t understand me because of my pronunciation. They’d say, ‘What? Please repeat.’ My confidence was terrible because I didn’t feel I could express my thoughts,” he recalled.

Given the situation, Fabio felt like he had nothing to lose when he met Narda Pitkethly on a bus and she offered to teach him English via a system she had developed that she called Nardagani. The system uses 12 simple symbols to teach challenged readers how to read in four to six hour-long lessons. It teaches them how to understand the sounds of letters in the process.

“She said, ‘I’ve got just the system for you. You will learn fast and easy,’ ” he recalled. “Many of my friends had told me that it was too late, that I was too old to learn English well. But I believe that you are never too old to learn when you truly want to learn something.”

Fabio’s employers—Chip and Whit Atkinson—offered to pay for the course.

Soon, Fabio was using the Nardagani Sound Map to learn what his lips, teeth and tongue should look like for each of the 38 sounds in the English language.

By learning the 12 Nardagani symbols, he learned to put his tongue between his teeth to pronounce the “th” sound, which the Spanish language does not have. He learned to pronounce “V” the proper way, rather than forming the letter “B,” as he had been doing.

He learned not to put a “J” before the “Y.” He learned to say “ch” with a hard sound and “sh” with a softer sound. And he learned how to differentiate between the “s” and “z” when pronouncing those letters.

“It was amazing for me to finally find this knowledge about coding English words. This system has changed my life,” he said, waving his hands excitedly through the air.

In addition to learning how to speak so that his customers and friends can understand him, Fabio found he could read signs that had seemed like a jumble of letters before. He was able to begin writing customers’ orders.

He began reading at night, just for fun. And he found himself better able to converse with patients he takes care of when not working in the meat department. His goal is to teach a Spanish-speaking friend to speak English.

In addition, Fabio is able to understand American idioms and other aspects of the American language that puzzled him before.

“Recently, for instance, I was watching a movie and I heard them use the word ‘volcano.’ Immediately I understood that the word was not being used to describe an actual physical volcano but as a metaphor for the volcanic emotions that can accompany alcoholism,” he said.

Fabio practices what he has learned every single day—when he’s jogging along the bike path and when he’s riding the bus from his home in Hailey to the store in Ketchum.

A proud man, he no longer fears trying to communicate with someone in English. He feels confident and respected. He feels grateful.

“I am very grateful to Narda for expanding my work skills. Next time I see Chip, I will be so happy I will say, ‘Chip, how are you doing!’” he said.

“Narda’s system of language gave me more strength, more power. Emotional—that’s how I’m feeling now. I am going to be happy the rest of my life because I finally get it!”