Developing Teachers.com
A web site for the developing language teacher

Choosing a Model for Pronunciation - Accent Not Accident by Robin Walker
- 2

Not all of these arguments against RP as an accent are transferable to GA, and I personally find that the news on CNN is a lot less irritating to listen to than if I pick up the BBC's Home Service. However, both these traditional native speaker accents create real and serious problems in the teaching of the pronunciation of English. The first of these is that of achievability, since the vast majority of our students will never be able to imitate a native speaker accent successfully, whichever one that might be. After 20 years living in Spain I am still quickly identified as not being Spanish, and I imagine that many other non-Spanish members of TESOL-Spain have had this experience, too. Let's be honest, then, and accept that NS accents are shooting for the moon. Let's recognise that the experience of repeatedly trying to differentiate in production and recognition between ship and sheep is a daunting one for our students, to say the least. Worse still is the fact that not all the elements that constitute a native speaker accent are actually absolutely essential if our learners are to be intelligible in their use of English. Many years ago Gimson demonstrated quite ably that a two-vowel set was enough to obtain minimum general intelligibility. And, as has already been suggested above. many of the suprasegmental features of English in actual fact do not favour intelligibility. Quite the opposite.

But the unquestioned use of RP or GA as our models in the classroom is not only daunting for students. What of those teachers, all native speakers of English, whose accents do not coincide with RP or GA? Is it legitimate. we need to ask, for someone to teach the pronunciation of English using one of the two prestige models, if they were horn in Newcastle. UK. Newcastle, Canada. Newcastle, New South Wales or Newcastle. Texas? I know of at least one person from Glasgow who for many
years felt very uncomfortable about teaching pronunciation, and personally I have never made any attempt to teach my students the RP version of words like 'book', 'glass', or 'one'. Indeed, at this very moment, as I dictate these thoughts to the computer, it has just misrecognised both 'book' and 'one' because of my northern-British accent, getting book wrong on various occasions. And of course, if native speakers of English feel uncomfortable about teaching RP or GA, or even their own perfectly legitimate regional accent, how must non-native speakers of English feel? If you have an Andalucian, Madrid, Basque or Catalonian English accent, are you not doing more harm than good when you teach your students the pronunciation of English?

But always assuming that almost all of the above can be resolved, we still haven't taken into account what our students may feel. At first glance it would seem obvious that if they are learning English, the ultimate goal must surely be to speak and sound like one or other native English-speaking group. However, in a world where there are four-times as many non-native speakers of English as native speakers, a ratio which is continuing to grow in favour of the non-native speakers, in a world where English is now the international language, it is a very bold person that assumes that our students have native speaker speech as their aim. More important still, in a world where both the United States and Great Britain possess a very high international political profile and represent very deep convictions as to universal values of right and wrong, it might just be the case, especially if we go beyond Europe, that students do not actually wish to be identified as either British or American. In fact, at a far less serious level, having travelled for 20 years with Spanish companions, I understand perfectly why they should not wish to be taken for British when they are abroad. They are not British, they are Spanish, and quite rightly are very proud to be so and to be recognised as such through their accents. Accents, it is all too easy to forget, are a fundamental part of identity, and whilst it is perfectly legitimate for a student to aspire to a native speaker accent, it is surely wrong for a teacher, explicitly or otherwise, to push students to feel that anything other than this is an imperfection.

To page 3 of 3

Back to the articles index

Back to the top


Tips & Newsletter Sign up —  Current Tip —  Past Tips 
Train with us Online Development Courses    Lesson Plan Index
 Phonology — Articles Books  LinksContact
Advertising — Web Hosting — Front page


Copyright 2000-2016© Developing Teachers.com