Teaching pronunciation: it's not just about accent
I saw an interesting Facebook post from a highly successful teacher from the USA. His post was about teaching pronunciation and which activities work best for accent modification. Since requests for pronunciation improvement make up 50% of my tutoring requests I am always looking for new teaching ideas. Accents are the spice of life. I can tell which part of Britain someone comes from in just a few minutes of dialogue. Accents are cool. The French accent is thought to be the most attractive of all*. So what about my dialogue with the Facebook poster?
“Teaching pronunciation is not just about accent” I said.
“What do you mean?” he said.
“Well… Isn't our goal mutual understanding?”
The poster responded by saying that most of his students wanted to sound American.
After 3 enjoyable years teaching on Verbling I am increasingly sceptical that I can give someone a British accent but accent improvement is certainly possible. If someone is struggling with the non-phonetic way English is written, then I have a job to do. If a student wants to give business presentations in public and know that they will be understood, it’s my job to give them that confidence. There is so much more to teaching pronunciation than just accent improvement.
English is in the enviable position of having more non-native speakers than native speakers*. I speak British English with a standard BBC accent. I am outnumbered by all the other accents in the UK, and the world. It pleases me to hear English spoken in a variety of accents and dialects. I have heard Zimblish, Chinglish and even Scottish when I was working in Africa!
I believe we should be teaching for mutual intelligibility. That means communication. Teaching English as a Lingua France should result in confident speakers who know they will be understood by anglophones around the planet. English no longer belongs to the English. Or the Americans. And if I can understand you then I promise you, your accent is just fine.