Pronunciation: What do you correct?

UIC teacher training cmvkIn the last ten years there has been a growing debate about accents. As English is being increasingly used around the world, more and more interactions are between non-native speakers. Does this have implications for pronunciation teaching?

Some people have suggested that pronunciation work should focus on a ‘phonological core’ that it seen by some as key to intelligibility. Examples of core pronunciation include:

  • consonants and consonant clusters
  • vowel length
  • sentence stress

However, others have pointed out that pronunciation needs can be very individual. People could be learning to pass an exam and need to speak in a way that that exam requires. They may want to learn a variety of English that will help them in their particular professional environment. They may simply want to develop a certain accent because they like or value it.

The debate is an interesting one as it is clear that using English can be extremely international with many interactions not involving a native speaker. At the same time more traditional attitudes to ‘correct’ UK pronunciation such as modelling Received Pronunciation or BBC News circa 1960, are becoming less common. Moreover, it is clear that someone can have a ‘strong’ accent but be very well understood.

It seems that from a teaching perspective, especially in a 1-1 situation, we should find out about a student’s preferences. Of course if they come to the UK and say that they want to speak like a Texan, they will be disappointed but it would inform you that explicit modelling of the finer points of RP would probably be inappropriate.

In practice, I suppose, most teachers use themselves as models. We don’t have much of a choice as few of us have the skills of a Hugh Laurie! However it is worth thinking about what to focus on, especially when you have limited time to work on pronunciation. Perhaps the combination of an informal pronunciation needs analysis and keeping one eye on the ‘core’ will help produce the best results.Lingua Franca cr

If anyone has read ‘Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca’ by┬áRobin Walker (OUP 2010), please do post a comment.

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2 Responses to Pronunciation: What do you correct?


  1. Magaret-I says:

    I have read Walkers book. Research suggests that most learners will use English to communicate with other non-native speakers. The book indicates the benefits of a standard and the possible pitfalls of not having a standard. As the English varies already in the 3 English speaking nations of the world I think its’ important to try to adhere to one of these standards e.g British, American or Australian. And the convention of British English is towards the RP of the BBC. If people try to adhere to this they are less likely to be misunderstood.

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