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