Which Pronunciation?

I’m sure as language teachers that this thought goes through our head a fair bit. It’s not a difficult decision for most languages since there is the standard. And yes, while there are varying dialects and accents, there is typically the one golden standard that we can revert to. Let our students fall back on if they want to work their new tongue in a familiar and intelligible style. The problem here is that English doesn’t have this golden standard. There are just too many standards to count. The powerhouses are British English (BE) and General American English (GAE), with some others gaining popularity and credibility – Canadian English, Australian English, Irish English, and so on. On top of these we also have the concept of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) that has some momentum thanks to linguists. I believe that in the international community with international communication being the main objective that ELF is a fantastic notion, but there are still problems with it in design and implementation. Basically, ELF looks at removing those phonological features that if omitted don’t hamper intelligibility. Great right? Well, here’s the catch… do the students really want to learn this reduced variety of English? In a recent study I conducted (with Koreans as my focus group), I tried to find out from a sample of learners just what they wanted… The result? Overwhelmingly GAE for pronunciation. Next challenge… ‘Native’ models of English are supposedly difficult to understand… hence ELF being a notion of importance. However, what happened in this study? GAE was found to be the most intelligible to this sample as well. So.. a unanimous decision from my Korean sample. Irish English was the biggest surprise for me since it received quite high ratings for pronunciation desirability. Intelligibility was on par with BE and Korean English, which wasn’t so bad considering the majority of participants informed me that it was a totally unfamiliar sound to them. Something they had not heard before (or too often). But this poses the question… Since GAE is what is most familiar to English learners in Korea, then did it only return the number one position due to this familiarity? If given more exposure, will Irish English be the global standard of...

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Pronunciation Models

What are the aims in the classroom when we teach pronunciation? Or more importantly, what should the aims be? Many a school policy is designed to teach the “native” model of pronunciation, but is this a realistic notion? Not only does research suggest that the so-called “native” models of English are amongst the least intelligible but the model itself is often unattainable. English itself has so many varieties around the globe that there is no one standard and that’s one of the reasons why the “native” model is typically unattainable. We have people from parts of USA that have difficulties communicating with people from parts of England… They are both L1 speakers and use a “native” model, but in an international setting it’s just unrealistic. There has been a push in recent years toward English as a Lingua Franca [ELF] (and English as an International Language [EIL]) where certain phonological features have been deemed redundant for successful communication. If this is the new thing and it actually assists communication as well as offering an attainable model of pronunciation for students, then why isn’t it being promoted in the ELT world more aggressively? There are a few possible reasons for this… Perhaps the biggest of these being the ELT industry itself would implode if the English “native” became redundant. Imagine the chaos if the acceptable model of pronunciation was a “non-native” variety. There would be a total uproar… I mean, afterall… which English is dominant? L2 speakers of English already outnumber L1 speakers by quite a way… But seriously, aren’t we as teachers supposed to be helping our students to communicate effectively? And if ELF is the way to do this, why isn’t it gaining recognition in the larger markets of North-East Asia (Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan)? …Are the institutions to blame? Is it we teachers? …And what do students really want – a “native” accent or communicative...

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