Different Accents In The EFL Classroom

English is one of the most common languages in the world, second only to Mandarin. However the term English has become an umbrella below which there are hundreds if not thousands of national and regional accents, as for example, Received British Pronunciation, American, Australian, Indian, South African, New Zealand, Manchester, Welsh, New york, South Carolina, and so many more.  It is these accents which make the language richer and give it character, as they show the history, geography, ethnography and even politics of the area where they have developed.  They also often give a sense of belonging

Different Accents In The EFL Classroom

What is an accent?

An accent is the way in which a language is pronounced, and this will vary depending on nation, location, or even social class. There are two different accents. First is the “foreign accent” that occurs where an individual speaks a language using sounds and rules of another language which is not his/her mother tongue.  The other kind of accent is associated with variations on a person’s mother tongue. People who live together tend to share a way of speaking or have an accent, which differs from other groups. This can be true of villages which are only a few miles apart. The difference in accent may be subtle but to the trained ear it is there.  However, the difference can also be so great as to be indecipherable to an “outsider”. A week or so of listening to a different accent is usually enough to adapt and start understanding, it depends on the language level of the learner and the amount of exposure he or she is given.

Like languages, accents are also constantly evolving. For instance Cockney is no longer the prevailing accent in London. With the influx of Jamaican and with the influence of American on the language, there is a new accent in London termed Estuary English. This is is a variation of Cockney but spreading very quickly and tending to dominate, especially among the younger generation.

It has been suggested that students do not learn accent from their teacher. Instead they develop from exposure to the language in their environment which these days means social media, films, TV, pop songs books, comics etc.  I am aware of one Swedish Lady who spoke with a perfect Manchester accent through being addicted to a Manchester soap opera.  I am inclined to believe that the teacher is a role model and so has a duty to teach clear English probably with the help of the IPA as is taught in teacher training.

How to make students aware of the different accents throughout the world

While it is not the job of a teacher to instill a particular accent into a student, which could be a dangerous and stifling experience. We can expose our students to various accents and make them aware of them and prepare them for what sounds they might encounter outside of the classroom. These days that is particularly easy with social media and particularly YOUTUBE.  In the past, when foreign students were taught BBC English, it often came as quite a shock to learn that the majority of British people did not actually speak that way. Most languages have a standardized form, normally the language spoken by newsreaders and the like but it is very important to make students aware of the variations that can also be used.

Accented Native or Non-native speakers Can a teacher who has an accent teach English?  

Much has been said about the ability of non-native English teachers to teach EFL or ESL students and the debate rages on. In the past and as I am about to show, still in the present, there was and still remains concern about whether a teacher whose language is characterized by flaws in intonation, pronunciation, and grammar patterns can still teach and communicate effectively. In other words, can an accented English teacher be a good language teacher for his or her students?  The answer is of course, yes, for so many reasons that we as teachers appreciate.

In his work published in 1999, Canagarajah[1] describes the native English speaking teacher and non-native English speaking as center speakers of English and periphery speakers of English. The first group refers to those who use English as their first language including United States, Australia, Britain, and New Zealand. The second group, periphery are those from other countries outside of these four, this irrespective of whether they speak English as a first language or second language such as Canada, Germany, Ghana, and so on. These are referred to as the accented teachers.

Please look at the following example.  

According to an article published on Wall Street Journal in 2010[2], Jordan[3] indicates that the Department of Education in Arizona decided that teachers whose English is deemed accented must be removed and restrained from teaching in a class of students still learning English. The author indicates that the move is to ensure that low-proficiency level students are taught by native English teachers. Also, she states that to ensure this happens, the Education Department started classroom observations in the entire state to evaluate the output of teachers in pronunciation, writing skills, and correct use of grammar.

William Melton is a writer and researcher on educational and tech topics. Also, he works as a part-time editor at Thesisrush.com creating many amazing posts regarding helpful techniques & strategies for students. He goes mad of reading British modern literature.

[1] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/language-in-society/article/suresh-canagarajah-resisting-linguistic-imperialism-in-english-teaching-oxford-oxford-university-press-1999-pp-viii216-pb-2495/C5857A94BC983C5B709BE5546043CAB8

[2] https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703572504575213883276427528

[3] https://www.linkedin.com/in/miriam-jordan-75036193/