Express Publishing (ELT) Teachers' Corner - "Speak proper"
Who speaks English? Well, around 1.5 billion people use English as their non-native language, far more than those who are native speakers. This is English as an International Language (EIL). So, should we use native speaker pronunciation as a model, given that most English speakers are non-native?
What’s important is to identify which pronunciation features are crucial for mutual understanding when a non-native speaker of English talks to another non-native speaker and which are not at all important. These are often not the same features that are crucial and unimportant for a native speaker of English.
Here’s some interesting research from Jennifer Jenkins, a lecturer in Sociolinguistics and Phonology at King’s College, London.
The findings from research:
• All the consonants are important except for ‘th’ sounds as in ‘thin’ and ‘this’.
On the other hand, many other items which are regularly taught on English pronunciation courses appear not to be essential for intelligibility in EIL interactions. These are…
• The ‘th’ sounds (see above).
All these things are said to be important for a native speaker listener either because they aid intelligibility or because they are thought to make an accent more appropriate.
What are the implications for pronunciation teaching?
• Students should be given choice. That is, when students are learning English so that they can use it in international contexts with other non-native speakers from different first languages, they should be given the choice of acquiring a pronunciation that is more relevant to EIL intelligibility than traditional pronunciation syllabuses offer. Up to now, the goal of pronunciation teaching has been to enable students to acquire an accent that is as close as possible to that of a native speaker. But for EIL communication, this is not the most intelligible accent and some of the non-core items may even make them less intelligible to another non-native speaker.
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