Those of you who are familiar with my blog (or indeed, know me personally!) will already be aware that pronunciation is one of my main areas of interest. Ever since I started my bachelor’s degree in Linguistics over 10 years ago, phonology, phonemics and phonetics have fascinated me.
And yet I find it sad to still come across ELT textbooks that make claims along the lines of “pronunciation is a very neglected area in our classrooms”–I always think, no it isn’t! Or at least, not in mine. It’s one area that students always appreciate working on, and one that continues to cause difficulties of intelligibility, even at advanced level.
As far as my own speech goes, I’ve been told all my life that I talk (too) fast. And yet since I started teaching English, my students have always told me I speak very clearly! Though I do grade my language appropriately when teaching, I like to think I choose my words carefully, rather than changing the natural sound or speed of the way I talk.
Those of you who’ve heard me speak will know I have a US accent, a bit faded (I think) from nearly 2 decades of living in England. If you click the link below, you can hear me reciting a natural sentence selected at random from the Intermediate New Headway Pronunciation Course (1999, pg. 34):
[Here’s a direct link in case the little player doesn’t appear above: https://audioboom.com/boos/1301656-before]
Beautifully clear, as I think you’ll agree.
But I begin to wonder if I haven’t been doing my students a disservice all these years. It’s been particularly bothering me recently, as I’m now teaching in the capital of Britain–surely my students want to learn to speak with a standard London accent? In which case, I should really be speaking to them like this:
[Here’s a direct link in case the little player doesn’t appear above: https://audioboom.com/boos/1301657-after]
After a lot of thought, I’ve made up my mind. It’s my accent that’s been holding me back all these years–and worse, it’s holding my students back.
What good is it to stress the first syllable in ‘controversy’ when I live on this side of the Atlantic? Who ever heard the Queen pronounce the ‘r’ in ‘later’? And why on earth do I still pronounce ‘yogurt’ with a diphthong? Honestly–it’s ghastly.
So it’s going.
Fortunately, as it’s a public–sorry, bank–holiday today, I have–or rather, I’ve got–an extra day in my weekend to practice–whoops, practise–my new variety of English. But from tomorrow morning: new week, new month, new start.
Goodbye, Yankee accent. It’s been great. I’ll miss you–but my students won’t.