Which Pronunciation Should We Teach Our Students? [Part one]
This question was posed by a woman training for her teaching certificate in an EFL program. Her background information is very relevant, and it prompts me to identify the most salient factor to be the context in which we are teaching: EFL or ESL. In the context of ESL, it is logical to teach the form of English as spoken in that country: British English in the U.K, Australian English in Australia, etc. In the context of EFL, I would argue the logic of teaching the form of English that dominates in most spheres of that society. Factors go beyond geographical proximity and include economic, political, historical, and social ties to a particular English-speaking country.
Of course, the matter cannot be settled so easily. We should also consider which pronunciation a certain student wants to follow. In this day and age, thanks to increased international travel and the development of e-learning and blended classrooms, students have access to virtually any speech model they want. Two ELLs living in the same non-English speaking country may favor two different accents. Why should they be denied what is readily available?
There are other factors, of course. We must acknowledge the teacher’s own speech. This ultimately decides what pronunciation a given set of learners will be exposed to during the time period they are under that teacher’s instruction. What model is the teacher able to provide? There are native and non-native speakers. In which accent was the non-native speaker trained? Among the native speakers, regional and cultural variations may be used. I would argue that above all consistency is needed. Students need a consistent model to follow in order to create a solid pronunciation base. Ideally, within the context of a course or a program, one form of English pronunciation should be taught.
Notice how I specified one form of English pronunciation. I did not say simply one form of English. I want to argue the need for consistency when it comes to production, but in the matter of comprehension, exposure to different varieties of English is necessary. A good course or program will not limit students’ exposure to different accents. A learner will avoid confusion and achieve greater clarity if one set of speech sounds and patterns is used in production, but the learner must be trained to comprehend variations of speech sounds and patterns. How this is achieved is decided by the curriculum. For example, a school might have separate courses for pronunciation and listening skills. However, if listening and speaking are combined, it is necessary for the teacher to provide a consistent set of models (his/her own speech and recorded materials) for students to follow when production is the focus. Then when listening skills become the focus, variations in accent should be welcomed.
I will continue discussing this topic in my next posting. Until then, let me pose two questions:
- What is an EFL teacher to do when his or her native language is a form of English other than the one given preference in that country?
- Should ESL teachers who speak a regional or cultural dialect attempt to conform to the standard form of English in the pronunciation classroom?