You don’t understand…Accent Reduction

This week I was watching a lecture (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkQ7lwEWeGA) by a professor at the University of South Carolina’s Center for Teaching Excellence (not Evolution  as I had tried to guess by the abbreviation CTE) and for more than 90 minutes she talked about one thing that grabbed my attention:

Accent Reduction, which is bound to ruffle some feathers – there are those in favor and those against, while claiming that the accent reduction approach humiliates language learners or makes them feel less than second class citizens, while companies just want toaccent reduction 2 make money out of their easy prey.

But … Language learners quite often want to reduce their foreignness by trying to speak more like American or British or whatever local language is predominant in their area. Reasons can range from feeling more like one of us, instead of an outsider; being better understood in the workplace,  etc.

A language learner can feel that a clearer accent  might help people to better understand him. You don’t need to be ashamed of speaking with an accent as long as it doesn’t get in the way of being understood. Sergey may be a very proud Russian  man and speak with a “wery” shtrong accent. Question: will it prevent people from understanding him? Or will people just see that suspicious-looking Russian man and not hear what he has to say? accent reduction

Silvia is a proud Brazilian who loves finishing every word with a “y”  sound – I thinky we shouldy talky more abouty culturey” – but when that charming accent gets in the way of being understood or getting things done she would be wise to try to reduce her Brazilian voice and raise her American voice.

So students must be coached by their teachers to improve their pronunciation, intonation, rhythm in order to achieve better understanding and intelligibility.

But why do students have poor pronunciation?

  1. It’s usually never taught – as the student gets used to understanding what the teacher says, the teacher can  also get used to the students’ linguistic somersaults and not even realize pronunciation / accent problems.
  2. students need to learn to listen to different sounds – th/s/t  b- v   Z-S etc before producing them. Sounds which might not even exist in their L1.
  3. pronunciation requires not only knowledge but skill – which means loads of practice.
  4. English spelling causes confusion – being literate can interfere with your hearing. I’ve corrected many students so many times for their mispronunciation of words because the words they read tend to sound “different” from the way they’re spelled. – example:
    en·tre·pre·neur

    / ˌäntrəprəˈnər/

    lis·ten
    /ˈlis(ə)n/

So what factors will influence their success?

  1. Motivation and concern for good pronunciation
  2. Exposure – amount of time spent in practice. Tons of listening and speaking – in that order. Quality, not just quantity, is important.
  3. Learner’s natural ability – some students tend to get a better pronunciation than others – however, hard work will get them far.
  4. Sense of identity. The fact they are speaking more American, British, or whatever other accent will not destroy their own self.

So keep your ears pricked and your mouths moving.

Cheers,

Mo

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They can’t take that away from me – Proud to be a Teacher

In Most of the Western World – including developed and developing countries – the career of a teacher is considered worthy of respect, at least theoretically; because in practical terms, teachers are underpaid and overworked most of the time. If you work in the public or private school systems you are always the weakest link between the students and parents and the administrators.

If you are self-employed you must always be running after new clients and professional development. If you teach in companies then you must be subject to their rules and regulations and to the ebb and flow of the mood of human resources.

Mostly, I have been well treated at the companies where I have  taught, but now an International Bank  (let us call it ABC Bank for illustration purposes) with a new HR management at a new headquarters has declared war on all teachers providing services in their offices. Yes, you are just another service provider delivering the next lunch or package. Yes, the company is doing their employees “a favor” allowing them to have classes on the premises. Of course, you are not supposed to be circulating in the building among the different departments, so you should go just to the floor assigned to you and after meeting with your student to have access to a room. But that’s all understandable. What I can’t understand is the requirement that teachers shouldn’t use the toilet. And if absolutely necessary only when accompanied by the student, since the restrooms are locked away in areas to be accessed only by staff. Now… as a teacher to lack the permission to use the toilet when necessary feels like the last drop.

But…

… here’s my “5 cents worth” of advice:

  1. Dress properly – adjust your clothes to the work environment you’ll be teaching in (err in overdressing not underdressing).teacher 1
  2. Be punctual
  3. Set the limits – your students are not your best friends or family – be professional and empathetic.
  4. Prepare your lessons – you can’t go far with just “free conversation” lessons.
  5. Keep improving yourself both as a person and as a professional teacher.

There! No matter what be proud of your chosen career. I ain’t no Whitney Houston but I’ll sing it with her: “they can’t take away my DIGNITY. Because the greatest love of all…”  yeah, yeah, you got my gist.

So keep your head up high and shine on.

Cheers,

Mo