Accents and pronunciation

This article in The Guardian reminded me of a story I recently heard from a fellow mom of bilingual kids. A young kid (elementary school) who is growing up bilingual with one Irish and one Italian parent, got a lower mark than expected in an English oral exam. When the child asked their teacher why they hadn’t gotten full marks, they were told that their pronunciation was ‘not correct’ — they spoke with an Irish accent, and the teacher is teaching ‘British English’. I am assuming that by ‘British English’, this teacher meant RP, as much as biscuit v cookie vocab issues.

This has always been a bit of an issue for me when teaching English — as much as I love New English File, I’ve always absolutely hated the pronunciation sections. I don’t speak like that, so why teach my students to? Surely the aim is communication, not sounding like you’re from a very particular place and class? So long as your pronunciation (note that pronunciation and accent are not the same thing) is intelligible, you’re good to go, in my opinion. All sorts of cultural and class issues going on here …


One thought on “Accents and pronunciation

  1. An interesting piece. I remember one time in our Irish publishing house we had a German student (who had excellent English) interning for a summer. She would occasionally come to me if she was puzzled by a particular phrase or sentence structure. I would look at it and for the first time realise that that way of speaking, a turn of phrase or way of constructing a sentence that felt entirely natural to me, was peculiar to Ireland so of course, being taught standard British English, our poor German student was lost.


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