Tuesday, July 21, 2009

study finds new method needed to achieve lower standards

There was probably somebody famous who said, "when you can't reach your goal, change your goal to what you can reach." Now Wafa Zoghbor wants to add to that so that you also need to change your method. She proposes that aiming for an accent which retains your native language identity could be more desirable than reaching a native accent.

I have never read anything so ridiculous before. If people want to accept not reaching a native accent, that is fine but there is no need to do anything differently. They can just keep doing what they are doing and be assured that they will have a foreign accent. The article says that intelligible pronunciation is all that is necessary because of the fact that there are more non-native speakers of English than native ones.

First of all, if learners don't aim for a native accent, they will not be intelligible. Thanks to some kind of effort to work on pronunciation, learners can be understood by natives and non-natives. But just using the sounds of one's own native-language to speak English or any other foreign language is not going to produce intelligible language output.

Most of us have met somebody who may have just started learning English or only remembers a little of what they studied. Most of that beginner learner's output is not understandable. Can you imagine them just keeping that pronunciation? That's what they will likely have if they don't work on improving it and just use a lower standard as their model.

It takes time to get used to and to be able to understand some of these foreign accents. When I went to college I had a roommate from Hong Kong. When I first met him I really couldn't understand most of what he was saying. I had to learn to listen carefully while he was speaking. I think his pronunciation got better as well as my ability to understand what he was saying. At the end of the first semester (4 months) I could understand him without any problem. After 3 years of school, he went to Vancouver and worked an internship for a year. When he came back I picked him up at the airport, and BAM! I got hit with the same experience as when I first met him. I had trouble understanding what he was saying.

I haven't spoken to him for years and he has been living in Hong Kong. I wonder how his pronunciation is now.

Article link: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090720083219.htm


  1. I agree with you. It seems very, very silly to think that a "foreign accent" is better than a native sounding one.

    In my language studies, I've come across lots of people who spoke English as a second language. There were the kind who could string together a sentence or two with kind of the right words and with a heavy accent. And then there were the kind that had a near native accent with flawless english. By far, the ones with the native accent were more impressive.

  2. Accents rock! I love listening to people speak my native Language with their own foreign language accent over the top of it.

    To speak with a native accent is an admirable goal, but to me those speakers often seem to lack character and life in their narratives.


  3. Foreign Accent, Comprehensibility, and Intelligibility in the Speech of Second Language Learners
    Murray J. Munro & Tracey M. Derwing
    1 Simon Fraser University, 2 University of Alberta
    Copyright 1999 Blackwell Publishers, Inc.

    One of the chief goals of most second language learners is to be understood in their second language by a wide range of interlocutors in a variety of contexts. Although a nonnative accent can sometimes interfere with this goal, prior to the publication of this study, second language researchers and teachers alike were aware that an accent itself does not necessarily act as a communicative barrier. Nonetheless, there had been very little empirical investigation of how the presence of a nonnative accent affects intelligibility, and the notions of "heavy accent" and "low intelligibility" had often been confounded. Some of the key findings of the study—that even heavily accented speech is sometimes perfectly intelligible and that prosodic errors appear to be a more potent force in the loss of intelligibility than phonetic errors—added support to some common, but weakly substantiated beliefs. The study also provided a framework for a program of research to evaluate the ways in which such factors as intelligibility and comprehensibility are related to a number of other dimensions. The authors have extended and replicated the work begun in this study to include learners representing other L1 backgrounds (Cantonese, Japanese, Polish, Spanish) and different levels of learner proficiency, as well as other discourse types (Derwing & Munro, 1997; Munro & Derwing, 1995). Further support for the notion that accent itself should be regarded as a secondary concern was obtained in a study of processing difficulty (Munro & Derwing, 1995), which revealed that nonnative utterances tend to require more time to process than native-produced speech, but failed to indicate a relationship between strength of accent and processing time.

    The approach to L2 speech evaluation used in this study has also proved useful in investigations of the benefits of different methods of teaching of pronunciation to ESL learners. In particular, it is now clear that learner assessments are best carried out with attention to the multidimensional nature of L2 speech, rather than with a simple focus on global accentedness. It has been shown, for instance, that some pedagogical methods may be effective in improving intelligibility while others may have an effect only on accentedness (Derwing, Munro, & Wiebe,1998).

  4. Having posted this I do feel the need to mention that not even trying to get a decent accent at the beginner or intermediate level is a pretty sissy approach, lol. Who's to decide that a particular accent is intelligible enough for the vast majority of other speakers of English?


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