Not a teacher.
I know there is a huge discussion on British accents and American accents in the "sticky section". However, this thread is about teaching ESL students about accent.
Unlike French and Spanish, English relies heavily on the use of stresses. By stresses, I mean the emphasis put on particular syllables of a sentence. For example, one says, "He closed the DEAL with a SMILE on his face.", in which the words in capital LETTERS are stressed. Exactly how an English speaker stresses his syllables depends on his accent. In American accent, one stresses a syllable by 1) elongating it, 2) dropping from a high pitch to a low pitch rapidly or 3) saying it louder. Accents that are easy to comprehend tend to put stresses in the proper syllables. In accents that are relatively harder to understand, stresses are either in the wrong places, or are absent entirely. Apparently, one is obliged to highlight the important words for the listeners, else he is considered a poor English speaker.
So here is my concern. Based on my observation in many ESL classrooms, students are not formally taught accents. Teachers painstakingly correct mistakes in phonetic errors, but do very little about mistakes in accent. This can be an issue because accent is crucial for intelligible English. Accent conveys a great deal of information in English.
So are we missing a pivotal component in our efforts to teach ESL students? Perhaps teacher should include theories in intonation and speech rhythm in their curriculum?
Let me know what you think!