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    • Join Date: Jun 2008
    • Posts: 4

    Accent training for ESL students

    Not a teacher.

    I know there is a huge discussion on British accents and American accents in the FAQ section. However, this thread is about teaching ESL students 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!

    • Join Date: Jun 2008
    • Posts: 1

    Re: Accent training for ESL students

    Let me start by concuring with you that accent is a skill that can be taught and learned. With proper training and ample of practice, Americans can no doubt speak Queen's English and vice versa. In fact, American accent is very mechanical. There are actually fixed rules on speech meter and rhythm. Speakers of American English, regardless of what "dialect" they use, tend to follow those rules closely. Furthermore, the so-call rule is quite simple. Stress the nouns. If there is no nouns, stress the adjactives. Verbs would be the lowest in priority. Break long sentences into smaller unit with slight pauses in-between. This is not meant to be comprehensive, but the number of rules are quite limited in American English accent.

    Yes, accent can be taught to ESL students. I don't believe anyone can dispute that point. The question is, WHO has the ability to teach accent to ESL students? The majority of ESL teachers have little understanding in prosody. They are trained to teach proper grammar and pronounciation, basic skills that many native English speakers have already picked up in their childhood. Only a handful of ESL teachers are actually linguists!

    In order to bring accent training in ESL classrooms, all ESL teachers will need to be retrained. They will have to learn unfamilar theories and new skills in order to teach accent properly. Needless to say, this represents a huge investment. For public school, nothing short of a revolution can bring about such change.

    I really like your vision of a "full-coverage" ESL education. May be one day ESL students will receive training in all aspects of the language: Grammar, usage (both formal and colliquial), pronounciation, prosody, and poetry.

  1. #3

    Re: Accent training for ESL students

    are accents really important?

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