Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sorry? What did you say?

English teachers in non-English-speaking countries face the dilemma of which English to teach. Often their school will have a preference for English English or American English, usually based on the textbooks they are using. I remember when I was at university in France one of the lecturers telling me that the way I pronounced 'bath' was wrong because I had a northern accent rather than the 'BBC accent' he wanted his students to learn. Equally, my lecturers back in the UK were a little taken aback when I returned from my year in France with a very strong southern French accent. Given that most people will retain something of a 'foreign' accent when they learn a second language, the most important thing to my mind is to be able to make yourself understood.

My accent has changed since I first came to the United States 25 years ago. It happened partly because as a language teacher I find myself naturally mimicking the accents of those around me. (That sometimes gets me into trouble as people think I'm taking the mickey!) Mostly though it has been a conscious choice to try to change my accent. I got thoroughly fed up of people asking me to repeat myself when I thought I was being perfectly clear. It was just faster and less frustrating to say it the American way. It also didn't hurt to sound more, rather than less, American when I was looking for employment as an English as a Second Language teacher here in the United States. My colleagues occasionally comment on my accent, and on rare occasions I  hear my students say something with an English accent (and I then 'correct' them!) One of my colleagues though has a strong accent from the south of the USA, which is just as alien to the northeast as my accent is - and I hear her students picking up her accent!

I suppose schools and universities in some countries may prefer Australian English. I can't think of any that would prefer Scottish English though ;-)

14 comments:

Jen said...

Well, as someone who speaks "Scottish" English...ah you thought I'd be dead offended didn't you! No, what I wanted to say is that I speak both French and German and native speakers of both have said that I am able to speak their language without a distinguishable English language taint. And that English people with a similar level of education in their language (five years French, four years German), you can still hear their English accents. So there may be advantages to starting from a Scottish base!

Expat mum said...

That is absolutely hilarious! Sounds like me when I'm trying to get through to any customer service rep here. You try saying "Hargis" (and then spelling it) with an English accent and making yourself understood. Although I haven't the slighest hint of an American accent, I do have to say my own name in the American way just to get things done. Pah!

MarmiteFluff said...

I hear you (in whichever accent you said it.)

My most frustrating episode with accents has to be while helping a kindergarten class with phonics, where the kids were choosing foods for their Very Hungry Caterpillars. Such a lot of these caterpillars wanted to eat Watermelons, and as every Brit in America knows, Water is the worst word to translate from British English to American English.

If some of those kindergartners are having trouble to this day with spelling, I take the blame.

geekymummy said...

very interesting. I have Indian co workers who speak British English, with an Indian accent and I can understand them far better than my American co workers.
My daughter loves to compare our different ways of talking (she is American through and through), and asks me to say "water", or "Tomato". I'm teaching her phonics at the moment, and I hope I'm not confusing her!

Jane/WTKnits said...

It's taken me 6yrs but I'm slowly starting to recognise the glazed expression that crosses people's faces when they first hear that I have an accent. It seems to carry such street cred here that I find it a huge asset. Not so useful when I taught Art History to a class of 5th graders though. Remembering to sound out the "O" in Baroque was a constant challenge. I lived in fear that they'd all end up pronouncing it the British way.

expressmom said...

Sorry if this comes in twice, I had some trouble posting....

My English husband has been in the States for 15 years now. He still says 'chuna' for 'tuna.' But, the word 'schedule' is the one the drives our kids nuts!

Nomad said...

One of my CELTA course instructors got all snippy when somebody complimented her "British Accent." What on earth is a British accent, she asked. This is the only correct pronunciation actually. She didn't show this attitude while she was teaching Americans in New York City, of course.
I have encountered British English language teachers telling their students not to learn the American pronunciation because "it was rude." This came from a man whose Cockney accent caused him to drop nearly every "tt" and sound like he was trying to speak with an cue ball in his mouth.
After teaching English abroad for so many years, with the BBC and all the British classroom tapes, I returned home to the US and was asked more than once where I was from. "You must be Canadian. Are you sure you aren't Canadian? You sound like it."
While I was in Staten Island, I went to a local market but had to return when I mistakenly thought I had forgotten a bottle of water there. It took me several attempts to get people to understand what I was telling them. I had to go through about four or five variations before I finally got them to understand. "Oh, you mean Wardah?"
I am supposed to be a native!!

nappy valley girl said...

I also find myself modifying my accent when I speak to Americans -'toona' is definitely one to use when you want to be understood, and yes, definitely 'water'.

My husband works with a bunch of Europeans here, and they cannot understand his 'British' English - they have learned all the English in US accents.

Anonymous said...

hello there thanks for your grat post, as usual ((o:

Clippy Mat said...

Now I find I have gone over to the other side after 28 years and I hear myself say Tomayto, schedule not shedule, garbage etc. I get stick off my English relatives when they come here but then after 5 mins. they start to do it too when they get the glazed look from the natives who haven't got a clue what they're on about.

Canoez said...

With the voice recognition on my new iPod Touch, I can really feel for the guys in the video!

Iota said...

I had a friend when we lived in Scotland who had a succession of au pair girls. They all picked up a Scottish accent, on top of their own strong East European accents. It sounded a bit bizarre to me, but of course it's no more bizarre than a southern English accent at all.

Iota said...

I have had to add an "r" to the sound of my surname. It rhymes with bark. I used to say Bark, now I say Barrrk - but that's something that I had to start doing when we lived in Scotland, before our US days.

Thud said...

The morphing of scouse into something approximating American English is a glory to behold...the result is a curious little creature.

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