Wednesday, November 28, 2012

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Accent vs Pronunciation

Teacher, what should I do? I really want to improve my accent.

No, you don’t. You want to improve your pronunciation.

There is a difference between pronunciation and accent and I think it is quite easy to explain. Pronunciation can be good or bad, but accent is accent and there isn't a good or bad accent really.

Everyone has an accent. Accents vary from country to country, city to city, and town to town. It is possible for an accent to change but it takes years, even decades for it to change significantly. However, what is most important is that it is not necessary to change an accent. French people speaking English will almost always have a French accent (unless they are totally bilingual), Thai people will always have a Thai accent in English, Chinese will always have a Chinese accent.

If you are learning English and you are worried about your accent, then don’t. However, what a lot of students need to improve is their pronunciation. Here is the difference between a strong accent and bad pronunciation in my opinion.

You have bad pronunciation if people often say:

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you are saying.” 



“Could you repeat that?” 



“Pardon?” 



“What?” 



“Sorry, what did you say?” 



“What’s that?”
You have a strong accent if people often say:

“Where are you from?” 



“Oh, are you from X?” 



“I love your accent. Where do you come from?” 



“How long have you been here?”

Hopefully, you can see that you have a pronunciation problem if people don’t understand you. However, it is possible to have a strong accent that people understand perfectly. If you are still not sure here are a few different examples of the wonderful variety of accents in English.

21 Accents

First of all, this is a video of an actress doing 21 different accents, some of them are from English speaking countries and some of them are not.  Here is a task for you while you watch this video:

Listen and write down the city or country of each of the accents.


Something to notice is that some of the most difficult accents to understand are native speaker accents. Believe me, this doesn't mean they are ‘better’ accents because they are more difficult.

I.D.E.A. (International Dialects of English Archive)

Now, you could also listen to some passages from the International Dialects of English Archive. I've selected a few different recordings, all non-native speakers of English, all speaking English with ‘foreign’ accents and all of them are completely understandable and clear.  The two texts that the people read are 'The Rainbow Passage' and 'Comma Gets a Cure' (you can click on the links for the transcript if you want to listen and read).

French Accent (The Rainbow Passage)

Ghana Accent (Comma Gets a Cure)

Iraqi Accent (The Rainbow Passage)

Japanese Accent (Comma Gets a Cure)

Korean Accent (The Rainbow Passage)

Mexican Accent (Comma Gets a Cure)

Polish Accent (The Rainbow Passage)

Accents are not something to improve, pronunciation is. But remember, if you have no problem with communicating with others in conversation, then you don’t need to worry about accent or pronunciation.

I love all the different accents I hear as an English language teacher, so please don’t try to lose them. :-)

What are your feelings on accents and pronunciation?  Comments anyone?

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this nice post. There are many people who suffer from English pronunciation.There are different ways through which they can Improve English pronunciation . It is very important to choose the correct type of method.

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  2. Great explanation! :)

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  3. i got a lots of ideas in this topic

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  4. I would say that the way one can tell whether two people, speaking a word differently, have a different accent or have a different pronunciation of that particular word is as follows: if they agree on the basic syllables of that word when it's broken down, their pronunciation of the word is the same. For instance, Americans not only have a different accent (accentuating the 'r' at the end of a word instead of eliminating it, for example), but also a different pronunciation for many words. Therefore, words like 'mandatory' are syllabled differently in different dictionary for American and British English. (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/mandatory?q=mandatory has audio for both and "[man-duh-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee]" is how dictionary.com breaks down the word w.r.t. American English).
    However, there are countless words which are syllabled the same in both languages but come out of the mouth drastically differently. 'Dollar', for instance, would be spoken as something like 'daa-lerrh' by an American whereas as "daw-le'" by a Brit, though they're syllabled the same way in either school.
    A more blatant example of a wrong pronunciation would be if someone pronounced 'rapport' as 'rap-port', because it is supposed to be 'rap-pore', having been imported from French.

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  5. In my opinion accent deals with vowel sounds. Bad pronunciation deals with failure to pronounce the consonants or stress in an acceptable manner.

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  6. I couldn't agree more, thank you for this great explanation :)

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  7. Nice article! Thanks for this material has been a great help, I want to make a constructive contribution. Really recommend this app has Been a great tool for my learning and pronunciation
    http://www.pronuntiapp.com

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  8. Great post. Congrats.

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