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Accents and TEFL

Whoopi Goldberg, Kylie Minogue, Queen Elizabeth, Usain BoltYour accent is the way you say words when you speak. It’s all about pronunciation and has nothing to do with grammar or syntax.

With accents, two people may say precisely the same words, but make them sound completely different.

So, each person has their own particular accent. However we can group accents into various categories:

  1. Regional – for example when people from the North of a country speak differently from people in the South or people from one country speak the same language differently from people from another country, e.g.Australian vs American vs British pronunciation.
  2. Socio-Economic Status – working class people speaking differently from middle class or upper class people.
  3. Ethnicity – white people speaking differently from black or Asian people, etc.
  4. Age – young people speaking differently from old people.

In the picture you can see 4 people who all speak English but with very different accents.

Of course there is also the issue of non-native speakers who will speak English with the influence of their mother tongue.

Acquiring a Good Accent

This is not easy for EFL learners; initially their accent will be heavily influenced by their mother tongue and then later, by their teachers. One way in which people do acquire accents is simply by copying.

Actors, for example, when they wish to acquire the accent of a certain region or country, will view videos of a suitable role model and copy the way they speak.

Some teachers may well speak with a non-standard accent. With more advanced classes this is not usually a problem but with beginner classes you may want to “standardize” your accent to make yourself more easily understood. See How to Speak to English Language Students for more on this.

Useful Links

Accent, Dialect & Language – the difference between these three related terms

The International Dialects of English Archive – an archive of recordings of different English accents and dialects

BBC Recordings – BBC Recordings of British accents

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