Do accents matter when teaching English abroad?

We all have an accent, influenced by our upbringing, irrespective of our global origin. We typically recognize the stark differences between British and American accents, but what about those from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa? Furthermore, every one of these countries houses diverse regional accents, making the scene even more complex. However, is this an issue when teaching English abroad?

Table of Contents

What English accent should I teach my students?

How do English language students learn English accents?

What English accent should I teach my students?

It is essential to remember that there is no ideal or unsuitable accent when teaching and learning English. As a teacher, it is fine to communicate naturally, ensuring you speak clearly, and your instructions are comprehensible to all students. Whether one accent is preferable over others is a subject of contention in the ESL world, with opinions generally aligning with the teacher's nationality.

The predominant argument pivots around British and American English, with some advocating for the British pronunciation or King's/Queen's English, given its traditional usage in global classrooms. However, suggesting a single accent for ESL classrooms is an antiquated, unrealistic approach that does not genuinely serve the students. Essentially, no accent is superior or inferior; consistency and openness in teaching are what matter.

Also read: What are the main differences between American and British English?

Your school or language center's preference may influence your teaching approach. For instance, many European schools favor British English in their curriculum, while those in Asia lean towards American spellings and grammar. This doesn't imply Americans teaching in Rome should mimic a British accent, or Brits should impersonate an American twang in Tokyo. Instead, acknowledge the differences between the two English forms and abide by your employer's preference.

While teaching a specific English style, it is important to acquaint your students with other variants of the language. Implementing listening exercises featuring different accents can effectively highlight these distinctions.

How do English language students learn English accents?

As teachers, we serve as English language models to our students. They naturally assimilate the vocabulary and phrases we use, and to some extent, adopt our accents during pronunciation practice. While some students might acquire a neutral accent, others may retain a strong native-language accent, regardless of pronunciation practice. Various factors might influence this, such as:

  • The students' age: The younger the student the more likely they are to pick up a native English accent.
  • The length of language exposure: The longer you are exposed to the English language, the more likely you are to adopt a native English accent.

Some students might feel conscious about their accent and seek to minimize it, with varying degrees of success through specific pronunciation practice activities. However, the classroom's emphasis should be on clear articulation and effective communication rather than the accent.

Also read: Is grammar knowledge important when teaching English?