Open thread: let’s talk about accent training (by Lauren Godfrey-Smith)

The other day, I was walking along Barkley Street in St Kilda, Melbourne, and I noticed this small sign in a shop window.
 
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Since part of the BILD goal is to start conversations about sociolinguistic happenings, I’m flipping this blog-writing business on it’s head this week and want  to hear from YOU. What do you think about accent training services like this? I invite your comments, question, conundrums, riddles, and more in the comments below.
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4 thoughts on “Open thread: let’s talk about accent training (by Lauren Godfrey-Smith)

  1. I’ve done this of my own accord, no training necessary! While teaching a group of adult students at an insurance firm in Montreal, we were talking about housing and one of them said the word “home” in such a perfect Australian accent.. it really made me aware of how much of an impact my input could have.

    Another class had huge troubles understanding me when I said the word “car” (pronounced like “caah”) and I think it was after these instances that I (sub?)consciously started to speak with a more Canadian accent… and now I do it all the time.

    Particularly on the phone, or with people I don’t know, I think I’m just pre-emptively avoiding the instance where I say something in a way that they don’t expect and therefore won’t understand me.

    It’s not quite the same as what’s being advertised here, although in a job interview the interviewers did state their concern that students wouldn’t be able to understand me well when teaching. So I promptly turned on my faux-Canadian accent, and got the job! I’m not sure if this ad is trying to target foreign accents or accents from different ‘levels’ of Australian society.. that could be a whole other kettle of fish to discuss.

    Overall, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. Mostly it doesn’t bother me, I kind of liken it to just learning the local language, or the local lingo. But on the other hand I like teaching English precisely because it is an important global language, and learning to understand a multitude of accents is important! So particularly with more advanced classes, I still like to turn up the Crocodile Dundee really high!

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  2. Wow! That’s quite the poster! “Accent training” could be useful in the short term for people trying to access employment…. but I also don’t think that simply “erasing” one’s accent can erase one’s positioning as different, outsider, or other. Ultimately, I think employers should be challenged to think about hiring practices, and general majoritized populations should think about what accents mean and if they are genuinely difficult to understand. I’ll never forget a story recounted in an article I read, about a white shop owner hearing an accent from a brown woman born and raised in the same city as he.

    Yes, intonation and pronunciation are important if we want to be understood. But I think there is more at work here, in terms of power and identity positions.

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    1. Hi April,
      I totally agree with you that – once we have passed the benchmark of comprehensibility – we should be challenging the listeners of accents, not the possessors of accents, to rethink what additional language proficiency means.

      From the perspective of a language teacher, I’ve had so many students express a feeling of not being able to speak English because they still have an accent. For me, it ties back to the idea of native-like proficiency as a learning goal: it’s a deficiency model that sets an impossible standard for learners, basically setting them up to fail. As we know, few learners will ever achieve native-like proficiency (what does that even mean, really!?). If we have learners who feel like their proficiency is lacking because of their accent, there’s a problem. Services like these (that offer to help you get rid of your accent) are fuel to this problem.

      You mentioned identity, and I think this is a really important part of the story as well. For better or for worse, our accent is an audible fingerprint of where we have come from and who we are. I’ve written before about my own complicated relationship with my accent and the way that I speak the languages I know, but ultimately it is a part of who I am and my unique story. To tell people – directly or indirectly – that they should get rid of their accent is essentially to tell people to hide an aspect of themselves that shouldn’t need to be hidden. If you aren’t “from here”, that should be ok and shouldn’t preclude you from success in a job interview or being taken seriously.

      Lauren

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