The emergence of so many different kinds (or 'varieties') of international English has caused a number of linguists to question the use of native speaker pronunciation models in the teaching of English.

This article presents my research into the pronunciation of global English and gives some teaching implications.

  • What is global English?
  • What are the implications of EIL for pronunciation?
  • The findings from research
  • What are the implications for pronunciation teaching?

What is global English?

The term 'global English' is being used increasingly nowadays. It is a means of demonstrating that English is spoken in every part of the world, both among speakers within a particular country who share a first language, and across speakers from different countries/first languages.

English is no longer spoken only by its native speakers in the UK, North America, Australia and New Zealand, and by those who learn English in order to communicate with native speakers. It is also spoken among non-native speakers within countries like India, the Philippines and Singapore and internationally among non-native speakers from a wide range of countries/first languages throughout the world. This last use of English is often referred to as 'English as an International Language' or EIL, and it is this kind of English which we will focus on here as it is the largest group of English speakers, numbering around 1.5 billion.

What are the implications of EIL for pronunciation?
The emergence of so many different kinds (or 'varieties') of international English has caused a number of linguists to question the use of native speaker pronunciation models in the teaching of English. Their argument is that native speaker accents are not necessarily the most intelligible or appropriate accents when a non-native speaker is communicating with another non-native speaker.

As regards intelligible pronunciation for EIL, we need to identify which pronunciation features are crucial for mutual understanding when a non-native speaker of English talks to another non-native speaker and which are not at all important. These are often not the same features that are crucial and unimportant for a native speaker of English.

The findings from research
In my research I analysed interactions between non-native speakers of English. The aim was to find out which features of British/American English pronunciation are essential for intelligible pronunciation, and which are not. The findings have been formed into a pronunciation core for teaching which is known as the Lingua Franca Core. This is to indicate that it is intended as a guide for lingua franca interactions, not interactions between a native and non-native speaker of English. The main features of the Lingua Franca Core are...

  • All the consonants are important except for 'th' sounds as in 'thin' and 'this'.
  • Consonant clusters are important at the beginning and in the middle of words. For example, the cluster in the word 'string' cannot be simplified to 'sting' or 'tring' and remain intelligible.
  • The contrast between long and short vowels is important. For example, the difference between the vowel sounds in 'sit' and seat'.
  • Nuclear (or tonic) stress is also essential. This is the stress on the most important word (or syllable) in a group of words. For example, there is a difference in meaning between 'My son uses a computer' which is a neutral statement of fact and 'My SON uses a computer', where there is an added meaning (such as that another person known to the speaker and listener does not use a computer).


On the other hand, many other items which are regularly taught on English pronunciation courses appear not to be essential for intelligibility in EIL interactions. These are...

  • The 'th' sounds (see above).
  • Vowel quality, that is, the difference between vowel sounds where length is not involved, e.g. a German speaker may pronounce the 'e' in the word 'chess' more like an 'a' as in the word 'cat'.
  • Weak forms such as the words 'to', 'of' and 'from' whose vowels are often pronounced as schwa instead of with their full quality.
  • Other features of connected speech such as assimilation (where the final sound of a word alters to make it more like the first sound of the next word, so that, e.g. 'red paint' becomes 'reb paint'.
  • Word stress.
  • Pitch movement.
  • Stress timing.


All these things are said to be important for a native speaker listener either because they aid intelligibility or because they are thought to make an accent more appropriate.

What are the implications for pronunciation teaching?

  • Students should be given choice. That is, when students are learning English so that they can use it in international contexts with other non-native speakers from different first languages, they should be given the choice of acquiring a pronunciation that is more relevant to EIL intelligibility than traditional pronunciation syllabuses offer. Up to now, the goal of pronunciation teaching has been to enable students to acquire an accent that is as close as possible to that of a native speaker. But for EIL communication, this is not the most intelligible accent and some of the non-core items may even make them less intelligible to another non-native speaker.
  • The non-core items are not only unimportant for intelligibility but also socially more appropriate. After all, native speakers have different accents depending on the region where they were born and live. So why should non-native speakers of an international language not be allowed to do the same?
  • Finally, students should be given plenty of exposure in their pronunciation classrooms to other non-native accents of English so that they can understand them easily even if a speaker has not yet managed to acquire the core features. For EIL, this is much more important than having classroom exposure to native speaker accents.


Jennifer Jenkins, lecturer in Sociolinguistics and Phonology at King's College, London 

First published in 2002



Dr. Stuefe, Germany
I'd like to express my deep appreciation of this site; all the items are extremely helpful. But I'd like to thank Dr. Jennifer Jenkins, in particular, for her article on pronunciation, which gave me important guidelines on the DOs and DON'Ts in this field, as I personally have been feeling more and more uneasy about strictly orientating my students to British English, American English being so accepted since it's been brought into the students' English by pop culture anyway. Globalization has a manifold price,even in the field of phonology of British English- and fighting any deviation from British English seems to be another piece of Don Quixotism - so thank you for publishing that interesting article. I'll recommend to the colleagues of mine,and let me send a symbolic yellow rose to Dr. Jenkins!

It is very interesting to read Dr.Jenkins' article. Certainly there is a need for flexibility in learning pronounsition of EIL. But it is very difficult to avoid learners using ascent of their mother tongue and make them intelligble.

I also appreciate the article, many teachers still seem to focus on teaching received pronunciation (RP) which in my opinion is misleading for students. There's definitely a need to teach English in a more global context and do not aim to imitate standard forms, as long as the speech is understood by other speakers of English.

Besides accents and pronunciations, there are other subtle differences like with sentence structure and grammar. Speaking english with a few of my friends from other countries, I cannot help noticing the subtle differences in the use of grammar and sentence structure for them. So, we also need to take that into consideration when speaking but not necessarily when teaching.

All you've written makes a lot of sense. However, when we teach our students the basic rules of pronunciation and even later, with advanced students, when we confront them with  particularities of pronunciation of different kind of non-native speakers, I think it is important to stress the importance of trying to speak as BRITISH as possible, or as American as they possibly can. In other words, they should stick to the rules at least as long as they are in school and practice their English in a learning environment. When our students become adults and they mingle with other non-native speakers they will be in danger of imitating the others' accents much easier if they haven't been properly trained. We should be able to understand any pronunciation patterns, be it Austrailian or Indian, but I think we also shoud try to preserve the beauty of English as we know and love. Don't you think?

As a student of English in Argentina and a teacher-to-be I find it quite a difficult task to try to sound English like -and by this I mean using RP- and even more difficult to teach it to young students. As John Wells mentions in GOALS IN TEACHING ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION, teachers should teach students both EFL and EIL, that is, teach them how to communicate with native speakers and with non-native speakers. Allowing students to pronounce in the way they like just because they are going to use English to communicate with other non-natives is not the way to go. Teachers should teach pronunciation both to communicate with natives and non-natives. As Jenkins mentions in one of her works, there are some features of English pronunciation that do not matter as much as others when it comes to intelligibility... such as word stress, rhythm and features of connected speech. But teachers should teach consonant and vowel sounds, clusters and nuclear stress because these aspects of English phonetics do have an effect on the message getting through or not. I believe that teachers should be more open-minded when it comes to pronunciation. They should not impossed RP, but rather make students gain awareness of the fact that there are different accents and rhythms, but despite that, students should understand the importance of well pronounced vowel and consonant sounds so as to be able to communicate properly. 

Yes this discussion is really great! very interesting and is making sense. English teacher seems like teaching because they are good in contructing english but without proper pronounciation and will be the cause of student misunderstanding and confusion. 

It's very useful to get a more objective analysis of what is and isn't useful for teaching pronunciation. The 'th' sound is very much a moveable feast among native speakers, ranging from 'd' to 'f', so it's not surprising it's less necessary for EIL. However, at least in British English, it still carries a certain (class) status. Is this what people mean by RP, which I'd otherwise believed long dead?It's interesting the research has borne out the importance of tonic stress. Both as a teacher and as someone communicating with other speakers of English, I've found this a problematic area. It's also not so easy to teach - well, in my experience -  than the less essential word stress.I note, by the way, that the article was originally published in 2002. So thanks for republishing - are there any updates?


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