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

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Comments

i am really happy in this course and i think it is useful course, i hope so,however, this is an opportunity and also interesting.

In Algeria we  are having a new method of teaching , it is communicative competencies. this method needs visual aids such as videos , pics maps .... etc could u send me or tell me about sites that deal with videos to use it in a class , please? 

As a student of English and ETTE trainer .I have found helpful material and activities for my trainings 

It's an excellent article and throws open a whole new dimension to pronounciation.  We should look at fundamentals, i.e. you learn a language so that you can communicate.  You must be able to understand what the other person is saying and the other person must be able to understand you.  That must be achieved in the spoken form. I am totally against pronouncing 'rice' as 'lice', hence clarity is of importance and not the British, American or Australian accent.  One of the most difficult things to do is to change the accent as this is developed when you are a child and learning your mother tongue.  We should not force feed this but obtain clarity in pronounciation.Cheers               

I'm surprised that the topic of word stress is given less importance than nuclear stress. Misplaced word stress can give rise to all sorts of misunderstandings.The best example I can think of is the mispronunciation of a name by a French student who told me she had greatly enjoyed the music of a man called 'Urbian Cock'. Turns out later she meant Herbie Hancock.When a new word comes up in class, it's so easy to point students in the direction of the pronunciatiob guide in the printed or online dictionary.

Could never think of global English so far since I was seeking to achieve native-like pronunciation. This is explained by one fact that I have always been motivated by American culture. And when I started learning English it was due to American culture. So was my pronunciation. I have always wanted to conform to Americans when speaking English. I would even go for some specific accent like the one in Texas, for example. When read this article, I felt that there would miss something if I stop getting closer to native language, something valuable like motivation for learning because it has been long since I am motivated this way. Of course, I have understood the notion of global language as the language that no longer belongs to natives but to the whole world. There appears no use to learn British or, say, American English because these are not necessary if someone in Uzbekistan speaks to someone from, for example, Italy. However, speakers of different parts of the world may be not intelligible to each other in their English as Lingua Franca because each of them would definitely keep something of themselves in their English. The research outlined in this article helps to delve into this issue. Here are outlined some language features essential for intelligibility among non-natives in Lingua Franca. These are all consonants, stress, long and short vowels should be kept in English for it to be intelligible for international communication. One thing I have become quite interested about is that consonant sound 'th' is not important and if you keep mispronouncing it, like 's' or 't' for instance, you will be still understood. This is also noticed in our University environment when our student mispronounce this 'th' sound. That say 'sink' instead of 'think' and are still understood, I think, because it becomes obvious in context. One thing, I think, I do not agree is that students should be exposed to other non-native accents so they could understand them easily later on in actual conversations. I am of the opinion that it should not be paid that attention. The main thing is that students are exposed to native speech mainly and other accents only rarely so not to patronize those who want to achieve native-like competence like me.

Dr Jenkins, I am Ephrem...Iam your look alike.Name starting with EPH is not got right by many In and around me...Maharashtrians, Tamilians..Guj..Delhi Hindiites...and India is a cosmopolitan in Languages...They devise their own names to me..easy on their tongue. The British invented their names to many localities in India...easy on your tongue. Now we are reversing...its all history. The native 1st language ascends over the 2nd..in pronunciation..I teach accent neutralization...and tough work to students here...KERALA

I couldn't agree more with your conclusion. As an ESL teacher in Indonesia, in Sumatra not less, it has been quite a challenge to teach the kids to use the traditional accent when speaking English, as their Sumatran accent is quite thick, they even speak in local south Sumatran language instead of Indonesian for their daily lives, so yes... thanks for this research, I'm looking forward to any follow up of this research.

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