Global English and the teaching of 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.

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

Comments

Submitted by joe on Sun, 03/30/2008 - 10:03

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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!

Submitted by satheesh.d on Sun, 03/14/2010 - 18:25

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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.

Submitted by brenia on Sun, 03/14/2010 - 23:21

In reply to by satheesh.d

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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.

Submitted by gregdohe on Thu, 07/08/2010 - 20:39

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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.

Submitted by doina.obuzic on Sun, 11/14/2010 - 13:42

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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?

Submitted by FlorD on Fri, 04/01/2011 - 00:31

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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. 

Submitted by st.moore on Thu, 05/05/2011 - 10:34

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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?

On reflection, I think that what you're referring to is Standard English as opposed to RP.  If a student has difficulty in the pronunciation of certain sounds, e.g. /th/ sounding as /d/ and /f/ then they are pronouncing that incorrectly and should be made aware of the same.

agreed on discussing the /th/ as the problems i'm facing is the students tend to pronounce /t/ the same as /ph/ pronounced as /p/ and /kh/ pronounced as /k/ and I bet this is a typical pronunciation problem here so it is compulsory to deal with..

It is funny that you should believe RP long dead, living in Britain as you do. Precisely, Dr. Jenkins (2000), in The Phonology of English as an International Language (OUP) quotes another author as dubbing RP speakers "the 'phantom speakers of English' because of the unlikelihood of a learner's coming into contact with one of them" (p. 14). By the way, in the above cited work, Dr. Jenkins fleshes out her  characterization of EIL and her rationale for her lingua franca core. It's a very interesting and instructive read, very recommendable.

Submitted by st.moore on Sat, 05/07/2011 - 18:26

In reply to by Paco_Mx

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Having said that, I must admit I was aghast when I heard my daughter saying 'free' for 'three'. She'll be getting extra homework for sure.

It is also a difficult problem for my students.I try to teach them the position of the tongue when we pronounce it.When we pronounce it our tongue must be between uper and lower teeth.But it doesn't give any effect.Then i use from audio-video materials.I think the most effective way of teaching pronunciation is to use from audio-video materials.

Submitted by Nadine73 on Thu, 05/05/2011 - 18:07

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I'm not sure that RP (received pronunciation) is long dead.  I have some difficulties in the pronunciation of certain words in text books for example, that are sounded as 'RP'.   I am a non RP speaker.  That said, it [RP] is potentially something to measure against as a standard.  If the aim is to make language teaching, and subsequently learning as easy as possible for the student, then maybe it's necessary in some form or other.  That way, as a previous post commented, when non-native English language students are speaking with one another they have that as a benchmark.

Submitted by Gulshan Huseynli on Sat, 05/07/2011 - 12:19

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This article is very useful for me, for a non native speaker of English language teacher. Now I have some ideas of do's and don'ts about teaching pronunciation. Thank you for interesting article for doing this research.

Submitted by donteaching on Tue, 05/10/2011 - 03:16

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Dear Mrs Jennifer,

 

I have thought about the pronunciation as a single purpose to help students learn to speak 'correctly and accurately' thus it will help them to communicate in English. Now when I read your article, I change my mind and would start working on the difference purpose in the pronunciation teaching activity.

 

Thank you so much. Would you allow me to copy and paste your article to share with some colleagues? Many thanks.

 

Regards,

 

Donny

Submitted by Irme on Wed, 05/11/2011 - 20:15

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Funny enough, quite a few EIL speakers manage to communicate with each other, but have trouble understanding native speakers.

For this reason I often insist that they make some effort to adopt a native accent, because it's learning by doing -- improving their listening comprehension. By actively exercising their brain to motor function, the passive/receptive comprehension is strengthened, at least in my own experience. This is particularly true for stress timing, schwa sounds and connected speech.

I also believe that the emotional aspects of English are carried by these components which are quite different from other languages. Without mastering the connectedness of English, it might be difficult to become truly fluent. But then again, this is not what every learner is aiming for.

Submitted by vbanaitis on Wed, 05/11/2011 - 20:58

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English itself is a result of manifold pidginisation. Globalization and IT just added a new momentum. It is not enough to present some ecclectic observations.

What we need is a new systematic model of modified pronunciation, a kind of didactic core of the international pronunciational dialect highlighting the contrast between the sounds, since language is first of all a system of signs. Learners should cling to such a frame and at the same time be aware of  differences between International English and RP, or between BE and AmE. In any case any visual display of differences between learner's NATIVE SYSTEM and the TARGET SYSTEM can be mostly useful. We have arranged English sounds articulation into a kind of Mendelevian system of 24 consonant portal and 30 vowel boat (with sails of diphthongs and unstressed shva/schvu/shvu shadows under water).

Submitted by same on Mon, 11/14/2011 - 07:21

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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.

Submitted by Noureddine02 on Fri, 03/02/2012 - 15:37

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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?

 

Submitted by Mueen Akhter on Sun, 06/10/2012 - 11:37

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

 

Submitted by Ajit Singh Nagpal on Thu, 09/20/2012 - 01:08

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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               

Submitted by mike beaken on Thu, 09/20/2012 - 07:46

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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.

Submitted by DaminovRasim on Mon, 12/16/2013 - 23:25

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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.

Submitted by Ephrem Palathingal on Sun, 02/07/2016 - 05:20

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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

Submitted by R4NTM on Wed, 11/16/2016 - 01:59

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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.

Submitted by Beijinger on Thu, 02/21/2019 - 04:39

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Thank you for this article...we need these discussions! Would like to see some recent studies on this. I believe that the purpose of speaking is communication. If, what the speaker says, is not intelligible to the audience, then the purpose is defeated. So, who is the audience? In an international setting (such as, in an international school), it's complicated. Therefore, it is essential for these learners to adopt the standard pronunciation. Again, what is standard pronunciation? The view, by Cambridge dictionary, is that the national standard in a country is that which is used by govt., media, etc. In an international context, I guess more important is to speak in a way that in understandable by a majority of people from different cultures and background. This is why there is a bigger need for teaching pronunciation of letter/vowel sounds as heard on international media, such as BBC, CNN. I cannot agree with the author's view that vowel sounds are not important. The meaning can change between bed vs. bad or sink vs. think, even if we use context to . Besides, figure out the meaning. The onus should not be on the audience, rather we should aim to teach the correct pronunciation of sounds. Otherwise, it is not fair on the students to spend time and money and not get what they deserve.

Submitted by Omale on Mon, 03/21/2022 - 01:13

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I feel received pronunciation is the standard, none native speakers must not speak like the natives to effectively communicate.

Submitted by Haideé Gómez on Thu, 03/31/2022 - 17:32

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The challenge for non-native English speaking teachers is to acquire the correct pronunciation of English so that they can teach it to students. Both teachers and students are able to be intelligible to both native and non-native speakers.

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