The role of accents in English The topic of teacher accents in the ESL


The topic of teacher accents in the ESL classroom is much debated. I am sure most teachers can relate to a story or experience. In South Korea, like many Asian countries there is a strong focus on the 'American English'. All listening tapes, dialogues, transcripts and texts use American linguistics and accents. Even the international TOEIC and TEFL tests for a long time were using American accents. As a New Zealand citizen being strongly advised to develop an American accent can be hard to comprehend.

Kachru 1986 writes 'what actually happens is that language and power go together. American English is accepted for the power and superiority which America as a nation has acquired in the areas of science, technology, commerce, military affairs and politics'. I tend to agree and further more the United States still holds some influence over Korea, be it financially, militarily or trade. Perhaps this can partly explain the obsession with the use of American accents. Another reason could be that Korea established a role for the United States after the Korean war. A lot of culture, habits and dialogues were introduced to Korea. A further reason could be expansion of cable and satellite television which carry American programs. Here in Korea we are inundated with TV series, sitcoms, and comedy shows.

So, what role does the accent play in the ESL classroom. Personally I don't think there should be any role for an accent. The primary objective of an ESL teacher is to produce clear and precise sounds so the students can understand, learn and respond. We all know that English is a global language and that students will need to be exposed to numerous accents and cultures. We do not live in a monolingual word and as such we should not teach a monolingual world. Not every person will converse only with a citizen of the United States. Indeed, most of my middle and high school students have a desire to study, work and live in England. As do many Koreans.

A search of eslteacherboard.com has listed numerous articles regarding this topic. A teacher wrote that 'accents are part a person's origin, culture and a sort of identity or trademark'. It is an appropriate comment as it relates to both the teacher and the student. I have numerous students who have tried to emulate (as do most Koreans) the American accent and patterns of speech. What actually happens is that the students over pronounce or miss pronounce entirely and in fact have made their speech worse.. Common examples are party become pari and dirty becomes diry. Both t's have been dropped entirely whereas the American pronounce the letter softly, almost as a faint d sound.

If Korea wishes to develop as a nation and it has high aims to do so, it must adopt a more open policy towards English. Korea is developing new trade partners and FTA's and becoming a player in the global market. The use of English must be carefully incorporated otherwise effective communication will be lost. We have begun to witnessing changes but they are small and take time to filter through Korean society. An example is that the International TOEIC tests in Korea are now incorporating England and Canadian accents into the dialogues. However many public schools still require native North American accent.

Educating Korean citizens that there is more than one English speaking country in the world is a priority. Korea cannot continue to blindly ignore the obvious fact that possessing an American accent is not the means to success. If Korea truly wants to communicate internationally then it must realise that the more exposure to the varying English accents will bring greater reward.

My final thought is this. There are numerous job advertisements every where. Teach English in Korea. Anyone from the United States, the U.K. Canada Australia and New Zealand is welcome. Just possess a bachelor's degree. Well, that is not entirely accurate. If you are from one of these countries you are welcome but only if you speak or willing to change to an American accent, which I have been asked to do many times. Korea must change their mentality that English is global and non American accents are perfectly understood around the world.