By Laura Sanabria - Student of English Teaching and Translation
English is known as one of the most spoken languages around the world and it could be considered as the key different people have to get better professional and personal growth. However, foreign speakers might encounter communicative barriers when expressing themselves in an environment outside of the class. Shyness, fear, and even intimidation are clear examples of obstacles nonnative speakers face every time they interact with another person in a communicative context. All of these factors might result because of the anxiety of being discriminated against by their accents. For this reason, understanding the role of accent and how it is related to learning anxiety in students can help teachers to boost their learners’ confidence towards a competent and natural use of the language.
Several students think that being a fully competent user of a language is through reaching a native like accent. However, this belief might cause students to experience some anxiety and frustration when they do not achieve it. As Bila (as cited Kráľová, 2016) expressed “most foreign language learners report strong speaking anxiety and indicate their inadequate speaking ability as the strongest barrier in foreign language communication (p. 6). Therefore, instructors need to create a respectful environment where everyone feels confident to participate in class while enhancing their ability to express their thoughts without any fear. Related to this, letting students know that having an accent is not an indicator they cannot accomplish the outcomes of the program; on the contrary, it is an opportunity to help them to open doors that can facilitate their personal and professional growth for being understood in different places.
Moreover, students need to be aware that accent is not the particular manner to achieve their competence in the language. Accents are used all over the world and imposing one is not the way educators and institutions can achieve the main communicative goals.
Indeed, “having a foreign accent does not automatically lead to a breakdown in communication … [ it is argued] that intelligibility is the gold standard for pronunciation, rather than speech that is free of a detectable foreign accent” (Grant, 2014, p.164). That is to say, students’ goals are to communicate and be understood in a context they can perform naturally and clearly. Also, being a fully competent user of the language goes beyond imitating the way someone speaks. For this reason, articulation and clarity of ideas are essential when conveying the message at the same time the educational instruction motivates learners to achieve a clear and accurate production of sounds that lead them to effective communication.
On the other hand, having an accent might lead some learners to try to find a way to reduce their accents to sound more native-like to be accepted in different contexts. Regarding this, Grant (2014) mentioned that “many problems [L2 speakers] face (…) are blamed on language, and in some cases, low L2 proficiency does undoubtedly limit opportunity” (p.161). Therefore, accent reduction could provide students with that confidence they need to perform efficiently in different communicative activities allowing them not to be discriminated against because of the way they speak. Even though accent reduction might help students to improve their communicative skills, intelligibility and communicability take a relevant role since the learner's goal is to “gain confidence in their ability to function in [real] situations” (Celce-Murcia et al., 2010, p. 275).
To conclude, having an accent should not be considered an obstacle that could obscure all the effort students make to communicate and be understood by other people. It must be a key that allows them to bring respect and confidence when expressing their ideas. Also, teachers need to create an atmosphere where they are not judged by their accents but feel motivated to express their sense of belonging while speaking a second language. In this way, educators can make the change in their students’ mindsets to accept that the main goal is to be intelligible when using the language.
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Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D., & Goodwin, J. (2010). Teaching pronunciation. A course book and reference guide. (2 ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Grant, L. (2014). Pronunciation myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching. University of Michigan Press.
Kráľová, Z. (2016). Foreign Language Anxiety [Ebook]. Univerzita Konštantína Filozofa v Nitre. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318035190_Foreign_Language_Anxiety.