In this issue of Grassroots Outreach, Robert Smith suggests that pronunciation needs more attention in English language classrooms in Japan.
Shyness to speak can be exacerbated if one’s foreign accent interferes with the speaking of the target language.
Language learners with heavy accents tend to be poor spellers and those who go abroad can even suffer from discrimination.
The Japanese speakers of English with whom I’ve freely conversed with have spent time abroad in English-speaking countries.
Robin Walker is a freelance teacher, teacher educator, and materials writer.
He has been in ELT for over 30 years, and regularly collaborates with Oxford University Press and Trinity College London.If left unaddressed, Smith warns that an accent problem can lead to poor spelling, unintelligibility, a reluctance to communicate with native speakers of English, and even discrimination when students travel overseas.Teaching Pronunciation in Japan Accents are one of several important elements that contribute to the intelligibility of speech.But pronunciation is also about listening; it is not enough to recognise a word in writing, because if you don’t know how it’s pronounced you won’t recognise it when listening to someone using the word.Spanish learners of English can fail to recognise the word ‘average’ even though it is spelt the same way in both languages.Although a number of them seem to have reading abilities at or below that of other learners of English whom I’ve met in Japan, their speaking abilities –and most of all– their willingness to speak English is at a much higher level than their peers.The reason for this soon became clear when I tried to encourage some of their lesser confident friends to say a few words (see Photograph). The students who have spent time abroad speak in a more natural way, and often I can even tell where they have been by the way they pronounce certain words.To reduce anxiety and to motivate students to converse more often in English, Smith recommends students try to shake their use of katakana-sounding pronunciation.Japanese language phonology is very different from English and this can lead students to speak in a distinct Japanese-sounding accent.Yet there’s something irresistible about a Southern accent that conjures gentlemanly qualities. A rugged Scottish burr is seductive because of the men who speak in it: Sean Connery, Richard Madden, and Ewan Mc Gregor.Unfortunately, many accents get a negative reception.