miércoles, 11 de febrero de 2015

Reflections in passing #3: Why emulating a native-like accent may not (always?) help

Over the last few days I have been talking to colleagues from my own "environment" (that is, Argentinian teachers of English), and some have told me that they saw themselves reflected in some of my posts, particularly the "Voldemort" one. And yes, I completely understand why these friends and colleagues feel the way I do, and the rest of the world feels this is sheer craziness: our training, our Argentinian spirit (always looking up to Europe, for some reason) makes many of us want to "sound native" (whatever that is!). Some other Argentinian colleagues teaching French and Italian have told me they feel the same way about their own accents.

Now, the more I travel, the more I realise that my relentless efforts to "sound native" may not "help" in the streets. All right, my accent has helped me gain a certain position of "acceptance" (or something of the sort) in some academic circles. I know that there are certain things I say in certain places which are "taken seriously" because of my close attempt at an SSBE accent and my fluency in English. In academic environments, I have to admit that, sadly, some some people appear to have "respected" my views because of my accent, and this overruled the "disadvantage" (sic) that being a Latin American, Spanish-speaking teacher of English (and phonetician in the making, go figure!) would entail (and these last few words are not, unfortunately, mine!).

On the other hand, I won't lie. I do like the occasional "where in the UK are you from?" or "You don't sound Argentinian!" thing. I think it is my best introduction card in, at least, the ELT world.

As usual, disclaimers: these are opinions, reflections and anecdotes from someone obsessed with pronunciation, and carry no "scientific value". You read these at your own risk!
(♪♪ It's my blog, and I cry if I want to, I ramble if I want to! ♪♪)


Anyway! Going back to how sounding native may *not* help, I have a number of personal anecdotes which may illustrate the point:

-On a train to London from York, I ordered coffee. As I was being served, the steward -with a lovely Northern accent- asked me a question which I did not get, and after embarrasingly saying "Sorry?" three times, he just put the coffee on my tray and grunted. I shrugged, and the person sitting next to me, who had seen I was reading a book in Spanish, said that the man had thought I was making fun of him.

-The bus from Whitby to Scarborough I was on one day, broke down. Twice. (Yes, it happens in the UK, too! Don't despair, fellow Argentinians!). I was sitting towards the back of the bus, reading my book, and two lads  were talking about how awful the whole journey had been, and a few other things which I found dreadfully difficult to understand. At a certain point, one of them addresses me, and says what I decoded as: "Got a penner?". I replied "Sorry, come again?", to which I got a similar answer. The other man looks at me, as if I was silly or something, and says, really slowly "Got-a-pen-or-something?". "Ah, yes, here you are!", I said, and retreated to my Spanglish, to save face.

-The other thing that I find a bit embarrassing is the fact that my English is pretty "bookish" (I need a serious vocab refresher course!) and as a Latin American young lady, I'm all gestures and emotion, so British people who know me do generally comment on this sort of "mismatch" between my accent, and my wording. I love my Latin American blood, and my Italian hystrionism, and I am not planning to change that. But people say the "overall impression" is somehow "weird". My tutor once told me that when she was younger a very well known phonetician advised her: "Do you want to sound English? Then hire an English lady who can teach you how to sit, have tea, walk, and express your emotions as an English lady. Then you will sound English. Otherwise, you are more than fine as you are!". (LOL!)

(Linguistic digression: I think that my trips have also confirmed to me that I should never underestimate question tags, and phrasal verbs (believe me, students, they are used ALL the time!), and more importantly, street, everyday, language, if I want the "full package". As I told my Language teacher during my last year of college, "I feel all my language courses have "crippled" my language, I can't face the streets with my English but I can write 200-page-long papers!".)

-I think that what at times makes me feel worse than not being able to understand, is getting the comment "why do you want to sound posh?". Or I once even got "You sound Victorian!". I would feel a bit offended in my own Spanish if someone said I sound "cheta" or "old as the hills", but that's just because I don't see myself as such. My British friends tend to make fun of this accent choice of mine, and I have had "informal" sessions on glottalisation and a few other "tips and tricks" to "give my accent a lifting". I worry,  and I try to be truly aware of this when teaching my students. After all, I wouldn't want them to use slang and sound as if they were rehearsing to have tea with the Queen.

(BTW, any phoneticians out there? It would be wonderful to have oral practice materials with more updated accents! Ship or Sheep 3rd Edition has a few interesting voices, and so do some of the activities in the "...in Use" series, but I would be happy to have further practice material to focus on sounds with more "modern" accents. Apart from the  YouTube vids and British Council recordings of conversation I may find, having some updated pronunciation stuff for practice would be totes fabs!)

-Another Argentinian colleague told me that a UK immigrations officer, after stamping his passport,  jokingly told him, "Why do you speak like that, then? Are you a spy?".

Whenever I write my blog posts, I always think about my students and my practice. I am, by far, the most severe critic of my work. I know some of my ideas have changed over the last three or four years, and some others have not, and may not. I know some people may use these "thoughts in passing" to their own advantage and may misunderstand the meaning of my words as well. It has happened.

All in all, I think that my accent works fine in academic and work settings and it has made a difference, but it may not do the job in "street" settings. But I think that this realisation has really helped me reconsider language teaching, and more than anything else, what I should do in a General English language classroom. It has made me think about goals for both pronunciation and other areas of ELT: grammar, vocabulary, listening comp.
You may agree with this, or find it terribly "preposterous". I believe I am not "academically mature" still to voice certain ideas, to give them shape, and at times, to face some deeply-rooted beliefs. So for the time being, I'll just keep to my "reflections in passing" and to my books, and to my blog! (♪♪ It's my blog, and I ramble if I want to, I ramble if I want to! ♪♪)

1 comentario:

  1. Hi Marina! I'm Romina. I'm one of those people fond of Phonology. I'll contact you via facebook, on your page if you don't mind! Ta ta


Thank you for following this blog!
Your comment is welcome. Please add your name and location to your remarks.
Comments are moderated in order to avoid spam and trolls, so please note that your comments may not show straightaway.