ISLPR Language Services Blog
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Every week we will be posting a new video to help you improve your pronunciation. We already have two videos up on pronouncing the letters “L” and “R”.
In a multilingual society such as Australia, it is reasonable to expect everyone to learn to cope with accents that are not identical to Australian English speakers’ accents. Just how acceptable any particular accent is depends on at least three things: one is the nature of the situation in which the speaker is talking and, also, who the listeners are. If, for example, the listeners are from the same language group as the speaker and with similar accents, the speakers and listeners are most likely to be able to understand each other quite readily however different their accent may be from Australian English accents. Secondly, and in other situations, what determines how understandable a person’s accent is will depend on how different that accent is from the listeners’ accents, i.e. the linguistic distance between the different people’s spoken language forms. Thirdly, pronunciation is only one aspect of language and the closer your grammar and choice of words are to native speaking English, the more readily will listeners understand you, no matter how strong your accent might be. So “comprehensibility” is the result of all the features of language acting together.
Many of the people reading this blog will be teachers who have come to Australia from other countries. If they are to become teachers of classes of predominantly Australian English speaking students, the ultimate test is whether their accent would be readily comprehensible to such students. In brief, no accent is itself intrinsically “good” or “bad”; whether any accent is acceptable depends on the situation, who the listeners are, the purpose of the interaction and, overall, how comprehensible the speaker would be for the listeners.
There are many ways to practise your speaking skills. We also recommend doing the following: (There is a lot to say but here are a few points.)
- Talk as often and as much as possible with native English speakers, listen to how they speak and try to copy the pronunciation of words.
- Listen to your local radio station, especially the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) in Australia. You can easily find your local ABC station on the ABC webpage (see below) or the ABC Listen app, which you can download to your smartphone at no cost.
- Make use of the ABC webpage (www.abc.net.au), which you can access from anywhere in Australia or around the world. In particular, there are many programmes that you can listen to and read. If you can download a programme onto your computer, play it sentence by sentence and try to copy how it is said. Copy the pronunciation of the words but also take notice of the rhythm of the sentence, the stress patterns and the rise and fall of the voice (i.e. the intonation).
- It is not only the accurate pronunciation of each sound and each word that matters but also the rhythm, stress and intonation. Remember that there are two main types of stress: syllable stress in a word and word stress in a sentence.
- Stress is also important if your speech is to be readily understood because it changes the actual pronunciation of words: if a syllable is not stressed, the vowel will be reduced to the sound /Ə/ (i.e. the underlined sound in “the book”).
Don’t let anything said here make you nervous about speaking English. All native and other fluent speakers are flexible and what is most important is that you use English as much as possible: the more you use it, the more it develops and the more you interact with native and other fluent English speakers, the more your pronunciation will naturally become more like theirs.
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