Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | Sociolinguistics Series

Second-Language Sociolinguistics: Globalising pronunciation norms for learners

Thursday 26 September 2019
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


At the Leiden English department, we ask students at the beginning of the year what type of English they would like to learn, pronunciation-wise. Being highly traditional students (lovers of Anglophone language and literature), most of them prefer to sound British, and a smaller group wants to sound American. In the past few years, however, a growing group of students is indicating that they do not want to sound like a specific native speaker but like someone with an international outlook. Some indicate that they don’t like the stereotypical images that come with standard English from England or the US and prefer to sound authentic, with a mixed accent and non-disturbing features of their native tongue. This group of students has been growing, and the diversity of our students is also changing. There is also a group of students whose second language is almost like a first language because of their international background. Finally, there are students whose L1 pronunciation influence is so dominant that trying to change it is not realistic and leads to embarrassment. No longer can we offer all students a course on how to sound less Dutch and more British/American, with a type of accent that fits all social settings.

This new group of students (diverse, with non-traditional pronunciation aims) is like to continue to grow, and as teachers we have choices to make. Not only are our students changing, the ideologies of our staff are also developing, including the awareness that teaching students a specific accent has many drawbacks and does not fit the realities of a globalising world. The question is what to teach this group of students. The added challenge in English Language and Culture departments is that there are certain academic goals, besides practical ones. The idea now is that students develop their own type of English, learn to understand and interpret their fellow students’ pronunciation, understand sound production, and that they need to know about the sociolinguistic realities of L1 and L2 English accents. In this talk, I will elaborate on the importance and difficulties of teaching second-language pronunciation in post-modern times and about how an actual pronunciation model may still be used in order to meet the demands of diverse groups of learners with equally diverse pronunciation goals.

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