Challenging antimoon 1 - the importance of pronunciation

Steve K   Monday, August 02, 2004, 16:43 GMT
Antimoon places a great deal of importance on achieving native-speaker like pronunciation in English. I think this emphasis is misplaced.

The goal of language learning is communication. I have seen language learners who are so proud of their "native-like" pronunciation that they are more intrested in showing off than in communicating. On the other hand there are many excellent communicators in a second language who have an accent. The exaggerated native-like accent can seem almost fragile and contrived, since inevitably it will betray the speaker on some sound or other. The speaker with the in your face foreign accent who speaks well can sometimes be the more effective communicator.

It is not useful to set language goals that most people cannot or will not and need not achieve.

Any comments.
Hythloday   Tuesday, August 03, 2004, 21:16 GMT
I really couldn't agree more, Steve K. People should be proud of their original accent - whether it is regional, social or national, and promoting the idea that to speak English 'correctly' or 'better' one must attempt to adopt a native American and/or British accent is ludicrous.
Steve K   Tuesday, August 03, 2004, 23:26 GMT
I do not mean that one should not try to imitate the native speaker. Of course one should. If I learn Russian I will try to imitate a Russian, one whose accent I like. But I will not worry overly if I do not achieve perfection. The goal however is to sound like the Russian. Same is true in English.
Tom   Wednesday, August 04, 2004, 01:39 GMT
"It is not useful to set language goals that most people cannot or will not and need not achieve."

I don't believe any article on Antimoon says you must be indistinguishable from a native speaker. We say that you must be understandable and pleasant to listen to, which is achieved by getting "reasonably close" to standard AmE or BrE pronunciation.
For example, here's an example of a speaker whose pronunciation shows what learners should be aiming for:

I recognize the fact that a few learners will be indistinguishable from native speakers, while other learners will retain foreign accents of varying strength, depending on their imitation skills and their dedication.
Steve K   Wednesday, August 04, 2004, 14:02 GMT
Agree. The closer to the native speaker, the better. That is the ideal and a goal one can constantly work towards.

As in golf and many other sports, one needs to practice in order to get better. However, once on the golf course, one should only try enjoy the game and not expect perfection, otherwise one will play poorly. Same with languages. To do well one needs to enjoy communicating and not be self-conscious about pronunciation (or grammar for that matter).

I agree that intensive input is the way to go. I agree that schools are very low efficiency learning environments, although favoured by most learners. I agree that just speaking or going to the country where the language is spoken is not enough, without a strong commitment to daily intensive input. I even concede that phonetic script can help some people pronounce. I agree on the need for hight standards in pronunciation and structure as a goal. But in the meantime people should be encouraged to enjoy communicating, however poorly, as long as they enjoy it.
Indi   Wednesday, August 04, 2004, 14:09 GMT
Tom, can one say "aim for"?
I have only heard "aim at"
What is the difference between the two?
CG   Saturday, August 07, 2004, 13:27 GMT
The only two I have ever heard are 'aim for' and 'aim to', as in aim for perfection or aim to achieve perfection. I have never heard aim at.
Steve K   Saturday, August 07, 2004, 15:10 GMT
I am for perfection and I always aim to please but when I am shooting my gun I aim at the target.
Justin   Saturday, August 07, 2004, 16:42 GMT
<<The closer to the native speaker, the better.>>
Well, many people learn English just in order to communicate well with native speakers. They don't really want to be taken as a native English speaker, frankly speaking.

And in my opinion, the easier to communicate, the better. Lots of people speak Mandarin (the official standard spoken Chinese) with thick local accents in China, but they can still talk to other Chinese people without any trouble. I believe the same goes for any other language. After all, the motivation to learn a language isn't always to settle in the country where the language is spoken.
Steve K   Saturday, August 07, 2004, 17:21 GMT

I do not know what your native language is, mine is English. I have learned nine languages. When we learn another language we, in effect, imitate the linguistic and communication behaviour of another culture. This includes the pronunciation. We may choose a regional variant to imitate, but the closer we get to that native pronunciation the better. We do not need to achieve perfection to communicate, but we are trying to imitate the native speaker.

Most learners will be complimented by native speakers for having little accent. Most people prefer hearing their own language spoken with as little accent as possible, although an accent does not prevent communication. The non-native speaker is rarely in any danger of being taken for a native speaker.

The foregoing is just common sense.

In my experience, Chinese people often have problems understanding regional accents. Most people today try to get close to standard Mandarin pronunciation, and young educated people generally speak with less pronounced regional accents than the older generation.