Do kids get “over-used” to one accent?

I was at a workshop yesterday and somebody asked “in TPRS, if it’s all teacher-talk, don’t the kids get too used to that teacher’s specific accent, and won’t that make life tougher for them in the real world?”

My answer:

The question focuses on the “teacher-centeredness” of a TPRS class.  There are several responses to this.  What matters most– that kids understand a TON of the TL, or that they have heard a bunch of accents? 

a)  From my own experiences in Spanish-speaking countries, I’ve noticed that it’s not accent that creates communication problems for non-native speakers as much as slang and speed. 

I feel like I can quite clearly “hear” (and then “see” written in my mind) when a Mexican says “No manches tanto, wey.”  (Loose polite translation– don’t be an idiot, or that’s a bad idea)  Yes, he sounds a little bit different than a Guatemalan, and a fair bit different than an Argentinian, but I can get a mental picture of the sound.  It’s the slang that gets you– what is “manches” and what is “wey”?  I have found the same thing with Argies, Colombians, etc.  I can “see” the words in my head but the meaning eludes me.

When we are talking standard Spanish– say, ordering food, or getting directions– there are minor differences in sound with different accents, but what really gets you is the speed at which native speakers talk.  When I hear Argies, or Mexican kids (especially from big cities) speak, I hear bla bla bla bla vamos bla bla bla que? bla bla bla.

For me, the most important thing is, the more vocab I have acquired (even if only for recognition), the more pieces of language I can “assemble” into something coherent when confronted with either slang or a fast speaker. 

Think of it this way:  Which of the following is easier for you to understand?

1) John bla bla goes bla bla Berlin.

2) John bla bla bla bla bla Berlin.

The more specific bits we know, the easier it is to “guess around the edges” and decode from context when faced with native-speaker slang and speed.   

b)  If you are using a textbook program, you are using both your own voice and that of the program CDs, videos, etc, to use the TL.  The problem here is that most teachers of foreign languages top out at around B2 on the D.E.L.F. scale, are not native speakers, and must anyway slow down and simplify their speech for kids.  Most textbook TL is very standardised.  You won’t find strong regional accents, slang, etc in those (one of the reasons kids often ask “can you teach us how to swear?”, a job I leave to the amazing film Y tu Mama Tambien).  

So, regardless of whether or not you use TPRS, and whether you use textbook audio/video, the kids are still getting simplified, standardised speech.

c)  Krashen– and others– argue that “comprehensible input” drives acquisition more than anything else.  If you do want to expose kids to “authentic language” (language by and for native speakers) in order to get used to the accent…you run the risk of them hearing bla bla bla bla vamos bla bla bla.  So what are they acquiring? Unless you explain what the bla bla means– and you can repeat it enough, while kids are paying attention– the kids are not getting what they need to acquire language.  

I got an email recently from a Mom whose 4th-grade daughter is failing French Immersion.  The teacher speaks too quickly.  When asked to slow down, he replied “the students must learn to understand authentic French.”  Yup…but the way they learn tto udnerstand is going to be via comprehensible input, not via adult-level, native-speaker French.  The teacher refused to change his speed of speech, so the Mom pulled the kid, put her in a regular school (with a couple of blocks a week of French) and the kid is happy now because the language is pitched at what she needs and can do.

When I present to schools, E.S.L. schools, District in-services, etc etc, my two main points are a) go slow, and b) keep it comprehensible 

Questions?  chris(dott)stolz(att)gmail(dott)com

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