Does accented input matter?

If you are using TPRS and you have actors, the actors will be speaking your target language in an accent.  At a recent presentation to the South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services E.S.L. teachers in Penticton, B.C., I was asked

“is accented input a problem?”

My answer– not really.  The person asking this mentioned that they had Punjabi and Mexican E.S.L. students.  The Punjabis will have problems with the “w” sound and word order (e.g. “Vat you are doing?”) while the Mexicans typically cannot say word-initial “s” not followed by a vowel (e.g. they will say “espaghetti” instead of “spaghetti”) and they will have problems with past-tense negatives (e.g. saying “I didn’t went to work”).

For the purposes of TPRS, we will use board-written dialogue to deal with grammar problems.  If you are teaching “went” you write “I didn’t go/I went…” on the board and if they can’t say it they read it.

Accent– as long as it doesn’t interfere with meaning– is not a problem.  It doesn’t matter if the Indian guy is hearing a Spanish accent or vice-versa.

First, we all teach accents anyway– English, Canadian, American or whatever we speak.  Second, there is almost certainly something to be said for students hearing the same message in a different variety of accents.  If they understand the message, they are acquiring.  It is quite possible that the novelty of hearing something in a different accent will “focus” them more on the input.  Third, this is probably good decoding practice (on a subconscious level):  it’s better for them to hear slow, simplified comprehensible input with an accent in class than for them to only hear “perfect sounding” native-speaker English in class and incomprehensible accented English outside.  And they WILL hear loads of accented English outside in our multicultural world.

Finally, in the case of E.S.L. learners, they will hear good English outside class anyway, so a bit of accent in class is not that big a deal.

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

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