A study from the University of Haifa shows that “perception of second language speech is easier when it is spoken in the accent of the listener and not in the ‘original’ accent of that language.” So if you are an American learning French, you will understand French better if it is spoken with an American accent rather than a native French accent. Sounds a little like common sense, right? The researchers say this is important is determining the cognitive factors associated with understanding and learning foreign languages; but as for teaching foreign languages, I’m not so sure that teaching exclusively in the non-native accent as the title of the article suggests is the best idea.
Perhaps at the very beginning stages of language learning, a non-native accent would be more helpful than a native accent in simply understanding the language. But if a non-native accent is the only one a learner ever hears, then s/he will have a hard time understanding all other accents as well as learning how to pronounce the language in a more native-like accent. Students should be exposed to several native and non-native accents of the language because obviously not every French speaker in the world speaks with the standard accent presented in learning materials. How many French language materials teach the Picardie or Belgian or Toulousian accents?
This leads into the native vs. non-native teacher question and just how much effect the teacher’s accent has on the students’ learning. As long as the student gets enough input in the target language outside of the classroom, it really shouldn’t matter what accent the teacher has. Most classes meet a few hours per week, which is not sufficient enough for learning a language, so the student needs to listen and study as much as possible on his/her own. The teacher needs to be able to answer questions and explain the grammar and encourage student participation and motivation, but to me, the accent isn’t really all that important because shouldn’t the students be talking more than the teacher anyway?
What do you think about this study? Is it important or does it just reiterate what we already know?
Let’s hope no one actually teaches English based on Franglais!
Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.