My grandson in the US (he is four years old) told me one day; “Everyone in my school speaks American”. I asked him, “What do you speak at home”? He said, “I speak English”. His view was that what he spoke was Standard English, while others spoke with an accent.
This seems to be the belief of many Indians. We feel that our pronunciation is good; but everyone else has an accent. Hence there isn’t any need to correct, or even try to adapt our pronunciation to any other model. When I worked in an IT company, many engineers told me that it was difficult to understand their clients (even native English speakers) because they had a pronounced accent.
But what about us, Indians? Do others find it difficult to understand our accents? Have we bothered to find out?
I, too, like many other Indians believed that what we needed was better articulation, and clarity in communication was not dependent on our accent. I fact, English courses in India, do not have many sessions on accent correction( the BPO industry is an exception). We stress on Grammatical and lexical accuracy, and fluency without much focus on accent and pronunciation.
I changed my mind when I conducted a program last year for trainers in other parts of the world. All of them felt that 60% of the problem while interacting with Indians was their pronunciation. I was really surprised. My initial reaction was to reject the findings of the poll. Slowly, I came to understand their point of view. It is a strain to follow an Indian accent even if the language is grammatically and lexically accurate. Hence, we need to pay more attention to acquiring an easy-to-follow accent when interacting in a global environment.
What could be this easy-to-follow accent? It could be
- paying attention to stress and intonation , pause and linking while teaching English in schools and colleges
- Spending more time on speaking sessions
- Integrating a 10 minute pronunciation practice in our regular sessions
I was reviewing an excellent new book, Pronunciation pack, by Mark Hancock. The book is in four sections; the layout was good; the activities simple and easy to follow; it even had six different types of phonemic chart for different users. I wrote to Mark saying that the book is brilliant; but I wasn’t sure it will sell in India, as Indians do not think that a standard pronunciation is necessary.
I have been advocating sessions in Indian English to other non- native speakers who interact with Indians. I think we need to meet them half way by improving the way we speak.
I hope this post will cause all of us to reflect on the importance on standard pronunciation.
I look forward to your comments.