Why a Standard Pronunciation is Important

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.

2 thoughts on “Why a Standard Pronunciation is Important”

  1. Extremely valid and relevant. Stress patterns (intra-word and inter-word) and intonations are often payed limited attention, leading to confusion in interpreting the meaning.

    Even within India, the stress and intonation lead to confusion sometimes.

    The following telephonic conversation perplexed me unbound during a conversation with my car care executive.

    Executive – Sir, engine change hoga gari ka. Hit ho gaya hai.
    Me – <> Kya baat kar rahe ho! Main to bade dhyaan se chalata hoon. Koi accident nahi hua hai.
    Executive – Nahi, nahi, sir, accident ke bina bhi hit ho jata hai engine kabhi-kabhi.
    Me – Khadi gadi ka engine takara jaay kahi par, aisa pahli baar suna.
    Executive – Takaran nahi sir. Garam ho gaya hai engine, “garam”!
    Me – <> Achchhaaaaa! Engine “heat” ho gaya hai!

    Now read the conversation again, keeping the short ‘I’ and the long ‘i:’ in mind! The executive kept saying “hIt”, while he meant to say “hi:t”, leading to misinterpretation.

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