Last week was parents day at my school and one of the first things a parent said to me was “sorry for my daughter’s accent, her teacher at school is Filipino”.
I had an awkward little chuckle with the parent but it certainly made me think how accents can influence students.
Here in Thailand there is a truly multicultural range of teachers which means Thai students are open to hearing different accents and dialects. In general I think this is a positive but not everyone sees this the same.
Thai students' experiences with the English language
Long before school a Thai person will have at least a few experiences where they will listen to English. This could be through a song, movie, advert or just where English words are used in the Thai language. These early experiences can influence how Thai people react to different accents.
In my experience speaking to Thai students, it seems they are most comfortable with the American accent. This isn’t really a surprise as a large portion of the international music, movies and TV shows they listen to in English are produced in the States. These early experiences of English can really shape their appreciation of accents and make an impact on their understanding of other accents.
Coming from just west of London I have pretty standard received pronunciation (standard south UK accent). However, it is sometimes a struggle for students to understand me, particularly if I speak at my normal (fast) speed or if they are new learners. Again this is normally due to their experience of the American accent rather than saying my accent is bad.
Teachers with different accents may struggle as Thai people may not have had experience in listening to someone from other countries. I have observed teachers from Poland, India and Bulgaria where I struggled sometimes with the accent. I can only imagine how difficult it was for the learners.
Which accent students want
In general I have found most students like learning from teachers with a British or American accent. This isn’t to say that they don’t appreciate learning from teachers with other accents but it is what I have heard from many students. In my teaching jobs, teachers from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Ireland have all been popular but I’ve never heard a student say they would like to learn from those accents specifically.
Of the non-native speaking teachers in this country the accents vary widely. To be fair I know a few Filipinos who have very American accents and to be honest a lot of Thai students wouldn’t be able to tell the difference if it was based on accent alone. Maybe this is why Filipino teachers are popular for online classes without video as the student may not realize they aren’t learning with an American.
Based on the opening comment from a parent at my parents day it seems that certain accents are less desirable irregardless of the quality of the teacher.
Students faking accents
I can understand why a student might prefer a teacher with a certain accent as it is easier for them to understand and learn but I am less sure why some students try to copy an accent.
I think a lot of people don’t understand that you can have good pronunciation and be understood in English without copying an accent of a native speaker. It would be like me speaking French and putting on a comedy French accent. It's just not necessary.
One Thai colleague I used to work with had the most ridiculous British accent and he sounded posher than Prince Charles! The problem was he wasn’t great at English and fooled people into thinking he was just because of his accent. He had a lot of private students and tried to get them to copy his fake accent. I think this is the problem - the desire to have the same accent as the teacher as it must be the best.
On the other hand I have met Thai people who have lived in foreign countries and naturally picked up the accent over the years. There is nothing wrong with this and it is a natural part of living in a foreign country.
At the top end of Thai education, there are many international schools linked to the curriculum of a country and as such mostly teachers from that background. Well-off parents can choose to send their kids to schools with pretty much only teachers from a certain country.
If they are looking to send a child to a bi-lingual school, they can see which nationalities are represented before signing their kid up. Those looking at government schools will have less choice but schools are normally keen to show that they have native speaking teachers.
The language schools I have worked at have always cited the diversity of accents at the school as a major benefit to students and I agree. However there are many different language schools and parents can find those with only native speakers and others where they might get teachers with less common accents.
The benefit of learning from teachers with different accents
I have always felt that students gain a lot by having teachers with a variety of different accents. Even within the UK and USA there are a huge number of different accent and dialects.
In the real world students can’t choose who they must speak English with. By having an education with teachers from around the world a student can be more prepared to use English the real world, not just in the classroom.
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