Sam Thompson

It's a crazy world of English out there

Imagine being a student trying to get to grips with all those accents?

As a native English speaker who has done some fairly extensive travelling, I've realised the advantages I've had when it comes to understanding the many different "flavours" of English that exist.

I often take for granted that I understand "schedule" is pronounced "SKEH-djule" or "SHEH-djule", depending on where you're from. I am fully aware that "chips" could also be confused with "crisps", and "a-LU-mi-num" is also "al-u-MIN-e-um". And, has anyone besides my MS Word dictionary even noticed that I'm using UK spelling and grammar?

These kinds of differences in English are things I just write-off to different cultures and ways of learning, but for Thai students, from whom I all-too-often hear that London is the capitol of America (not even the US... read: culturally unaware), national/regional English differences make something that's already quite complicated... well, ridiculous.

I've found this to be especially difficult for private and/or corporate students in Thailand, as they often enroll in multiple sections of 20/30/40 hour courses that each have different instructors and course materials. "But teacher, my last teacher said ‘tomAHto', and you say ‘toMAto', so who is right?" From the standpoint of someone trying [well... lazily trying] to learn Thai from different people who pronounce the same things differently, I can completely understand the problem. What is there to do?

Pronunciation exacerbated, overall accents are another biggie. Amusingly to me, in my experience most Thai public schools and language centers gravitate towards British English textbooks, focusing on UK grammar and spelling. Yet, often, when a teacher pronounces a word with a British accent, the students respond with a blank stare. Repeat the word again, trying to sound like Brad Pitt, and bingo! The eagle has landed.

To be fair, many Americans (of which I must admit I am, for better or worse) I know have no idea what someone with a thick Brummie or Scottish accent is saying either; I often forget that I'm an oddball in that my favorite TV shows include Are You Being Served, Yes Minister, and Black Adder, among many other British comedies, and allowing me to be exposed to many of these regional accents and/or dialects. What can I say, I'm a sucker for old Brit Coms.

Whereas Americans at least share the same general language and vocabulary, my Thai students often have quite a hard if not impossible time understanding accents that are different than those they are accustomed to; Thai focuses far more on a mainstream pronunciation than English due to its tones, and listening for multiple pronunciations of the same word is no easy feat. I've given up watching Sherlock and Top Gear with my Thai girlfriend without subtitles.

I always try to draw attention to the differences in UK versus US peculiarities (and I'm generalising here-all native English varieties) as they arise in classes. My explanation is typically something positive along the lines of, that's the cool yet confusing thing about English; there are many "correct" ways to pronounce and write English. Unless someone has chosen for you [as is often the case here], just pick one way and go for it!


" American English tends to be easier for students to cope with"...bit of a misleading statement there Jack...surely you mean, " An American accent tends to be easier for students to cope with"...? The term "American English"( correct me if I'm wrong), was officially done away with sometime in the 1920s...It truly puzzles me as to why any educated person would refer to the English language as, "American, Australian, Indian..."

By Daniel James, Bangkok (2nd October 2014)

I found in all my years here that American English tends to be easier for students to cope with. It is a more "relaxed," (although many claim more sloppy), than British English. I have always preferred the AUA Interchange books because of the real American expressions such as "Hi, how's it going?" etc. Students love these expressions and consider them, "den," or cool. Actually, as long as a student can use whatever English decided upon to communicate, and as long as the student understands how he or she is communicating, trivial things like American or British pronunciation, some word meanings and spelling can all be worked out. I teach my students to speak any way they chose, but NEVER to mix American and British English in writing. It's got to be 100% only of one or the other.


By Jack Gilead, Prachin Buri (1st October 2014)

Surely the only native speakers of English are the English.

By Keith, Liverpool (29th September 2014)

Good stuff, and unlike the previous commenter this makes perfect sense to me. I've found the same in studying languages myself - such as northern vs. southern Chinese and all the dialects and different languages in between. Or having difficulty understanding Peruvian Spanish and being told by a Chilean friend he also could not understand. Keep up the good work!

By Scott, China (29th September 2014)

"Amusingly to me, in my experience most Thai public schools and language centers gravitate towards British English textbooks, focusing on UK grammar and spelling. Yet, often, when a teacher pronounces a word with a British accent, the students respond with a blank stare."
Amusingly to me...this doesn't make sense. If schools/language schools gravitate towards "English English" surely the students are already familiar with "English English"...21 years living in Thailand, I've never encountered the dilemma you seem to regularly face.

By Daniel James, Bangkok (19th September 2014)

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