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How highly should we value pronunciation?


When I was reviewing the Speaking mark schemes for the new GCSE MFL exams beginning in 2018 (first teaching 2016) I picked up the fact that not all exam boards give a separate mark for pronunciation and intonation. It has led me to think again about this question: if a student can be understood without ambiguity does it matter at all whether their pronunciation is poor?

I am lucky as a language learner. I have, as they say, a "good ear" and can do accents quite easily. It is a natural ability many do not share (sorry to any readers who not believe in natural ability!). I was always impressed with students who shared this ability and you could hear it right from the start of their studies. To me it was one of the factors which identified the so-called gifted and talented linguist.

But if you can get your message across with a dodgy accent, does it actually matter? I have read that there is even some advantage to keeping some of your mother tongue accent: it reveals to the listener your geographical identity and it can sound charming, even sexy. If you have a very accurate accent it can be slightly disconcerting to the native speaker listener if they are uncertain of your roots.

On the other hand, native speakers are often impressed and surprised when they hear a British person with a near impeccable French accent. (This is, in my experience more common than the converse, probably owing to the slippery nature of English vowels compared with the phonetic simplicity of French ones.)

Logically, in language learning communication is the bottom line and grammar and pronunciation are only an issue when they hamper meaning. So maybe I'm just being a bit of an accent snob when I choose to value it myself.

What do you think?

BTW On the "sexy" thing maybe I should have tried less hard to sound French.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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