vendredi 6 avril 2012

Learning French: Accent Isn't the Most Important Thing

Thanks to Sonia Gil's Facebook page, I came across this TIME Ideas article, How to Speak Like A Native

As usual with reports in the popular media it is hard for the layman to know the truth. Journalists quote studies and academics and yet they seem to be able to present opposing viewpoints. I am not in a position to confirm the validity of the studies quoted in this article but never the less it is very interesting, and as a language learner, rather reassuring and encouraging.

The article says: research suggests that we would make better progress, and be understood more easily by our conversational partners, if we abandoned a perfect accent as our goal in the language learning process.
It goes on:
...traditional language instruction held up native-like pronunciation as the ideal, enforced by doses of “fear, embarrassment and conformity,”
In essence the article suggests that we should be focussing on comprehensibility rather than the 'unrealistic' ideal of native-like pronunciation which can create stress and be discouraging to language learners. 

What a relief! Whilst I have long held the belief that the primary reason for learning a language is about communication this article gives me permission to not beat myself up so much regarding my pronunciation. My pronunciation is not particularly good and yet I have found  that I can adequately communicate with native French speakers across a broad range of situations. It is no longer primarily problems of communication that drive me to want to improve my pronunciation, but rather pride. There are a however few notable exceptions. I don't think that I will ever be able to ask for a train ticket to Rouen without SNCF staff staring at me blankly. I definitely have to learn to pronunciate 'Rouen' in a manner that is more comprehensible to native speakers. 

6 commentaires:

  1. I don't agree with the article, especially in regards to the French language. I have French friends tell me all the time my grammar if perfect, construction great, but they can't understand me, because my pronunciation is wrong - and that's coming from my friends! I'm sure strangers would tell me flat out I just can't speak the language.

    1. I can certainly empathise with you although my grammar is far from perfect. I have had periods during my French language learning journey when I have focussed on grammar, other times it has been pronunciation, rhythm or vocabulary. All of these are important aspects of learning French but I try to keep them in perspective. They are the tools that help me work towards my primary goal of communication (which includes comprehension). To communicate effectively we cannot rely on grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary etc.

  2. The best way to say Rouen is to remove the R and replace with W, then finish with an N which stops in the nose (a semi mute N)
    I cannot say Accueil, and most likely because we don't have the vowel phonetic equivalent in english. My kids can say it perfectly!
    After my husband had been commuting to Rouen for 6 months, I met a french woman in the UK. When I asked her where she came from she gave the local pronunciation of Rouen. I though it was a different place. Then I moved there myself!
    I have french friends who understand me fine, and another who doesn't at all - equally interesting is that I also find her incredibly difficult to understand!
    Regional accents play a part perhaps?

    1. Thanks for the pronunciation tip for ROUEN 'My husband drives a lemon'.

      I think you are on to something regarding regional differences. I have a friend from Midi who I have quite a lot of problems understanding. A mutual Parisian friend confided to me that occasionally she too has trouble understanding some of what she says. I felt much better after that.

  3. I don't know whether the article is right or not but I'd like to believe that it is ...;0)

    1. I am always happy to find articles that allow me not to beat myself up so much about my pronunciation.


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