Volume 12 Number 2
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Bedrettin Yazan, University of Maryland College Park, U.S.
Bengü Çalışkan Selvi, University of Maryland College Park, U.S.

Bedrettin Yazan

Bengü Çalışkan Selvi

In recent decades, English has gained an internationally crucial position across the globe and proved to be the dominant language in science, medicine, politics, business, telecommunication, education, arts, and sports. As Kachru (1990) stated, "It is now well-recognized that in linguistic history no language has touched the lives of so many people, in so many cultures and continents, in so many functional roles, and with so much prestige, as has the English language since the 1930s" (p. 5). This makes English the lingua franca of the 20th century (Crystal, 1997), and the current circumstances demonstrate that it will sustain its position in the 21st century as well. The diverse sociocultural contexts in which English is spoken and the diverse uses of language in culturally distinct international contexts have resulted in a linguistic diversity in English, or many varying English languages (Kachru, 1990). This diffusion and diversity have been cogently depicted by Kachru (1985) with the three concentric circles of English: the inner circle, the outer circle, and the expanding circle.

The varieties across the uses of English language by the people in these three circles have posed a challenge for English language teaching (ELT) and research practices around the world. This pedagogical challenge becomes much more intense in teaching English pronunciation to English language learners because pronunciation is the linguistic aspect that considerably varies across world Englishes. Rajadurai (2006) pointed out that particularly as a consequence of the "existence of substratum languages in non-native countries," the variations across Englishes have become "most conspicuous in the area of phonology" (p. 43). Crystal (2000) affirmed this by remarking, "I have heard a conversation where the linguistic accommodation between the multinational participants was so great that everyone adopted a range of phonological modifications―such as articulating final consonants carefully, and speaking in a more syllable-timed way" (p. 15).


According to Levis (2005), "the history of pronunciation in ELT is a study in extremes because its role and importance has substantially changed due to the major shift in ELT methods" (p. 369). The decline of audiolingualism and the emergence of the communicative language teaching (CLT) method "led to a concomitant marginalization of pronunciation research and teaching" (Derwing & Munro, 2009, p. 476). Placing less stress on the explicit teaching of pronunciation, CLT puts forward that students can improve their oral production skills through exposure to sufficient input in target language (Derwing & Munro, 2009). The marginalization of pronunciation has also affected the way teacher-training programs conceive pronunciation instruction and the significance they put on teaching how to teach pronunciation. As a result, English language teachers have been "left to teach themselves how to address pronunciation with their students" (Derwing & Munro, 2009, p. 389). Therefore, pronunciation teaching is now decided by teachers' intuitions rather than research results (Derwing & Munro, 2005; Levis, 2005).

Two Contradictory Paradigms

As Levis (2005) noted, two competing paradigms have influenced the pronunciation research and pedagogical practices: the nativeness principle and the intelligibility principle. The former embraces the idea that a second language learner can and should achieve native-like pronunciation in the target language whereas the latter contends that being understandable should be the yardstick of achievement in pronunciation pedagogy (Levis, 2005). As the current research indicates, the aspects that explicate the principal elements of nativeness (i.e., the age of first language exposure, linguistic competence, identity, and various other attributes) are still not clear and "drawing a boundary between native and nonnative varieties of English remains highly controversial" (Butler, 2007, p. 733). Moreover, nativeness in pronunciation before critical age of acquisition has been shown to be a biologically conditioned phenomenon, which leads to the "conclusion that aiming for nativeness was an unrealistic burden for both teacher and learner" (Levis, 2005, p. 370). Derwing and Munro (2005) maintained that "it may do more harm than good for teachers to lead learners to believe that they will eventually achieve native pronunciation or to encourage them to expend time and energy working toward a goal that they are unlikely to achieve" (p. 384). As an alternative to the nativeness paradigm, the intelligibility principle highlights three cardinal points: "(a) communication can be remarkably successful when foreign accents are noticeable or even strong; (b) there is no clear correlation between accent and understanding; and (c) certain types of pronunciation errors may have a disproportionate role in impairing comprehensibility" (Levis, 2005, p. 370). This principle seems to accommodate and embrace the varieties of English that reflect its ubiquitous presence all over the world.

Questioning the Idea of "Standard" Accent

As English language has become the lingua franca with "the rapid pace of globalization and increased intercultural communication" (Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010, pp. 229-30), nonnative English-speakers now outnumber native speakers three to one (Crystal, 2003). Approximately one billion people speak English as a second or foreign language (Cook, 2007). The novel conditions borne out of the current presence of English have brought about the proliferation and diversification of accents, which stimulates the following question: How do English language teachers / language teacher educators / textbook authors handle this diversity in pronunciation teaching? Should any accent(s) serve as models for pronunciation teaching?

What second language teachers ultimately aim for is to help learners get prepared to engage in successful communication in authentic social and cultural encounters. When the circumstances stemming from the international status of English are taken into account, practitioners in the field of ELT should follow Derwing and Munro's (2009) suggestion that "when we talk about accents, we are talking about different ways of producing speech [and that] everyone has an accent, and no accent, native or non-native, is inherently better than any other" (p. 476). Laying the sole emphasis on and prioritizing one variety of "native" speech production by considering it "the standard" and neglecting the existence of multiple accents in every circle can be seen as consciously blinding oneself to the acute reality as well as subscribing to the native-speaker fallacy (Phillipson, 1992). As long as an English course does not include the array of possible accents of English in varying settings, the learners will not be well prepared for diverse communication settings in English. The multiplicities and varieties of accent should be acknowledged and celebrated in actual classroom contexts.


Levis (2005) stated that "the intelligibility principle carries sensitivity to context [and it] assumes both a listener and a speaker, and both are essential elements for communication" (p. 372). Lindemann (2005) maintained that "native speakers' perceptions of the language of various groups can provide insights into their relationships" because how they view different groups affects their evaluation of different language varieties (p. 188). This suggests that listeners' perceptions of accent also affect their thoughts about levels of intelligibility. Rubin's (1992) study is a good example of how listeners' attitudes and prejudices toward different groups and accents influence intelligibility. The participants in the study were asked to listen to the same lecture; however, they were shown a photo of either an Asian or Caucasian instructor while listening to the lecture. Although they listened to the same lecture (from the same speaker), the participants who were provided an Asian instructor photo indicated that they could not perform well on the lecture comprehension task because of the speaker's accent.

On the other hand, Derwing and Munro (2009) noted that having an accent can be both an advantage and disadvantage for second language speakers. One of the perceived benefits of having an accent is that "it can signal to language learners' interlocutors that they may need modified input or, as it used to be called, FOREIGNERTALK" (p. 484). The other perceived advantage is that "some accents, particularly European accents, are associated with sophistication," which can lead some individuals to intentionally adopt foreign speech patterns (p. 484). However, having an "accent" also brings some disadvantages to second language speakers. Some second language speakers are perceived as uneducated, or not intelligent just because of their different accent (Derwing & Munro, 2009), which shows how difference can be perceived as deficiency. In addition, Derwing and Munro (2009) noted that accented speech may sometimes hinder intelligibility and therefore may lead to frustration and embarrassment on the speaker's part. Last but not the least, accented speech also results in discriminatory practices in employment against second language speakers (Lindemann, 2005).


The concept of native speakerism which has long been the dominant orientation in the pronunciation pedagogy has been challenged by studies investigating the proliferation of accents across Kachru's (1985) three circles. The interest in the notion of English as a lingua franca or English as an international language provided an alternative lens to the nativeness principle/intelligibility paradigm. Nevertheless, review of the current literature on accent and pronunciation teaching indicates that "despite the current dominance of intelligibility as the goal of pronunciation teaching" (Levis, 2005, p. 371) in pronunciation research, language curriculum still largely relies upon the nativeness principle. This is reinforced by the current social constructs concerning accent and perpetuates the native-speaker fallacy in the field. Therefore, many people are advocating for or privileging a "standard" pronunciation by considering the others as inferior rather than different. This model of deficiency plays a detrimental role in language teaching and should be replaced with the stance that holds the premise that whether native speakers or nonnative speakers, everyone has an accent. Hence, teaching professionals who familiarize their students with the varieties of accents (without prioritizing any one over another) that exist in the settings where they are planning to use English should help the students divorce their individual conceptualization from the native-speaker fallacy.


Butler, Y. G. (2007). How are nonnative-English-speaking teachers perceived by young learners? TESOL Quarterly, 41, 731-755.

Cook, V. (2007). The goals of ELT: Reproducing native-speakers or promoting multicompetence among second language users? In C. Davison & J. Cummins (Eds.), International handbook of English language teaching (pp. 237-248). New York: Springer.

Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Crystal, D. (2000). The future of English. In D. Lynch & A. Pilbeam (Eds.), Heritage and progress: Proceedings of the SIETAR Europa Congress 1998 (pp. 6-16). Bath, UK: LTS Training and Consulting, 2000.

Crystal, D. (2003). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of English Language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Derwing, T. M., & Munro, M. J. (2005). Second language accent and pronunciation teaching: A research-based approach. TESOL Quarterly, 39, 379-397.

Derwing, T. M., & Munro, M. J. (2009). Putting accent in its place: Rethinking obstacles to communication. Language Teaching, 42, 476-490.

Gluszek, A., & Dovidio, J. F. (2010). The way they speak: A social psychological perspective on the stigma of nonnative accents in communication. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14, 214-237.

Kachru, B. J. (1990). World Englishes and applied linguistics. World Englishes, 9(1), 3-20.

Kachru, B. B. (1985). Standards, codification and sociolinguistic realism: The English language in the outer circle. In R. Quirk & H. G. Widdowson (Eds.), English in the world: Teaching and learning the language and literatures (pp. 11-30). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press and The British Council.

Levis, J. (2005). Changing contexts and shifting paradigms in pronunciation teaching [Special issue]. TESOL Quarterly, 39, 369-377.

Lindemann, S. (2005). Who speaks "broken English"? US undergraduates' perceptions of nonnative English. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 15(2), 187-212.

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Rajadurai, J. (2006). Pronunciation issues in non-native contexts: A Malaysian case study. Malaysian Journal of ELT Research, 2, 42-59.

Rubin, D. L. (1992). Nonlanguage factors affecting undergraduates' judgments of nonnative English-speaking teaching assistants. Research in Higher Education, 33, 511-531.

Bedrettin Yazan, byazan@umd.edu, is a second-year doctoral student and graduate/research/teaching assistant in the Second Language Education and Culture program in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is currently teaching the course titled "Understanding Cross-Cultural Communication to Teach English Language Learners."

Beng ü Çalışkan Selvi, bengu@umd.edu, completed her undergraduate degree in English language teaching in Turkey. Currently, she is a second-year master's student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in TESOL at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she also works as a graduate assistant.

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