Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: helping someone with English pronunciation
Question: Hello,

I am a musician and college music professor. At the parish at which I attend church, our priest is Nigerian and speaks with a heavy accent, to the point where his English is sometimes unintelligible. This is frustrating for parishioners, as they cannot understand parts of his sermons.

I have offered to help him with his pronunciation of certain English sounds. He has agreed to accept my help.

I have no formal experience with linguistics; however, I grew up in a bi-lingual (German/English) family, and am gifted with communicating with and therefore helping international students. I taught Ear Training for 15+ years, and have an acute ability to recognize what creates sounds. Therefore, I believe that, with God's help, progress can be made.

Can you please give recommendations as to how I could get started on working with our priest on improving his accent when speaking English? For example, some helpful text we could work out of, or ways in which I could help, would be of great help to me.

Thank you very much for your service, and for your kind consideration.

Best wishes,

Francesca Tanksley

Reply: I would like to turn this around, and see it as a problem of comprehension, rather than production.

There is nothing wrong with this man's accent. It is no 'heavier' than your accent, and it doesn't need to be improved. But he has found himself in a situation where his accent is incompatible with the needs of his hearers. That is why he wants to make changes that will make it easier for them to understand him. He speaks English with an accent that is unfamiliar to them. He knows English sounds, but they are his own Nigerian English sounds, not the English sounds of his congregation.

I did a study in 2005 on interaccent intelligibility. I played two interviews to students in Britain and Singapore and tested their comprehension. One of the interviews was with a (typical) British student, and the other was with a (typical) Singaporean student. The results were striking, and surprising. Everyone was really good at understanding people from the same place as they were from. When it came to an unfamiliar accent, though, the range of skills in hearers varied very widely, some people being good listeners, and others poor listeners.
(you can read this at: http://anthea.id.au/antheab.html -- go to 2005b). Comprehension is a two-way activity and not the fault of the speaker.

You need to identify those things that cause the greatest problems to the hearers. I get the impression that you are in the US. Nigerian English, like most kinds of English English, generally pronounces /r/ only when it is followed by a vowel. This presents real challenges to US listeners, most of whom pronounce /r/ in all positions. One simple thing to ask him to try might be putting in a /r/ everywhere there is one in the spelling.

Anthea
Reply From: Anthea Fraser Gupta      click here to access email
 
Date: 07-Dec-2013
 
Other Replies:
  1. Re: helping someone with English pronunciation    James L Fidelholtz     (07-Dec-2013)
  2. Re: helping someone with English pronunciation    Madalena Cruz-Ferreira     (08-Dec-2013)
  3. Re: helping someone with English pronunciation    Herbert Frederic Stahlke     (08-Dec-2013)
  4. Re: helping someone with English pronunciation    Susan D Fischer     (07-Dec-2013)
  5. Re: helping someone with English pronunciation    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (09-Dec-2013)

Back to Most Recent Questions