Currently, the Arizona Board of Education is deciding if teachers who speak with an accent are fluent in English. (Read the full story here.) We have all heard how differently people in London, New York, or Baton Rouge speak English, but are those different speakers still fluent in English? Where does accent stop and fluency begin?
Fluency is defined as being able to speak and write quickly or easily in a given language. It comes from the Latin word fluentem meaning “to flow.” Accent comes from the Middle French meaning “particular mode of pronunciation.” In the original Latin accentus means ”a song added to speech.” Linguists define accents as only affecting pronunciation, not vocabulary or grammar. Rather, a dialect is a version of a language that affects pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar and may interfere with comprehension.
Here’s a little of the backstory in Arizona: In the 1990s, there was a big push for bilingual education in Arizona because of the large Spanish-speaking population. Bilingual classrooms have a dual purpose: to help non-native English speakers perfect their English and to teach native English speakers another language in an immersive environment. Arizona recruited teachers from Latin America to help expand their bi-lingual schools, but in 2000, the state reversed the decision and all schools became English-only again. For the last decade, those teachers recruited from Latin America have continued teaching across Arizona. Read more about bilingualism here!
Last year, Arizona Board of Education decided that any teacher deemed not “fluent” in English cannot teach young, English-language learners. In this case, the state is interpreting an accent as disqualifying a teacher. The Board defines the changes in accent very minutely. For example, if a teacher says, “lebels” instead of “levels” that is determined to be an accent so serious that a teacher cannot teach.
Accent, obviously, can affect comprehensibility, but does it affect communication so much to make the teacher not fluent in English? Across the country, accents vary dramatically. A Minnesotan sounds as different from a Bostonian or a Virginian as they do from some non-native English speakers who speak with an accent. Do accents affect how you perceive fluency?
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Interesting article, but I honestly couldn’t read through all of it due to all the hotlinked words you have in there. It’s distracting. As a dictionary site, you could theoretically hyperlink every word on here. I don’t think it’s necessary for your blog posts–especially since if a person needs to look up a word, they can easily copy/paste it into your search box at the top. I would’ve tweeted this article, but can’t bring myself to share content like this.
When I was a child, I had an English teacher comment that “tell” and “tale” seemed to be homonyms. Of course, they only were when she pronounced them; she had an extremely strong southern accent.
When my mother first started going to school, my grandmother says she came home sounding like she was an African-American stereotype, because she began picking up the dialect from her African-American teacher.
In light of what we already have, even among native speakers of English, it seems sort of silly to fire someone over an accent. I can see an argument making sense if they’re teaching children at a level where the children are first learning to pronounce words. I mean, when my teacher told me “tell” and “tale” were homonyms in 3rd grade, I was old enough to think “….no… no they’re not.”
But it’s really hard to justify enforcing that for only one particular racial profile.
I am bilingual and am raising my child the same way to speak English and Spanish. I don’t have an accent in either language as I have spoken both from a very young age as is my goal with my child. He is now in Pre-K and I have noticed that the accent the teacher uses my son emulates. We have a Hispanic last name but since his teacher says is with an American accent he now says it the same way even if I always say it with the proper Spanish accent. I don’t agree with AZ to have removed bilingual education as I believe it’s very important, but I do agree that accents for teachers of very young children should be very minimal. I work very hard to teach my child two languages with proper pronunciation and accent for both and it would be very counterproductive if a teacher changed it.
Makes sense. If you’re trying to learn to speak English, its best if you learn from a native English speaker, as well as all other languages. But firing people is far from being the best solution.
My question to the Arizona state school board would be “So if Stephen Hawking volunteered to teach science in one of your schools, would you turn him away?” If yes then I can’t argue with them. I would dispute the assertion that fluency is linked to comprehensibility given that a Glaswegian is just as fluent as an Australian in ‘English’ but neither would be particularly comprehensible to the other.
If they want to rectify any percieved problem then send the teachers found to be less comprehensible to elocution lessons, but I’d be surprised if they could replace any teacher they fired.
interesting topic to discuss
I’m an American whose grown up in a third world country- I speak two languages fluently, and I don’t really have an accent in either. There are always going to be different ways of pronouncing things. I can understand if it’s an incredibly thick latino (for example) accent- but not if it’s as minimal as “lebels” instead of “levels.” That’s bordering on the extreme. I don’t know, but you can only be so careful- if you do any more than that you begin to become paranoid.
First one needs to define “young”, how many hours a day does that teacher spend with a class, what subject area are we talking about? If you have a teacher that spends most of her day with one class of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders … then an accent becomes an issue. If the teacher has an accent but only teaches math to a different class every hour, then it is less of an issue. If she teaches to older kids, it’s not an issue as long as she is understandable.
I love my outlander friends, but I wouldn’t want to spend the evenings correctly my child’s accent from spending the day with someone with a strong accent.
Could we learn about the word “Xenophobia”?
I am bilingual and an ESL teacher. I think fluency is enough criterion to teach — well among other things. As stated above fluency is defined as being able to speak and write quickly or easily in a given language. Accents can be tricky but shouldn’t disqualify anyone from teaching any language.
New Zealander’s short [e] in words such as “bed” or “bread” is closer to a medium-long [i] by other speakers of English and speakers of other languages, such as actually does not exist in English that is usually accepted as standard (where there is a short [i] close to a schwa in words like “pit”, and a long [i] in words like “beam”, “bean”, “been”).
Kiwi’s [brid] for “bread” may be funny at first, but it does limit communication in examples such as “set as(tr)ide” and “sit as(tr)ide” etc.
Oops, move that possessive Genitive apostrophe to behind the Plural mark “-s” in both cases above! Or ad an indefinite article in front.
This topic is not limited to America. As an american living in Germany, there are accents in Germany that need subtitles in the evening news. In America as Europe, the accents show you where you are in the world. The question is, are they understandable?
The example you picked — “lebels” vs. “levels” — seems more like an example of an ignorance of proper pronounciation of the language than an accent. I suppose it might be the result of a speech impediment, but I don’t think that would be widespread enough to get into this conversation. I don’t mind requiring teachers to know how to pronounce common English words, or at least to recognize deviations from proper pronunciation. I do mind requiring them to take elocution courses to mask their regional or ethnic accents, as I understand what “accent” means. All you need to do is look at the kewpie doll tv anchors with their nice accent-free diction to realize that the absence of regional or ethnic accents is no indication of the intelligence and knowledge to be an effective teacher. Lighten up, y’all!
Language will always evolve, as it has over the previous thousands of years and will continue to evolve into the future, unless you wish to lock yourself away into a small hole somewhere and not let anything new come into your life, this is unavoidable. Grasp it, hold on to it and run with it, life is all about change.
I don’t see a problem with people from different cultures with different languages teaching our children, it gives them the ability to learn from them, and most importantly the ability to learn respect for other people and their differences.
The more we learn and understand each others differences, the better off we are as a community. And remember these days the community is not just our local neighbourhood. The world is becoming a much smaller place, and we should be teaching our children to communicate with all. Everyone has an accent to someone else.
In the case of teachers that can not pronounce something properly though, of course this will make it hard for the child, but removing them from the education system sounds extreme, just don’t let them teach English.
I lost a spelling bee once in elementary school because the teacher giving the words pronounced “stairs”, as “steers”, in her Boston accent. I even repeated the word as “steers”. I will never forget it, and maybe I learned a more valuable lesson than if I had won the contest. She, however, should have been corrected, and I am sure her peers (or pairs) were not going to challenge her.
I understand the worry for comprehensibility. However, after going through public schools all the way up through the university level in the United States, I have heard many mistakes made by “fluent” English speakers that likely would not be made by teachers or professors from a non-English speaking country. I found that many foreign teachers and professors spoke more coherent English, as they had learned the proper grammar in a foreign setting, as native English speakers learned mostly by absorbing and speaking what they had heard; as we know, many folks do not pride themselves on grammar and vocabulary. I’m sure even I have made mistakes in this passage alone.
Also, I am a bilingual person, fluent in Spanish and English. After having traveled through many different parts of the Spanish and English-speaking world, I understand that accents can make situations difficult to understand at times, but not incomprehensible. The worst thing that can happen is that you ask the speaker to repeat themselves.
It would be a near-fatal decision to decide that one region of dialect is the correct dialect over another. The major issue with this theory is that language has never stopped evolving and never will, including its accents. What may be decided as an accent today, could be considered the “norm” ten years from now.
I’m English. As far as I am concerned everybody in Arizona (in fact, in all USA) has an accent and therefore, according to the Arizona Board of Education, there are no fluent English speakers in Arizona (or USA).
Would the Arizona Board of Education consider “taut” as an acceptable pronuniciation of “thought?” If not, then there are very few fluent English speakers in Ireland or in the West Indies or in Nigeria.
A Scottish person would utter “paw,” “poor” and “pour” with three different pronunications. Yet most English people pronounce them all the same. So maybe most English people are not fluent in English?
I couldn’t distinguish between “tourist” and “terrorist” when George W. Bush spoke, so he must … oh hang on, shot myself in the foot with that one.
It is important that the students speak correctly as we are all judged on our abality to be understood by other English speakers….. If someone asked for a spirit-lebel or where the lebel crossing was, I do not think too many people in Sydney, Toronto or Dublin would understand
I live in an area of western Pennsylvania where there is a strong local accent. For example, the letter combination “oo” is pronounced like the sound of the letter “u,” so the word “pool” would be pronounced “pull” and the letter combination “ou” is pronounced like the letter combination “ah,” and the word “out” would be pronounced “aht.” I guess this would mean that any preschool or first grade teacher who grew up in this area would be deemed unacceptable. I understand the intent of the Arizona Board of Education, but anything can be carried to extremes.
Although the article is interesting and well written, the writer clearly shies away from what I imagine is the crux of the issue – non-native speaker accents. As difficult as some Scottish accents can be for many Americans, I doubt that a teacher from Scotland would fit into the scenario that the writer is insufficiently describing. On the other hand a native German speaker whose accent was difficult to understand might fit into it. However, if a German speaker had a German accent but was not difficult to understand I doubt there would be a problem because it is only one person – not enough to influence the linguistic development of students. What I imagine is the case here is that there are so many native Spanish speakers teaching in Arizona who are not bilingual but speak English as a second language, that there is a concern that students will grow up learning a non-native speech pattern. If those students already come from a Spanish speaking background they may grow up sounding like English is their second language even if they are in fact fluent. In the long term these hybrids also turn into a variety of the native language anyway, but the concern may be that in the short term they are not doing students any favours by having them leave school sounding like non-native speakers due to the large number of Spanish speakers speaking English around them, and, obviously having similar characteristics in their pronunciation, rythm, and intonation. The writer even uses an example of a very common mistake of Spanish speakers when they speak English – confusion of the v and b sounds due to the fact that in Spanish they are now indistinguishable. I don’t think there is any reason to be afraid of stating what the issue is really about; in fact an article that tries to explain things as clearly as possible has to be honest about the real issues of the story, otherwise you risk unnecessarily leaving your readers in the dark, while one would suppose that the whole point is one of illumination.
My two daughters were babysat from infancy through pre-K in the home of a woman who spoke English with a heavy Thai accent. Initially I worried about language development but it was not a problem. Children are more flexible than adults re language.
If the accent was the only concern, this would not be an issue. I have lived and traveled all over the US and the world and have adapted to whatever region I was in. The small community college I attend however is staffed by quite a few Hispanic teachers (with Masters degrees) who do not use the basic rules of English grammar or pronunciation. Their Spanish is very good and very proper — not so much with the English. This is the wrong place to be lacking in English skills. The students coming in from the High Schools are already at a disadvantage with poor English (Hispanic and native speakers). It is depressing to see them struggling with basic sentence formation in an academic environment and to know, that just like their instructors, they will pass the classes, get their degrees and will teach the next generation…
I teach in an international school overseas and the language of instruction is English. However, the differences between the accents of Alabama and New York are as nothing compared to English, American, Australian, South African, and Indian English, to say nothing of the Dutch, German, Spanish, French accents. Our students come from over thirty countries, which is true for many schools in the United States today. We want to educate our children to become global citizens who are knowledgeable contributors to the world of tomorrow. It is difficult to help them become such citizens if we do not respect and honor the differences, while at the same time building on the commonalities we all have.
This issue of accent affecting the way children learn to speak runs counter to everything we know about how speech develops (different than written language), and the bilingual mom trying to keep her child’s Spanish accent clean and proper is on a fool’s errand. Speech, including accent, is learned almost despite parents or teachers. A child’s peers have a much greater influence. So the native-English speaking child may not confuse tell with tale or sell with sale or feber for fever, and the bilingual child may end up Anglicizing his name.
This idea of verbal correctness seems a form of racism thinly disguised as diction. I hope Arizona can pull its head out of its butt before it does too much harm.
I guess someone with an American accent is not fluent in English. What are they drinking in Arizona?
i think its crucial for the elementary school children to be exposed to a proper language (be it English or else) Hence the idea of elocution lessons for elementary school teachers sounds like the answer to the problem since these teachers build the foundation for our kid’s education. However the older we get the less important a teacher’s accent becomes over the essence of the message they convey. Seems to me that kids with the good language base are much easier adapted to linguistic peculiarities of a speaker and are able to appreciate the knowledge of the lecturer despite any probable speech challenges.
PS apologies for any mistakes – English is my 2nd language:)
I commend anyone who learns to speak a language fluently, with or without an accent. Context is everything. Even someone with a very heavy accent is understandable if you are engaged in a meaningful conversation with that person. Besides, I also find it charming. Americans should be more ambitious in learning a new language, or at least more generous with those who try to learn ours.
I delight and thrill to hear English spoken with other accents, whether French, Spanish, Italian, Farsi, Asian or even Tagalog. Children are remarkably flexible. The accent one may learn from a 2nd-grade teacher will be “adjusted” by the accent he/she picks up from a 3rd-grade teacher, which will be influenced by the accent he/she is exposed to from a 4th-, 5th-, 6th-grade teacher and beyond. Having grown up all around the globe and having been exposed to hundreds of English accents, I’m a living example of how variety enriches a life.
I was an adult -in my 30’s – student taking algebra at a community college from an older women from eastern Europe who spoke with a rather thick accent. If I or another student asked questions about the problem she sometimes struggled to explain it because she lacked fluency in vocabulary beyond what the text book itself said. Since my grandparents came from Poland and Slovakia, and being used to the accent I became a translator for the teacher’s English. It was a tough class for a lot of us.
The teacher for advanced algebra was a young man from India, again with a thick accent. The first time he spoke there were audible groans from the class. It took several class sessions before any of us picked up his accent well enough to take notes in class. Accents can definitely affect leaning but I believe we have to find a way to make it work without being exclusionary.
The differences in accents across the United States, United Kingdom and Australia are categorised by variations in vowel sounds. It is entirely possible to be fluent in a language, yet have different vowel pronunciations. However, when one hears the accent of a non-native English speaker, one will undoubtedly hear a difference in pronunciation of consonants. Consonant sound variation can be a serious detriment when trying to teach young children. Children already have problems naturally when trying to learn the pronunciation of some consonants. It only reinforces mispronunciation when an adult has difficulty with the consonant as well. Not to fear though, if a non-native English speaker wishes to teach in English, they need only first admit that they do have the wrong pronunciation of certain consonants and then work with a native speaker to correct these mispronunciations. After that, they should be perfectly capable to teach young people.
A few years ago Oregon was firing Civil Service (Forestry, emergency personnel etc) if they DIDN’T speak Spanish. I lived in Arizona all of my adult life and at 42 I had to leave because I couldn’t get a job if I didn’t speak Spanish, my wife is a teacher and 6 years ago she couldn’t get a job for the same reason. So I say way to finally wake up Arizona Ledg!!! I think that all work visas should be revoked. …and yes I mean Mexican, Irish, British and Timbuktu, if you are hear on a work visa, go home. Then we can put our native and naturalized citizens to work. Then, after our economy is stronger we can reopen our borders again. My children were discriminated against in school because they were NOT Spanish. the teachers and children talked Spanish to each other leaving my children out. The were teased, picked on and harassed mercilessly. My son was in speech therapy for 3 years after we came up the PacNorthwest, because his English was so mixed with Mexican so badly that only the family could understand him. As far as Southern, Northern, Western accents I think that those who teach speech, should stay in the region of their accent so as to preserve the integrity of that region. It would be a shame if we no longer had a southern accent or Boston accent etc. It is part what makes America Great and does NOT need to be changed. After all who else knows what a chingadero(syn for thingamagig) is? If you’re not from the southwest you probably don’t but if you’re not form the eastern states you probably don’t know what a chigger (an insect)is. And most of all, if you’ve never been to the Jersey Pine Barrens and some one tells you “I need a dower to pay for the wudder so I can do the warsh” you would have had no idea what they said.
Once again, ridiculous politicians in Arizona are trying to impose their value on the public without clearly thought out their legislation. What people consider proper English is spoken in cinema made by Hollywood. People across America do not speak like that! This is a racist and xenophobic agenda, hidden behind the veil of protecting Arizona’s children.
What if any accent did Perter Jennings have?
[...] our lack of ‘Fluency’ — Has nothing to do with truancy. — We always showed up — and yet understand [...]
Im pretty fast at writing and reading. Im really good at everything. Im coooooooooooooooooooolllllllllllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11
As others have written here, I am not sure what Arizona classifies as an “accent”. There are over 50 global English dialects/accents, even within “native-speaking” English countries. (For fun, hear how 110 different words are pronounced in them here: http://www.soundcomparisons.com/) There are 10-12 within the US alone.
Studies have shown that babies “learn” the sounds of their native language by the age of 2. After that initial wiring, it becomes progressively more difficult to mimic the “correct” sound of another language. And children spend more time around parents and peers than teachers. So I don’t see why a teacher’s accent would make any difference in the long run.
I am in 100% of agreement with “Builder”. I have found that my personal experience being exposed to a variety of different English accents has been deeply useful. I don’t even need subtitles in Scottish movies.
The point that everyone seems to be missing or stepping past is the fact that no one has spoken “English” in the USA for over 200 years. Just as no one in Mexico has spoken Spanish for even longer. Is the “t” silent in the word “often”? If so, why? What we speak is a derivative of English, Ancient Latin, French, Ancient Greek and a plethora of other languages melted down and stirred up into one language over centuries of time. Hence part of the reason for the term “The Great American Melting Pot” and the reason for so many incongruities. But I think that the real question is, “do we really need to introduce an additional, strong foreign accent into the dialect of the American Southwest?” To those who say lebel for level is a minor error, try to carry on a conversation with someone who has such a heavy accent. I’ve tried, it’s difficult at best. The only speech impediment involved is a lack of understanding of the pronunciations of the American Language and in many cases a lack of concern. I say keep such heavy accents (be it Spanish, Scottish or Andorian) away from “English” instructional settings (i.e. developing language skills or directly teaching English) but it’s ok in the upper age brackets of education. I will NOT pretend to have sufficient understanding of the development of language skills to try to predict what age bracket is able to deal with different accents properly, I’ll leave that to the “experts”.
I am disturbed by Arizona, but that’s nothing new. I really wish everyone would stop saying “I don’t have an accent” – what the hell does that even mean? Of course you have an accent, EVERYONE has an accent. The way you say something, anything, is in your particular idiosyncratic accent, distinct from every other person in existence, and further molded by whatever regional quirks that are unique to your local.
I agree and disagree with the article but not much on the firing, rather on the hiring of teachers with strong accents. Here’s how I see it:
That you are teaching young or older students, if the accent you are using in an area that is not familiar with yours, most likely you are going to create confusion and induce people in error by not making yourself clear. The board hiring you should first meet the teacher and hear that person speaking as to make sure that all sounds are similar. “Lebel” for “level” is not acceptable in my opinion, but a matter of potato – potato is not so much to cry over.
I have worked in Germany (I am Canadian) in an international company alongside people from Germany, France, England, Spain and Italy. I had no issue with all of them until we hired this man from Liverpool, England. Worst of all, he was to work as my partner for English projects. The horror! I could not understand many of the words he spoke. Strangely enough, the Spanish ones had no problem at all. Still, it made working with him impossible. His accent was too strong and made everything sound strange to me. Others from Liverpool would have no issue with this, but I did and I would object to hiring him to my school if he wanted to teach (and I actually had a school).
Comprehension and clear pronunciation of syllables is very important. If the teacher can manage to use all letters of the alphabet as they should (although I might be looser on the vowels) and not sound like some letters have been replaced by others, I don’t think it’s much of an issue.
However, I will address this last thing on hiring teachers: in second grade of high school, we temporarily had a Belgian teacher. Her pronunciation was pretty bad although she managed to pretty much pronounce all the letters right. Or maybe it wasn’t the pronunciation, but rather her linking of letters together that made it awkward… Anyway, I think she still sounded a bit too French for my English taste. Sometimes, I believe it’s good to just go with your gut feeling. Hiring someone should also be a bit personal. How you think the person fits in rather than just fits the bill.
On the subject of firing a teacher on those same precepts, I am a bit hesitant. If someone hired a teacher knowing very well how this person spoke in an English-speaking country, and supposed to promote both languages equally (English and Spanish), I think this person made a mistake and has to suck it up. However, to make it politically correct, I may encourage or even pay a class for this teacher to better his phonetic abilities. People are too apt at dismissing someone when a problem arises instead of working on it. The government may even agree on setting such a program in the name of quality which may encourage others to do the same. I am very pro-quality within working companies, and I believe schools should also promote it as much as possible within the ranks of their teachers and other staff.
In my opinion, you can’t fire someone for their short-comings if you knew quite well what those short-comings were upon hiring. Don’t fire the person, work on the problem, and next time you hire, think and choose better.
I respect anyone who learns to speak and read English as a second language–it is not an easy language to learn! The problem comes when a teacher’s accent makes him or her incomprehensible to students. My son enrolled in a math course during his first semester at university. The teacher was Russian. She spoke English enough to be hired by the school but even when he talked with her one-on-one after class he could make out only about half of what she was saying. He dropped the class rather than fail because he couldn’t understand the teacher. By the way, he had already hadRussian friends in high school, but because they had learned English at a very young age, he had no trouble conversing with them.
Oui Work it.
There are lots of variables that go into it: 1) Is the accent so strong that it will distract the listener; 2) Does it matter is the teacher teaching math, English, history; and 3) Is the teacher mispronouncing the words or is the teacher placing the stress or accent on the wrong syllable, but comprehensible?
But, there is no necessary correlation between accent–be it regional accent, country accent, or non-native accent–and fluency as the article seems to suggest. So, it is a tricky business. I wonder if this move by Arizona is not linked with its recent anti-immigration laws and not so much with the propriety of teachers with accent.
My 16 year old son has several teachers that have accents. Not only is it hard for the students to understand the teachers’ pronunceation of words, there is also the issue of incorrect grammer. These teachers are not Spanish speakers and they are not teaching English (thank goodness). They are however teaching History, Science, and College Math. These are difficult classes with complicated definitions and explanations. There are plenty of other distractions in the over-crowded classroom and when you add in a miscommunication factor it can make learning difficult. I have communicated with these teachers myself over the phone and through email. Only because I speak with many people with many different accents from around the world and around the country everyday am I able to decipher their words and thoughts. Proper pronunciation of words and proper grammer are being pushed out and replaced with lax communication skills. When I was learning a foreign language, the teacher stressed and graded proper accent. Why shouldn’t the teachers of our children also be held to the same standards? By the way we live in Arizona.
I do hope that if they’re going to start firing teachers for having accents, they do it across the board, and not just single out those who have Hispanic accents. Even in college, I had professors whom I could scarcely understand because of their heavy accents; they were Japanese, French (and even British.) Should they have been fired? Only if they were trying to teach me English. The U.S. doesn’t have an official language (federally, any way,) so it seems silly to me to insist on having English-only rules for a nation where so many other languages are used.
This is just another way for Arizona to kick out immigrants and second-generation immigrants. People have accents and if you want your child to understand the world then they need to know that not everyone speaks in the same tone.
I go to college in Hawaii, where we have more professors that don’t speak English as a native language than I’ve ever seen before in one place. Of the professors that have accents, I have: 2 Chinese professors, 1 Indian (from India, not Native American), 1 Malaysian, and 1 Australian.
The Australian, despite having a clearly different accent from me and saying words completely differently, I have zero problems understanding. Occasionally he’ll pronounce a word and it’ll sound weird to me and I’ll think his pronunciation of it is silly, but I still know what he said.
The professors that speak other languages are a different story. Despite the fact that if I strain myself to listen carefully, I can tell they have a good grasp on grammar and vocabulary, there’s still the fact that I have to strain myself to understand them, and therefore can’t really apply myself in understanding the material while I’m listening.
I realize this discussion is more for elementary school kids, and older kids and college students just have to suck it up when their teachers have accents, but I think those people that have very heavy accents, if they decide they want to pursue a teaching career, should probably only teach their native language. It’s just too difficult to understand them in any other subject, and I feel like it decreases my ability to learn from lectures.
Accents are a tough thing when it comes to education. If someone’s a great teacher and they have an accent that makes some words hard to understand for the students, the students won’t walking away thinking “Hey, that’s a great teacher”. They’ll walk away thinking “I didn’t learn a thing in that class.”
While it’s ridiculous to say they can’t teach in English-speaking schools entirely, someone above suggested having them at higher grade levels.
For the grades focussed on learning to write, read, (or hand-writing) the ideal is to have someone who would be pronouncing the words the way English-speakers pronounce it naturally. I think teachers with an accent would be more suited to a high school position. I am 100% them teaching junior high aged kids because I was an A+ grade math student until the year I had a math teacher with a heavy accent (and thus I became a below average math student). So it can make a big difference.
As far as British accents (etc.), I don’t see an argument at all. Technically, that’s how we’re supposed to pronounce words. Technically.
Summary: when students are young and still learning the language for themselves, it’s better to have a teacher without an accent.
Fluency in a language is one thing…accent is a whole other Frankenstein. They are not the same and either can be a bad thing when you are trying to learn, regardless of if it’s Grade 1 or Post Graduate. I had a professor who was born and raised in Bombay, India. For systemic (“sis-stem-ick”) he pronounced it “sis-ta-mick.” Threw me every time!
I don’t think it should be a big issue, but if it is, wouldn’t it be better to give teacher’s a course on pronunciation instead of firing them? And I don’t want to get political about it, but, as a lot of people here has pointed out, different accents occur between US people too. So, why is it that Arizona’s board wants to fire Latin American teachers alone?
Anyway, leaving the political aspect aside, what kind of an accent do the people in the Arizona’s board has? Southern?
Accent varies from place to place.as i am an indian and i work in a call center.i receive calls from united states.so generally say i have an accent but its true that everyone does have an accent.they have american accent and i have a neutral accent.even once george bernard shaw said,”can u shew me any english women who speaks english well?only foreigners who are taught how to speak it speak it well.”so accent does not affect the fluency.but one should have to focus on grammar and correct pronunciation.
I have lived in the deep south for 4 years now and acquired an accent that my relatives up north make fun of….. so am I no longer “fluent” in English? I’d argue that. I speak English fine, just pronounce things differently than they do. It’s like the “po TAY toe” versus “po TAH toe” thing. It’s the same vegtable regardless of the pronunciation.
I do East Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield and many of my lecturers are East Asian themselves with quite heavy Japanese, Chinese and Korean accents and perhaps even questionable fluency. But with a little effort on the part of the students to listen carefully, get used to the accent and ask questions where something isn’t clear, it does not need to pose a problem. It is well worth having the expertise of a native East Asian at the price of listening a little harder.
I think there are times when the message of a teacher’s lesson is lost when the student has to interpret the accent before comprehending the content. It is easy to get behind in class when you can’t understand the teacher. I don’t necessarily mean hispanic accents only, I mean from anywhere whether they be deep south, Russian, Mexican, French, etc. You may be the most brilliant scholar on a particular topic. However, if the majority of the students are constantly struggling with your thick accent, then your effectivity as a teacher is greatly diminished. Language, no matter which one, is the basis of our communication!
My sister and I grew up in the same states, Navy Brats, both of us. We traveled all during our K-12 years. We’ve lived all over the country, though born in Tennessee. My sister speaks with a different accent than I do. I am an American Sign Language interpreter. She works with computers. Her accent would probably lead people to think she isn’t really smart. She’s brilliant; she’s much smarter than I am. My accent is like those of TV and Radio broadcasters. Her use of language frequently breaks the rules. That’s because she knows the rules so well, she tosses the rules out when she wants to do so. I would hate to see someone fired because of an accent. It isn’t a good measure of intelligence. A parrot can speak with any accent. That doesn’t mean it has the intelligence of the person from whom it learned to speak!
this is a very interesting debate, but this “fluency” and “accent” thing is very vague. Are they just attacking native Spainsh speakers with a Spanish accent or just accents in general? If this were a British speaking in a British accent, would the Board still discard the person of his or her teaching opportunity? Sometimes native English speakers who are born in the US have strong regional accents that are hard for outsiders to understand and comprehend. The idea that a different accent can hinder a child’s English skills just kills me. I surely think that English is the major language spoken in the US, so the kids will have exposure to English outside of their academic teachers.
None other than William F. Buckley learned Spanish as his first language from his nanny. Did that in any way affect his English pronunciation? This is atempest in a tea pot.
It depends on how thick the foriegn accent is. Does it keep you from being understood? If communication is problem then I would say it is qualifying factor However, having accent is normal in second language even among those who grew up bilingual.
I KNOW the difference between fluency and … accentuation . There’s a guy from Mexico who semi-knows English, and another guy who just lived there for a year, and I can tell the difference. And it’s a big one.
(Is that spelled accentuation?)
Great for the Arizona Board of Education. They will obtain a generation of students with no accent, but who will never find a decent job in a bilingual country. US Hispanics are 50 million now. This is the second spanish-speaking country in the world.
Okay.. can someone tell me what is wrong with the following headline? And why is this site full of spelling and grammatical mistakes?
CAN AN ACCENT GET YOU FIRED?
As Arizona debates firing teaches with accents, learn what linguists think about accent and fluency.
If you want to get technical, English is only properly spoken by the English, not Americans.
As someone with a PhD in General Linguistics, I will offer that the entire idea of someone with any kind of accent must not be fluent in a language is more than dubious – it’s outright wrong. I’m surprised there is even debate. Competence does not equal performance, and by that tenet (central to all study of language), fluency is separated from accent.
Do accents affect how we perceive fluency? That depends on many factors.
The bigger question is: do accents affect how we connect with people? The answer is a big definite yes. We tend to want to connect more with people whose accent makes us feel comfortable when we communicate, given everything else stays the same.
yeah lets talk about xenophobia next
The only way to not have an accent is to not have a language. Unless you are a mute, you have accent. I have a thick Southern Appalachian English accent which can be difficult for others, only a state away, to understand. As I have traveled/travelled the world I have to try and minimize my natural accent and try to adopt a more “TV American” or American mid-Western accent so as to be understood (with limited success). Where do you draw the line? Should I be allowed to teach English? English is my native tongue, am I not “fluent” enough? Language is not set in stone as many of you like to think, it is a living thing that changes from region to region, and from decade to decade.
An accent should not be confused with Fluency. I live in New England, and around here accents can vary pretty widely even in small areas and coummunities. A Brookly or Boston accent, or Rhode Islander dropping their ‘r’s’ doesn’t mean a person isn’t fluent.
Before in highschool I had a maths teacher who had this asian accent…he was so hilarious!
yeah i get it
I am not sure we should be confusing accent/pronunciation with fluency at all. Surely fluency entails whole sentence structures being confused, such as tenses, cases, etc. whereas accent confuses the sound of a vowel more often than not. What matters is that the speaker can be understood. I can’t get quite so excited about mispronouncing a consonant such as “b” or “v”, as in “level” or “lebel”. Will context not take care of that? However, a teacher should get that right, whatever the human rights issue is.
As a fluency issue, the different types of past tense for example in English can be very confusing. “I stayed in England”, “I have stayed in England”, “I have been staying in England”, etc., is very frustrating for a non-native English speaker who in their own language use a different kind of past tense structure. However, context can supply the correct interpretation, but is it fluent to mix up these tenses in English?
However, a wrong accent on the other hand could actually be dangerous. I am trying to visualize the pronunciation of the vowels “e” and “a”, for example. Take an air traffic controller getting airline prefixes confused in an airspace where both vowels are prevalent, such as years ago over the UK, where not only BE flights but also BA flights were flying at the same time. Somehow, the Civil Rights issue would have been very debatable whether to put people in danger and employ a wrongly accented person in ATC or not.
Also newsreaders surely would be required to speak with the accent most prevalent in the area where most of their listeners live? While Scottish and English accents are perfectly interchangeable, a Bavarian and Northern German dialect might not be so.
As to the New Zealander “e” and “i” as quoted above, “setting astride a tricycle” and “sitting astride it” might not be such a problem as “setting” requires an object as in “setting a child astride a tricycle”. Where the problem arises is in such phrases as “setting an exam” and “sitting an exam”.
I think it all depends on the severity of the accent. In my college course, I had a teacher that was from Nigeria. Not a single person in my class could understand what he was saying. He would have to waste time in class to spell it on the board and explain everything to us. Most people did not pay attention in class. He would say “cashum” but he really meant calcium. And there were many other words. I know that from that class on, I never enrolled in a class where the teacher’s last name looked foreign just in case they had an accent.
Humm… that sounds like racism to me. But then again, what do I know about past and contemporary American History?
This isn’t only for young children. In universities too, where teachers are hired purely on their expertise and not their ability to communicate their knowledge, there’s a lot of extremely thick accents that leave their lectures wholly indecipherable. It’s to the point where there’s no purpose in attending class, and it’s not one or two isolated incidents OR only one or two people saying so. Especially in a multi-cultural environment where a lot of students don’t have English as their first language, an accent that dissolves any hope of clarity can be the difference between a beautiful grade and a hopeless fail.
you say tomato i say tomaato….
I think with our melting pot history, it is interesting to see how we haven’t come all that far. Years ago, my Croatian grandparents couldn’t get jobs because they sounded unintelligent; now my urban students are looked at differently because they sound like they’re from the ‘hood. Fluency and sound — are they different, I’m not sure. Is “phono-ism” wrong? Of course! And, if you think otherwise, then shame on you. But, all of us make judgment calls about the sound of another person’s language, whether it’s our own or not. Polish doesn’t sound as pleasant to most people as, say, Italian. It is what it is. The real question is simple: when are we going to get over ourselves?
I think this is a crazy idea. The world is a melting pot. Keeping only certain types of instructors only limits the child. I had never had a foreign instructor until high school. I learned Chinese for four years; that allowed me to take my time to understand the instructor in his lessons. It also assisted me in college where most of my professors were from Africa and they spoke English but I could hardly understand them. But I took my time and used the note-taking tools I used with my Chinese teach to get through the courses. Its not the end of the world…We all so forget that it is the parents job to work with the child. My mother constantly corrected my grammar and pronunciation…We all have an accent…so where do we go from here?
wow, this is an interesting discussion
Accents shouldn’t matter when it comes to schooling. I can understand if it was only for English teachers, but for every single teacher not to have the slightest accent is obsurd. Every state and every person in each state speaks differently, for some it is just accents but some people have lisps, so does this apply to them as well? They should choose their teachers by whom has the best background for the job, not how they speak. Many people in high ranking positions have strange ways of speaking (to my ears, anyway – I’m Californian). I can hardly understand many southerners and find their accents a little odd, but there are millions of people who speak like that, it’s not as if you can avoid running into one, so shouldn’t students be surrounded by (maybe not many) but a variety of accents? So that if they ever move to a place where a different accent than their own is the norm they will not be so daunted by it?
Really, on the English speak English. American’s speak American and call it English. I’m from NY and have a VERY heavy NY accent so I guess I can’t teach in AZ either. If the teacher is good and the students learn, that should be the only standard for keeping for firing.
I laughed at your story about “tell” and “tale.” It reminded me of the guy from Ohio who scored a job in Florida, and moved down. He quickly went native, bought a lot in a nice park, and put up a double-wide. The contractor spoke to him about putting in a driveway, and offered him a choice between concrete and shale. Being a northern boy, he knew he wasn’t going to have to shovel snow off it, but thought that some grey crushed gravel would provide a nice accent. He went off to work just as the crew was arriving and returned later in the day to this strip of white crap. “What’s this?” he protested. “That’s not shale!” “Course ’tis.” replied the contractor. “That there’s oyster shale.”
I think this is like discrimination. i think as long as your students can understand you and you teach well do your job well you can teach well grade school. just b.c some one struggles to get rid of there accent doesn’t give any one the right to fire them. they grew up with that accent… how would you feel going to teach or getting a job in a different country and them firing you ppl looking down on you just b.c you struggle to get rid of an accent. this is not equality. this is not how the world should function. one decision can change A LOT of things no matter how small that decision may be
I met a teacher recently at a training for new teachers in a district in Arizona. She was hispanic and had a pretty thick accent. When she presented an example math lesson to the rest of the new teachers using her powerpoint, she said “rolls” instead of “rows” and even had it written as “rolls” on her powerpoint. This confused everyone watching her presentation because she kept telling us to multiply the columns and “rolls” and no one knew what she was talking about. She also spelled multiplication wrong three different times during the presentation.
After reading this article, I don’t agree that people with accents should not be teachers, but I do agree that they should not be teaching in the lower primary grades (this teacher I mentioned is teaching kindergarten now). I met 3 teachers during this training that had such thick accents that even I couldn’t understand them so I understand Arizona not wanting them to teach the younger grades where grasping letter sounds and words are so important. Two of these women now teach kindergarten….
While I would hesitate to suggest that anyone should get fired over it, I do think that there is some validity to making an effort to define and preserve a given regional (or national) accent. To suggest that we don’t want our kids learning English from a Latino, or that we don’t want our kids to learn to speak like those people might sound terribly racist, but I think in a hypothetical, equivalent example, with those particular racial and political tensions removed, perhaps the issue becomes clearer.
Regardless of whether a Bostonian or New York accent is something to be cherished and preserved, imagine if suddenly the vast majority of teachers teaching language to the children of those cities had thick Russian accents. Or Chinese or Japanese accents. Or, for that matter, French accents. Imagine how these kids would then learn to speak. Sure, they’d still be picking up Bostonian or New York accents from their parents, from other people around, but that Russian, Chinese, Japanese, or French influence would not be insignificant, and in as quickly as a generation, it would have changed the Bostonian or New York accent quite fundamentally, as a majority of young people in those cities would now be speaking with a decidedly different accent.
The situation in Arizona feels particularly racially and politically charged, because of everything else going on, but I think that taken out of that context, thinking about our youngest, most impressionable, students, who are still acquiring and developing their speech patterns, we should want to raise them to be linguistically, culturally, most like ourselves (i.e. the parents) and the community around us, i.e. more like Arizonans (whatever that means) than like Guatemalans (or Ukrainians or Indians or wherever else imported accent influences may happen to come from). It’s not about racism or nativism or whatever, it’s just about having an identity and seeking to protect it and to raise your children within that identity.
And, incidentally, as someone who has taken up multiple foreign languages in life, who loves traveling the world, and who hopes in fact to move overseas semi-permanently for some length of time, I am all for educating our children, from a very young age, to be bilingual, or even trilingual. But I would not support the idea that the State should determine what that second language should have to be.
Does that mean that if a teacher in Virginia has been teaching for many years in the school system cannot teach in Boston because of his/her accent? My mother was raised in Boston and she teaches elementary school in Virginia. I have never walked into her class to hear the kids speaking with an Bostonian accent.
Also, what about foreign exchange teachers? I was taught in the 4th grade by an Irish teacher and she was wonderful. We also had a Canadian teacher at our school as well. That helped our school learn much about other countries. That wouldn’t be fair to deny them teaching jobs.
However, I did have a Spanish teacher whose accent prevented him from speaking recognizable English, Spanish, and French. None of those languages were his native tongue. No student in his class did well at all. I can understand if a situation such as that needed controlling, but I don’t think all teachers with traces of accents should be denied their jobs.
My mother has a beautiful Spanish accent and I work at a theme park and speak to tourists all day, so I can understand just about anyone. Even though I can decipher most foreign accents, in a classroom, sometimes you end up trying to figure out what word was spoken rather than actually listening to the content of the lesson. It’s easier to have someone repeat themselves in conversation but not during a class, which is under time constraints. I am of mixed heritage and have nothing against accents or foreigners.
OK I shall rise to the bait? Sean – The point of this article is that teachers are being threatened with losing their livelihoods and Arizona is facing the loss of teachers, because the Arizona Board of Education is unable to discern the differences between comprehension, fluency, pronunciation, diction and accent (among other things), to the point of prejudice & undue discrimination. I would certainly wish for a better quality of governance than that.
This being a dictionary site, the crux of this article is the discernment of meanings for fluency and accent.
I hope that explains things clearly.
By the way – It is totally amazing to “not be bilingual but speak English as a second language”; for that you would HAVE to be mulitilingual. (eg. Spanish, English and Mandarin or Russian, English, French and Greek) I would certainly wish a teacher with that ability and experience.
Had a teacher with a russian accent for my math class. It was so hard to understand her. I basically had to teach myself and go to lab in order to pass! I know make sure to register classes with teachers that DONT have accents!
After reading this, all comments and the original story, I performed an experiment. I called out to my roommate in the other room: “Ron, could you get the lebel, please?” Usually, he can understand anything I call to him through the two heavy walls that separate our rooms in my hundred year old home, as I have a voice that carries quite well, and backgrounds in education, theater and choral music, all working together to make my voice the most easily understood among those I know. However, Ron called back “What?!?” I repeated the line exactly, as did he; after two more repeated tries, he came storming into my room, furious and frustrated. “What the hell are you talking about!” he yelled. “I need the lebel,” I answered. He wanted to know if I was crazy, or just trying to annoy him. After I explained that I had experimented on him in response to the Arizona issue, still without telling him what word I had been saying, my extremely liberal (as we both are), tolerant friend called out as he stormed out of the room, “I don’t care if they want a label, or they’re confused about how to express the concept of libel — fire the whole damn lot of them!” He never did understand that the “lebel” was “level.” He reads the New York Times daily, as well as the New Yorker, and his favorite writer is Carson McCullers. If my college-educated, literate roommate was confused, I think, unfortunately, the Arizonans have made their case.
What seems clear to me, too, is that since so many teachers have been laid off across the country because of our weak economy, there will be plenty of American teachers available to fill their spots, and thus no repeat of this issue.
And finally, regardless of the fact that the trouble originated because of the lack of a “v” sound in the original language of these former bilingual teachers, Mispronunciation is a different issue from Accent. I agree with many other writers that accents can be charming, informative, mind-broadening, etc., without leading to mispronunciation. In learning German, I had to learn how to make sounds completely nonexistent in English (unlauted vowels), because without those unfamiliar sounds, I would be saying a completely different word, with a completely different meaning, like the stairs-steers example above, etc. I find it quite surprising that there are teachers who have not endeavored to correct this problem in their pronunciation, precisely because it could cause confusion — ‘very’ becomes ‘berry,’ ‘vat’ becomes ‘bat,’ ‘virile’ ends up as ‘burl’ or ‘beer aisle’ (depending on chosen pronunciation of the second syllable). It is unfortunate that this issue is associated with Arizona, and their recent laws and incidents clearly suggestive of xenophobia instead of concern for fluency and understandability for children.
Please forgive the extremely confusing typo above — it should be (umlaut-ed vowels). So sorry — but ironic, considering the issue.
The little bit of German that I know is courtesy of a Lithuanian symphony conductor. I have picked up Spanish from a Spaniard, a Cuban, two or three Puerto Ricans, a Guatemalan, and a dozen or so Mexicans. I couldn’t begin to tell you my college French professors’ origins; it has been thirty years.
To top it off, I’m from the Mississippi delta, married to a man from the Appalachian foothills: both in the Southern U.S., but with very distinct speech patterns. Neither of us admits to an accent–we call it a drawl–but the difference is so pronounced that when we settled in his hometown and I began teaching in a rural school (I’m a “city girl”), the locals thought I was a Yankee!
When my kindergarteners and I don’t understand each other, we ask the other to repeat what was said. My grammar and sentence structure are correct, and my pronunciation reflects all of these linguistic influences, plus two master’s degrees and then some. I have never had a complaint from a parent or a supervisor. The students’ lives–and mine–are enriched.
Thank you, Builder, and the few other posters who recognized the true implications of Arizona’s bass akward policies on language and to a certain extent, language. This seems like another form of racial profiling aimed to remove certain ‘undesirables’ from positions of authority over ‘impressionable’ youngsters. Clearly, the accent a young child develops is not going to remain as such throughout their lives. I’m clear proof of that — even with my particular, personal bias of my own experience. I grew up in elementary school with a teacher who was German and taught us many German words, etc, but when I came home, I wasn’t speaking a German accent. My mother was very strict with pronunciation so that I developed a clear and precise way of speaking, but I still didn’t develop a German accent despite having a German elementary school teacher for 8 hrs a day, 5 days a week. The most change that ever occurred to my accent was when I’d visit my aunt in NJ and I’d developed a ‘Northern’ ‘accent’ because that was all I was exposed to during my summer stays in NJ. But I am nearing 25 years old and I still have a precise diction in speaking, while simultaneously incorporating a northern and southern accent and the ability to speak almost fluent German in a convincing German accent (according to my college professor).
So, what’s this crey-crey talk Arizona?
As a teacher, I have to say that I can understand the problem. When a child’s early-childhood teachers have intense accents which result in the replacement of the correct sound for a letter with another sound (such as in the example of “lebels” for “levels” – a replacement I have heard many Hispanic children AND adults make), it confuses children who are just beginning to learn to associate letters with their sounds. While this might not be a big deal for a kid whose parents have the same accent as the teacher, for a child who is going home to parents whose first language is English, it can be extremely confusing, as they may be being taught one letter-sound correspondence by mom, and a different one by the teacher.
The obvious solution to this problem is to move those teachers out of early childhood classrooms, and into later grades, after children have learned phonics, unless and until those teachers make the effort to correct the quirks in their own pronunciation.
There are accents – and then there are extreme pronunciation issues. I had to “neutralize” a strong Southern accent in order to be able to effectively teach young children to read properly. If they want to teach reading English to young children, this is a reasonable sacrifice.
Maybe accent means different things in different parts of the world. Everyone has an accent. An American, or Canadian, or English, or Scottish, or Chinese, or Indian accent are all accents. Regardless of which accent you have – whether it be from an English-speaking country or not – you will pronounce a lot of words differently from other people.
How do you pronounce, “Much ado about nothing”?
What Arizona BOE is proposing is discrimination differing only in degree, not in kind, from the following: “On October 2, 1957, Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic, ordered 20,000 blacks killed because they could not pronounce the letter ‘r’ in perejil, the Spanish word for parsley.” The quotation is the epigraph to Rita Dove’s poem, “Parsley.” I don’t know how we can avoid the issue of racism here, regardless of how much dictionary.com wants to somehow keep the discussion focussed on language alone.
I think that could count as discrimination because, like the article states, “A Minnesotan sounds as different from a Bostonian or a Virginian…”
Does this mean that they can also fire a Minnesotan or Bostonian for having a different accent to how they may accent their words? Because I know THAT would most definitely count as discrimination because they are American. So how does having an accent from another country differ from regional American accents?
I agree with Builder’s comment–kids will adjust from year to year and are more flexible than perhaps we give them credit for being. In our increasingly global society I would think that learning to understand people with different accents, speech patterns, etc., would be advantageous in the long-run. Will they also fire New Yorkers or a Minnesotans whose accents are deemed to be too strong?
I have a mild north-central Texan accent, but I have friends with strong Northern Irish, Scottish, West Country, Northern and Southern English accents. We are all well-educated college graduates who speak English as our native language. To say that any one of us is not “fluent” in English because of regionalisms in our speech is almost laughable. If the teachers in question have demonstrated a command of both written and spoken English sentence structure, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling (something many native speakers fail to master over a lifetime) it seems silly to fire an otherwise qualified educator over something so subjective.
Arizona should pay these teachers with Spanish accents extra money, because Latinos are becoming the majority, and it can only help the younger generation to be accustomed to English with different accents.
Aren’t there more pressing problems with education for us to address? How come nobody ever points the finger at the top leadership? Fire the administrators who are trying to win points by evoking racial fears, and taking the spotlight off of themselves as the main group to blame.
We can’t even solve small problems; how will we ever learn to solve the big ones. If you think people speaking incorrectly is charming or delightful then you should listen to it, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us should be incumbered with trying to understand what people are saying in our native language. I live on the west coast and I can’t begin to imagine how people on the east coast end up talking the way they do. If their dictionaries are the same as the ones we use in California then there is no intelligent excuse for people speaking incorrectly. Of course we could throw the dictionaries away and just talk however we choose. Then we can start naming new languages and just make what is already difficult and annoying even worse. Or, we can do the rational thing for a change. Like I said if we can’t handle the little stuff, we don’t have a chance with the big stuff.
I don’t see anything wrong with this. Many college level professors are from other countries and I’m not the only one who struggles to understand what they’re saying. I’m not talking about a little extension of vowel sounds or something, I’m talking about misusing words and using improper grammar so badly that I truly cannot understand the professor. It does no good to teach children English from someone who is an accent so bad that it is difficult to understand them. The word accent is so vague that it might be the wrong way to look at this. Perhaps they should just have the teacher in question read a set of statements for some state worker to listen to, not face to face since that might cause bias, and judge whether or not the teacher speaks clear enough and correct enough English. Special care should be taken to make sure correct grammar is used since English grammar is very different from most other language’s grammar. People need to stop seeing this as a racial thing and think about it as simply as a way to improve our schools. I think that if the teacher wishes to stay but has trouble speaking clearly then he or she should be able to enroll in English classes at no cost to the teacher since they were brought in by the state.
fluent english is not about accent at all… if we understand “fluent” meaning where is the problem?… to be honest if we want English- ENGLISH we all should go and live in UK …there is a real queen english… the most beautiful one…
I think we should have as many different accents as possible in schools, my former teacher had a strong Chinese accent, and because of that I can understand people with even the strongest Han accents perfectly, it teaches more than just cultural acceptance.
If that is not discrimination and racism, I don’t know what is.
It’s just un-belie-va-ble. Some of us who do speak other languages as our mother tongues are completely fluent in English, and may have extradordinary teaching abilities. But if I can’t speak like a person who only knows English, then automatically Arizona thinks I am an unsuitable, unqualified teacher? This is horrendous. I know that in states like TX, AZ, and even NM and CA things like these go on, but this could never happen at a university. One of the things poor student complain once they are at university is the slight accent of some professors who are experts in their fields. Maybe if they started to understand language earlier in their lives, they would not be so affected and ignorant when they begin higher education! Instead of moving toward making Americans more competente in linguistic fields, Arizona is forcing the youngest of their residents to remain in such a level as to make them the laughing-stock of the real world. Do you think in developed European countries this is a big deal? No, it isn’t. This is ridiculous and even disgusting. Incredible—that one could be a citizen of this country, have lived here most of his or her life, and still face discrimination in Arizona for having a slight accent. I know how to say my vs, but some other words I may pronounce different fro Anglo-Saxon standards. Move to the South and try to understand some regional accents here, and then come back and tell me that we have a problem because we are native Spanish-speakers or have good language skills. I speak three languages fluently, and my English I am proud to say fluent, if not very good. But this kind of attitude will ruin young minds in no time, and it promotes racism and prejudice like nothing I’ve heard of recently. Unbelievable.
I think that this is a very biased examination of the topic of accents and language, especially for a dictionary site.
I agree with Sean.
With regard to accent, I think there must be a point of reference — the ideal. If it is acceptable to say anything in any way you see fit, nobody would understand anyone. To put things into perspective, take my Punjabi college classmate for example. His pronunciation of Coke was ‘cock’, with undue emphasis on the ‘k’ sounds. (As in how many ‘cocks’ have you had today?)
To his credit, though, we did have the laugh of a lifetime.
First off, I just want to say that I hate when people say they don’t have an accent. Just because you can’t hear it, doesn’t mean you don’t have one. Second, there is no such thing as one, single American accent because you can come from Louisiana and have a deep southern accent or you can come from Montana and have an accent that sounds almost like you’re Canadian. The American accent, like accents from other parts of the world, vary by the areas they originate from. So, in short, Arizona’s argument is invalid. If you want someone who speaks the way you want them to, then hire people from your own state or surrounding states because if you go any farther out, you’re going to have people who speak with an accent and who’s pronunciation of a word is different from yours.
NO! Not at all. Accent doesn’t a determine whether or not that person is fluent in English. I believe there are some people who were foreign born and never can change their native accent but their English skill is professional. This is an example of how accent has nothing to do with how good a person is in English. Even native English speakers themselves varied a lot. So if accent is used to determine the fluency of English then which region in thousands of regions, where there are native English speakers, in the world has the correct accent of English?
My father learned English when he was 8 years old, living in Paris. Then, he went to an American school in Thailand, and adapted to the accent there. He went to a British boarding school, and had to change his speech yet again. At college in California, he regained an American accent. Nobody who knows him now would guess that he wasn’t a native speaker from the region. The joke in our family is that he got teased every step of the way for having the wrong accent, and he always moved as soon as he picked up the local one. However, he has never expressed any regret at having been educated around the world, with plenty of different accents. Instead, he’s able to understand people in five languages and a plethora of dialects. The only explanation behind the situation in Arizona is racism. It is definitely positive to expose kids to multiple ways of speaking. In this global world, linguistic adaptability is crucial.
How is this an issue? Pronouncing words differently is not going to cripple children for the rest of their lives. Even if they did adopt a manner of speaking or accent, there’s no guarantee that it would be permanent or even a problem. It’s preparation for the big ol’ world (and its beautiful myriad of languages and accents) if anything else.
I should think that one is fluent in a language if they are able to speak, write, and comprehend it with little-to-no time for translation in their heads.
Growing up in Canada I learned both Parisian and Quebecois French in school I somehow managed to survive to adulthood with no adverse effects.
Since this article refers to Arizona, naturally we assume Spanish accents. However, those people who suggested, “accents” are OK if for 1 hour in a math class don’t know how important math is to the future of every student. While I myself was up for the challenge of college professors, whose accent/grammar made them difficult to comprehend, not all students can handle this. Consider low level students trying to learn algebra, (which to many may as well be a foreign language), from a teacher with an accent (ie Asian) that even adults have difficulty understanding. These students often get so frustrated with the incomprehensible speech of the teacher, that they give up and tune out altogether.
What is important is we teach STANDARD English to kids. When they learn what is standard and acceptable, they have a bigger base of audience who can easily understand them than the ones who have varying accents.
Therefore, anyone who teaches pronunciation or phonetics should be qualified and able to pronounce words the standard English way. But for those who teach other English subjects, like grammar and literature, “correct” accent shouldn’t be a criteria.
What matters most is, we do understand each other through english.
I have found that White North Americans, particularly teachers, are the biggest violators of the English language in pronunciation spelling and punctuation; a language I love dearly.
Therefore, this nothing short of outrageous racism which the Arizona Establishment is famous for.
I’m English and therefore would (as far as Arizon is concerned) “have an accent” – even though I regard my speech as correct and Arizona as “accented”. Nonetheless, I recognise that if you’re going to teach young people, the teacher should equip the kids for communication with their peers. It would probably alienate some of them if they spoke with my received pronunciation type of English. I could understand why the schools may give preference to a native Arizona speaker. – That’s fine and understandable and I wouldn’t criticise the school board for taking such a decision. – If I sent young children to a school in England, I wouldn’t want them coming home with an Arizona accent…. That’s not too biased, I hope.
I think it should be on a case by case basis. It’s hard to quantify, but it boils down to a simple, “Can the kids understand what the teacher’s saying? Does the accent significantly deter their learning?” Maybe they can have a few kids listen to an audio clip of the teacher and test their comprehension. Kids are already overwhelmed by everything they need to learn. The last thing we want to do is make it even tougher for them because we’re hesitant to fire a teacher for their accent.
If the accent IS significantly deterring students, they should either take steps to minimize their accent or slow down their speech. If they’re unable to speak in a way easily understood, then yes, I think they should be fired.
I am a native speaker of English, and a teacher, from New Zealand. Would Arizona’s rules for teachers exclude me? I am currently working with some Americans and at first we estimate that we only understood 30-40% percent of what each other said. We have gotten better since at understanding each other
I can understand where the American Board of Studies may feel hesitant towards accented teachers, but, no offence, who are they to judge a public servicemen? One could read this article and see the discrimination they’re placing on these teachers. Do we not all have accents? No matter what part of the world we’re from, we all have accents. We all go through life, hearing different accent’s, which can adjust ours, but we are a multicultural society, they should be pushing this, not tearing this down.
I had a teacher in the 7th grade with a very thick Spanish accent and sloppy, cursive handwriting that was almost impossible to read. Most of the class students, including myself, resulted to cheating. I’m now 20 and attending college. I feel that her lack of communication skills seriously handicapped me as I spent an entire year learning nothing.
To be honest, it seems like the Arizona board is just looking for an excuse to fire all the non-native teachers, so they can hopefully hire some native teachers. I’m all for supporting natives, especially in these economic times; I’m all against discrimination though. Just because the board doesn’t want to teach bilingual classes anymore, doesn’t mean it’s OK to single people out for cultural differences. That said, it’s a little silly to think someone with an accent isn’t fluent in a particular language; of course they are. They’re fluent if they can communicate quickly and effectively. What someone with an accent perhaps isn’t, is eloquent. Hey, if you want to make English teachers all Elizabethan actors, fine. My junior year teacher had an English MS, and my senior year teacher had a PhD. Great, wonderful. We need more excellent teachers. I really doubt the board is going to shell out the bucks to pay for those wonderful teachers though. So why have an accent restriction targeted at a particular type of accent? When it seems they’re obviously not going to fire the teachers with a Southern accent, a Bostonian accent, or heaven forbid, an Australian accent. Or wait, maybe the board -should- fire everyone with even the remotest accent…Then we’d see exactly how great this policy really is.
Also, to be practical, the effect is overblown. Even if your English teacher has an accent… the people on TV don’t, the music you listen to won’t, your friends probably won’t, the man at the grocery store, etc. So there are plenty of other cues from which to learn standard pronunciation. The truth is, your pronunciation is going to conform to whatever environment you’re in; and kids are only in that English class for 1 hour out of 24.
The real subject here is that Arizona wants to get rid of Hispanics, period.
It’s absolutely criminal how linguistically provincial the US is; we confuse English with thinking. When I taught college freshmen it was easy to pick out the foreign-born students — their essays were written in proper English.
In my youth I spoke pretty good German. On a ferry from England to Holland (pre-chunnel days) a fellow came up to me and started a conversation. I didn’t quite understand him and replied in German. He got very upset. Finally he asked me why I was speaking German to him, and I replied that I thought he was speaking German to me. Well, he was Welsh, and he was speaking English. “Two peoples divided by a common language.” The same kind of thing happened to some French friends of mine when trying to converse with some Québecois.
One of my best students came back to visit us after his first year in graduate school. He told us he won the award as the outstanding TA in the department (physics). After congratulating him (and ourselves) he ‘fessed up that he was the only graduate student who spoke English.
I spent four years at the UofA and I think sometimes the heat gets to those folks down there…
I think it’s still important for English teachers to at least pronounce the words correctly in the first place, regardless of their dialect, because it’s going to affect the children’s concept of how certain words are to be pronounced. It can and will become confusing when the children compare what their teachers taught them to what the dictionary says, which is widely known as the ultimate reference.
I myself was born and raised in Hong Kong, but I spent 1/5 of my life studying in Australia. (I know a lot of English teachers in Hong Kong are just not up to scratch esp when using it verbally, and that kind of shows in our society, but that’s another story.) So far as English is concerned, I was exposed to all types of accents, and there really was a time when I found myself really confused about which accent to follow. But eventually I learnt that it’s not the accent that matters but the correctness of pronunciation. I think that, as in the example, “level” being pronounced as “lebel” is simply wrong, but then if those teachers were hired even though the schools knew that they have an accent, then it wouldn’t be fair to just fire them now that the rule of the game has changed. Realizing this change, however, those teachers who have an accent should really reflect on themselves and see if they’re in any way pronouncing any word ‘incorrectly’. Ultimately, it’s all in the dictionary. Besides, teachers are supposed to educate their children with knowledge that’s generally deemed ‘correct’, yes?
On a side note, I once attended an accounting lecture, and the lecturer (an Asian) kept saying “mustard budget”, while we all knew that it should be “master budget”… certainly it never affected our finals, but just imagine this guy teaching English…
The thing that most of us don’t realize is that we all have an accent to somebody else. Where I’m from, we have a tendency to drop our “t”s, so that “mountain” becomes “mou-in” and so on. But to those of us who’ve grown up there and lived there all of our lives, it doesn’t sound strange at all. So who gets to decide which “accent” is “proper” English? Yes, accents do make communication a bit difficult sometimes, but as long as you have people living in different areas, you’re going to have different accents. And another thing. In Britian and Australia, they even have different words for things than Americans do. So do we say they aren’t fluent? Should we say that someone is fluent in “British English” or “American English” instead of just English? What constitutes “correct” English? The British even spell things differently than we do. I think we should quit focusing on making sure our children pronounce things “correctly” and worry more about proper grammar, an enriched vocabulary, and strong writing skills and syntax. Because even within the same region there are minute differences in the way people speak. You’re never going to come up with a unified pronunciation.
It’s so surprising to hear this kind of news in this global age where you should expect to meet with people from different countries with different English accents. Wouldn’t it be nice to let children have some exposures to different accents which might prepare them to live in harmony with people who are different from them?
Arizona is something else. First the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday miasma many years ago. Then the Illegal Immigration Law (call it what is is…racial profiling). Now they want to terminate teachers with accents. Notoriously Tea Party motives.
Some years ago in Poland I took part in an Autodesk CAD applications training dedicated to the local engineers (I am Polish). For some two hours the speaker (perhaps Welsh-originated red headed fellow) had been telling us (in a big hurry) about the new powerful solution in CAD: the so-called BRI-FOLD CARS (“Bri” for “Brian”) using a good deal of equally strange sounding words largely not to be decoded. We had no idea what’s the deuce till we had been given the printed summary (just after he departed). They were PROFILE CARDS.
So, what’s the idea of choosing such a man as a teacher?
(And I am sorry myself for my not very good English)
I speak correctly, like national news anchormen. I teach in the innercity in the midwest. The African-American teachers speak “urbonics” as do their students. This is probably going to hurt them in interviews later on , yet, as a compromise I accept faulty pronunciation but draw the line at grammar: “Ah beez wanna bus yo lip when I hearing y’all talking yo smack o deh by them niggahz all night.” I understand it, but know its poorly constructed “English,” and ought to be corrected for it to be widely understood. I also find it odd that , while kids hear more words from TV than any other other source, they do not end up speaking English TV patterns. kon9
It is true that adults are less flexible when it comes to adapting to different accents. The parts of the brain responsible for communication is one of the earliest parts to mature, since everyone needs to be able to communicate even before they come out into the world. A child would somehow speak comprehensibly at two or three years, which is a few years before they even meet their so-called “incomprehensible” teacher. That’s plenty of time for his/her parents to push whatever accent they want him/her to have up his/her nose. By the time they go to school, they’d have a solid foundation but enough flexibility to face that teacher who says “lebel.” For these reasons, I would not agree with this notion to choose teachers depending on their accent.
In a a situation like the one mentioned in the article, I don’t agree it’s the smartest decision to get rid of teachers with accents as small as “lebels” vs. “levels”. Unless the children (as mentioned before) are just beginning to learn pronunciation of the English language.
Which brings me to my main point… When it comes to teachers teaching foreign languages with accents not of the language they are teaching, this, from personal experience, is UNACCEPTABLE. It cost me my ambition of learning French in high school. My first year, I got an A+. I did well because I already knew Spanish fluently (a romance language) and my teacher had fluent pronunciation of the French language. I would ask for corrections on subtle nuances, this is how much I wanted to perfect my skills in French. Now, come my second year, the regular teacher was replaced by a Lithuanian woman. While she was very nice and pleasant, her accent was undeniably Lithuanian. Having her teach me French in my second year, ruined everything my first year teacher had taught me. I couldn’t concentrate because her accent was so horrifying to me…I could not get the nuances of the French pronunciation down. I was devastated. To this day I still feel cheated. I’ll probably have to go pay $500 for Rosetta Stone now.
YES, my dad flunked certain college courses because he could not understand a professor from India. Now the same is happening to my young cousin. We don’t pay $$$$$ for that kind of customer service.
This is a nice topic actually,i am a Kenyan ,when i was a child i had a strong accent from my native language which i was able to overcome,i am now able to communicate well as i speak swahili and english.I think it is a matter of adaptation.
I agree with Morris and Jerry ,A child’s peers have a much greater influence. So the native-English speaking child may not confuse tell with tale or sell with sale or feber for fever, and the bilingual child may end up Anglicizing his name.
It is important that the students speak correctly as we are all judged on our abality to be understood by other English speakers
I would just like to say that when I was growing up and going to school, I had trouble understanding how some educators pronounce their words. I also had fun with mimicing their accents. One was an English teacher from Indiana, she would pronounce the word wash as “worsh.” Another was a Math instructor, who was asian, had the hardest time pronouncing his V. He would say the value as “walue.” They were very diligent when it came to grading my assignments. I would say they payed their dues by earning their repective degrees.
I am from Arizona. I like what I read up above, “what are we going to do? Fire them all.” Who are we going replace them with? Where will we draw the line? It would give some administrators some more fire power against very decent teachers and open room for long debated lawsuits. It would send plenty of well educated professionals to other areas of the country thereby down grading our educational institution in Arizona. What are we THINKING PEOPLE!
Very nice discussion!
I am Austrian and mostly grew up speaking a german dialekt. Which differs a little in grammar and vocabulary from standard german. At school we were both instructed in standard german and dialekt. My growing up with dialekt didn’t hinder me to understand and speak standard. I have cause to believe that it improves my ability to comprehend the variety of german dialects better. In Austria and Germany there are some groups who try to keep anglicisms and other “alien influences” from developing in german which is pretty futile because language is a living thing and a lot of words were already assimilated in the last centuries. So I guess it is mostly a political issue. It probably is in Arizona too.
There are undoubtedly political issues involved here that should be objectively (and courageously) looked at. Does the Board have a problem with accents in general or specific accents? And do the accents of the teachers in question impair their ability to teach? Would the Board take issues with a native English speaker with a foreign accent – English, Australian?
I think this is absolutely ridiculous and seriously discriminate. I am from South-Africa, with English as my home language, lived in the US for some time and my English was definitely better than many born Americans. BUT I speak with what Arizona would probably regard as an accent. Does that make me unfit to teach? I think not and beg to differ with Arizona!!
@Marianne (first comment at the top of the “Comments Page”): Spot on, hyperlinking words and phrases makes it a bumpy ride for a reader. Couldn’t agree with you more.
I can understand how it would be a bit unnerving to a parent when their child comes home with a noticeable accent emulated from his/her teacher, but that provides an obstacle to the youngest of children. When it’s gotten to the point where a child has begun speaking regularly and is less susceptible to these natural tendencies of observation and mimicry, I don’t see a problem.
However, I will make a point that I believe it was a big mistake to remove emphasis on language-learning at a younger age. A child is better able to absorb languages in their early youth, and the fact that our country doesn’t seem to acknowledge that in their education system is sad. My siblings from Japan have been learning English since early youth, and while I understand English is more pertinent in a worldview, depending on where you reside, certain 2nd languages can be just as pertinent.
All in all, however, my belief stands where, if it doesn’t affect the teacher’s ability to teach or the student’s ability to learn, I feel even the discussion of this law is uncalled for and unorthodox, as observations of the article will show.
While I despise agreeing with what Arizona has done, because I suspect its not motivated by purely educational purposes (other recent legislation suggests Arizona as a state has xenophobic and racist tendencies), I do in fact agree with them. Young children learning to become bilingual should do so with someone who has proper english diction and ideally a neutral accent. Saying “lebels” instead of “levels” is not ok. A teacher should either overcome the accent or not be allowed to teach. Kids will mimic their teachers especially (as they should) and just because America happens to have various accents does not mean we should teach people to have them. Someone learning another language will find it difficult enough without having to overcome the obstacles give to them by their teachers.
The judgement of the Arizona government is quite ridiculous actually. Accent, unless rendering someone drastically incomprehensible will not affect someone’s learning and growing up in South Africa – a country with ELEVEN official languages – I know for a fact that pronounciation has nothing to do with fluency in a lanuage and that being taught by someone wit an accent only encourages you to listen more therefore increasing the chances of absorbing what the person is saying. These are unjust grounds for hiring and firing and thus I hope that the relevant employees strongly contest this issue.
Back in my school days in Germany (where learning English as a second language is compulsory), I had the luck to have an extraordinary good English teacher. He told us at the beginning of the course, that he would put a lot of emphasis on proper pronunciation of English, even though the pronunciation could not be reflected in the final marks for the course.
His reasoning was simple – if you pronounce words ‘properly’ (with no discernible trace of dialect) it will make it far likelier that you will be understood by other non-native speakers from different regions. For example, if you are a non-native speaker with a heavy Liverpudlian dialect, the chances of understanding another non-native speaker with an Indian dialect and vice versa; whereas everyone ‘understands’ a very clear Oxford English the way it’s used in a lot of audio training materials you find around the world.
In Switzerland (tiny country, many different dialects), kids start learning “high German” (“schriftdeutsch”) once they enter school – it gives kids from different regions in Switzerland a single dialect they will all share all over the country which they can always resort to when speaking to people from other parts of the country.
As such, I would always support teaching in the ‘main’ dialect, whereever there is one, if just to increase the chances of successful communication with people from different parts of the country or even different parts of the world. And therefore, I think it should be perfectly allowed or even a requirement for school administrations to demand that from their teachers.
I’m an African living in Germany. I have a very hard accent when I speak English, but speak correctly. My boys are bilingual and the only ones speaking English in their class – of course, with an African accent. But they speak correctly too. I feel it’ll be unfair for anyone to say they aren’t bilingual just because of their accent.
Notice that the article did say that they would not be permitted to teach young English language learners, it did not say they would not be permitted to teach at all. I can understand the desire for teachers that use the most widely accepted pronunciation (or “correct” pronunciation) when children are initially learning the language, any language, for example: a friend of mine takes Spanish from a teacher with a French accent, she says that it makes the subject more difficult than necessary.
Sounds like the state of Arizona has a racist undertone about its views on languages.
Heck, everyone on Earth has an accent determined by his or her locale. By using Arizona’s logic, only children born into the state should be able to teach there.
Trust me, I am in Canada and we’ve had official bilingualism for decades. I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous in my life as what Arizona is proposing.
Arizona has a hugely transient population; due to industry demands and the attractive climate here, people move to and from Arizona from many other parts of the US and around the world. I have had friends and colleagues from all continents except Antarctica. The result is that there is no distinguishable regional accent here in Arizona. There is no Arizonan dialect to protect or preserve.
In order to achieve the credentials necessary to become an English teacher an individual would have to have both considerable linguistic knowledge and teaching knowledge. Such professionals are trained to coach reading, writing, vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and other skills in addition to pronunciation. As professionals they coach students in the linguistically correct pronunciation. Any chance of learning a word with an accent politicians may find offensive is slim, because children interact with the outside world far more than they do with one teacher in one class in one year of school.
We should be asking ourselves what these politicians fear. Are they worried that in the few months they will spend with one teacher that children might develop an accent different than the regional Arizonan dialect? Different than the regional Arizonan dialect that doesn’t exist? This Board of Education policy decision is politically motivated and has nothing to do with fluency; would members of the Board of Education be willing to accuse the Queen of England of not being fluent in English?
What is the problem if our child speaks a small handful of words with a Chinese, Sri Lankan, German, Brazilian, or Mexican accent? Thousands of people in Arizona and America do so right now and lead happy, successful lives. Millions of others do so around the world.
An accent is irrelevant, as long as the speaker is articulate and using their words appropriately I cannot see any problem. The UK where the English is spoken with at least a hundred accents does not have a problem with it. By drawing conclusion that if one has an accent their fluency is questionable is simply absurd, and backward thinking. Or perhaps childlish to assume that if one speaks with an accent must have limited intelligence. (I was very much amused when a Swedish infant thought I was somebody with learning disabilities when I could not understand Swedish). Besides what does an accent mean? An academic from the highlands of Scotland may find a Londoner who is using RP as having an accent, like a native of the Mississippi Delta will be troubled by one from Linconshire (UK) as not speaking English alltogether…In brief let’s have a bit of respect for each other or find a solution beneficial for all speaking communities.
English is not my native language. In my opinion, every English speaker has an accent. There are a lot of different accents, but everyone has one. That’s because there is no such thing as standard English. That differs per country and region. Therefore, it’s a little rediculous to ask teachers to speak without accent. It’s a matter of choice for a particular accent. The Arizona university should make that very clear: “Here we teach with an Arizonian accent and no other.”
Well this is fascinating! It sounds to me like Arizona is trying to get rid of the people from the south of the border, which they invited over in the first place. On another note, my accent is way off anyone elses around me or from my sisters and peers I grew up with! Which I think is a combination of things. I watched alot of American cartoons growing up, and then alot of british TV shows. Lastly I have been living in Australia for the last 4 years, and this has altered my accent, probably largely due to self preservation, as i got tired of sheep jokes! So anyway my point is I think accents can differ not only from region to region but also from person to person. Of course I’m no cunning liguist though….
There is a a distinct difference between proper English and forming words using sounds and syllables. I am not an advocate of allowing improper English into schools. But, if someone has a legitimate reason to speak with an accent due to bilingualism, that is different. Bottom line, if politics were NOT in this discussion, the issue would have not originally existed. If we were to simply affirm our national language as English then the issue would simply vanish.
Oops I forgot to add that I am originally from New Zealand! And no I don’t do the short e that serbo-Canadian of Macau refers to.
This is also what happens when we cater to people vs. making simple requests that exist in most other countries such as establishing social norms, rules of association (i.e., what our norms are, language, values, etc.) and simply demand they be met in public forums. That is, if you wan to pay to send your child to a certain school for a certain purpose, fine. But, if you want to use a public system, the system shall reflect the values of the nation (not the sum of a specific area or population, but the nation as a whole) and if it doesn’t meet someones needs, then folks are free to seek alternatives.
In India,accents are commonplace.If accents were to decide fluency we would not be considered a threat in terms of education to developed nations.Accents just define the culture and the background that shaped you not how much you know about a particular language or even how much you don’t,accents are personal they should not be considered a hindrance until and unless the teacher and students hail from completely different cultural backgrounds ,even then the knowledge base is important rather than how he/she pronounces his or her syllables. Maharashtrians say ‘ph’ for ‘f’,bengalis round their vowels and usually say ‘b’ for ‘v’….accents should be taken as as a fun divergent not a peculiar problem that needs to be dealt with
It’s a difficult one and I think a lot depends on at what level you are considering the problem. Locally, if the local English speaking residents think you are not fluent, then you probably are not fluent, and a poor choice for an English teacher. However go to a regional or national, or international level and the result may be different. As others here have pointed out, it is quite possible to decide that no one in the US of A speaks fluent English since the accent ensures mispronunciation.
I have been horrified when seeing inside a classroom during television news programs how many blatant misspellings are posted on the wall displays. Are half of our teachers illiterate, regardless of their dialectic origins? And what of other teachers who pass through that room — do they not notice a problem? And what about the Principal or high-level education authorities? Do they never come into the classroom? Just what is this dysfunctional system teaching our kids???
I have a suggestion to the parents of young children in our country. Take a minute from your busy schedule, draw yourself away from your computer, your television, or whatever distraction you may have, and talk to your children. Talk in your own special accent, or regional dialect. Give them a history lesson about our great nation, founded due to a persecuted people who sought refuge from an overbearing and intolerant society. Teach them virtues like humility, tolerance, and acceptance. Teach them that ours is a free country, and that with that freedom comes responsibility, and that responsibility may very well be patience. Encourage them to learn a new language, that one day they may themselves encounter both prejudice and tolerance, and walk in another person’s shoes. Introduce them to their own special heritage. Allow them to explore their genealogy, and to learn of where their ancestors hailed. Tell them stories of how those ancestors came to America, and the obstacles they had to overcome. Teach them that ours is a diverse country, and that this diversity is what makes us special. Then send them to school to practice what you have taught them. You do that, and I promise you one day we will live in a more perfect society.
I am American and married to someone German, we have a child who is learning both languages. I lived in Germany for a few years and spoke some English to people who mostly learn British English as ESL rather than American English.
For the most part it the differences aren’t the end of the world. As long as the other parties can keep up enough to get the general context, then a lot of minor problems like the difference between lebels and levels can be seen as quaint.
If indeed every English teacher in Arizona learned English as a second language and the kids in Arizona get little to no other English interaction in the day then I suppose it could be a problem. If that is the case, firing every Engilsh teacher in the state would be quite a problem, but even that would be a token effort in addressing the real problems.
If kids in Arizona want to compete with kids from other states in English proficiency they need at least about 6 hours a day of quality English interaction with a wide variety of dialects and accents. The more sources that it comes from the better.
People love to hate on TV, especially when talking about kids, but at least the people speaking tend to be on a quite strict rotation with 30 min of this cast of characters followed by 1 hour of speaking by this other cast of characters and so on. A single 2 or 3 hour session of TV can easily have kids receiving English pronunciation “instruction” from two or three dozen different sources.
Combine that with playing with English speaking kids (and speaking English when they do it), various English native speakers at school from any subject, and so on then kids can mold their own version of English that is quite similar to what people speak as a whole.
If school is the only place kids are hearing English in Arizona, that is the real problem and they indeed have no real chance to be competitive with their peers. That is the fault of parents who watch Spanish TV channels and talk in Spanish to their kids and who only let their kids interact with other Spanish speaking kids.
Sure they like things to be easy on themselves and to keep their traditions and so on, but they have to realize they are hurting their child’s English proficiency at the same time.
Well ah nevah ! Does ya’ll means that ah would not be acceptable as a Teachah a the English tongue to young’uns a tendah years due to mah slight twang aSouthron dialect? This heah appears to be nuthin’ but anothah a them on goin’ Yankee plots concocted by scalawags ‘n carpetbaggers ”n such thets been goin’ on evah since the Wah a Yankee Aggression !!!
As a college student, I once had an advanced mathematics course that was being taught by an Eskimo instructor. He was a brilliant guy with a great disposition, but I could literally only understand about half of what came out of his mouth…in a class that, to me, was already like a foreign language. After struggling for a few weeks, I had no choice but to drop the course. On the other hand, I had quite a few Indian instructors who, despite their manner of speaking, were among the best teachers in the entire school.
No problem here with teachers with accents, or with kids learning a foreign language…as long as the accent in question doesn’t detract from the learning experience, AND as long as the foreign language in question isn’t automatically Spanish. Also, it would be nice to ensure that the students have a firm enough grasp on English before introducing yet another communication curriculum, so it’s probably not a good idea to begin teaching another language to early on in the education process.
Yes, I know that young children’s brains are like sponges, but I think it best that they master one language before moving on to another…same as they’re taught one mathematical function at a time instead of the entire gamut from basic addition to advanced calculus in one fell swoop.
why would you fire a teacher with an accent? it could give the child an opportunity to learn different languages/accents. i totally disagree with AZ. :/
I pick up local language characteristics easily. When I worked for a Federal government agency at a computer programming shop in the early 1980’s, there were many black “techs” there that used “urban” vernacular (a partition separated the programmers from the techs in a large bay). One day at home my housemates were astonished when I asked “What’s that you say?” and did not realize it. I think I was busy at the time and did not think about how I how I asked the question. From that point on I thought before I spoke.
Several years ago there were some well educated black Americans that gone as far as saying that the “urban” vernacular reflects the culture of the race in the United States as a whole and should be preserved. The Oakland, California, school district even went so far as to propose that a course in “Ebonics” be taught in school, which got a lot of the news media attention. It even prompted a female Jewish radio commenter to jokingly propose that “Hebonics” be taught in schools as well and sited several example phrases. The bottom line is this: the people of the United States have a common language that must be communicated properly when used when conducting official business, including education.
Interesting topic keep it up dictionary.com
I believe English should be taught properly at a young age. Should it go drastically as to punish people with a different accent hindering them to teach, especially if they are passionate about their work and know their craft? No, but an English teacher should pronounce it correctly accent or not. There is no need to “axe” (what it sounds to most) me if what he or she meant was to “ask” me for something.
I had a very memorable time on my ESL class as a child, the bad part, I was the only Filipina in the class, and the rest were Latinos. Furthermore, there was no varieties (other race that was in the class, and since the majority was Latinos in the class; my teacher, happened to be Latino with an accent. Nothing wrong with that, until he speaks his first language assuming everyone is fluent in Spanish) my reading comprehension did not progress and my dad saw this. Pulled me out and put me in a regular English class.
Surely it would help the students to learn even more if they are exposed to varying accents?
Accents vary from person to person and region to region; there is a reason that America is called a melting pot! I am proud of my Southern heritage and, yes, I think Minnesotans sound ‘funny.’
But if accents lead to misspellings which lead to improper grammar which lead to incomprehension and misunderstandings, then things have gone too far. Arizona is right to consider whether extreme accents can adversely affect young children just learning the language, but they walk a fine line. In the upper grades, things are different; I had lots of high school and college instructors who had extreme accents. Learning to understand and converse with them helped me to survive in today’s multicultural world.
As someone from the south who has lived in the north I know what it is like to be judged on your pronunciation. I am an attorney and anyone not from the south tends to think that a southern accent means you are, if not ignorant, then less intelligent than someone with a more northern accent. This handicapped me with juries until I worked on it seriously for a few years. The accent you learn as a child is what you fight against the remainder of your life. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be a shame if noone ever spoke with a soft southern drawl again? While it is bigoted to judge people on their accent, it is done subconsciously by almost all of us and no amount of legislation will do away with it. We do not want a homogenized society, but we all want our own child to have the best chance possible, so how do you choose?
Also, do they test foreign language teachers to be sure their accents are correct? if so, who does the tests and how do we know they speak it correctly?
Even “native” speakers can manage to have atrocious grammar or spelling, not to mention the extremely different accents. To fire people over something so trivial is retarded, especially when natives could be included into this, as well. Train the teachers better, in any case, then there wouldn’t be so much ignorance in the US.
I don’t see how this law could be enforced without being blatant racial profiling. If this does pass, it’s a slippery slope – where does it stop? I do agree that students might have a harder time learning how to speak AMERICAN English if their teacher has a different method of pronunciation, however students do need to learn that the world is bigger than their country. I work for an international country and we often have conference calls and face-to-face meetings with groups that include Latinos, Germans, Brits, Nigerians, French, Japanese, and Chinese. Those who haven’t become accustomed to different “accents” (or pronunciations), are lost.
Please keep in mind that just because a word is pronounced one way in a pocket of America, does not mean it is the correct way to pronounce it. We don’t even pronounce words the same within our own country (don’t get me started on ask vs. axe). We weren’t the first to speak it, and we definitely don’t hold the copyright…
Firing people because they have an accent, that stupid
I have been teaching for many years and have learned, mostly from observing my own children, that children emmulate their peers more than anything else. When we moved to Delaware it did not take long for them to pick up the Delaware accent. Now that we are living in Michigan they are talking like Michiganians. I grew up in Chicago and have a midwest accent. My mother was English and to this day I still pronounce some words with a northen British accent. I see all of this hullabaloo about a teachers accent as yet another example of uneeded state interference.
There’s no doubt that a teacher’s accent would influence young students. Parents will no doubt correct their children when they hear something they feel is pronounced with the accent’s influence. Rather than firing the teachers, however, the teacher could be put with older students. I think that once a child gets beyond elementary school age, they’re much less likely to be influenced by a teacher’s strong accent.
I had an Indian teacher for a course in high tech (routers) and learned nothing. He really knew his stuff but I learn from listening. Since then, I always ask the nationality of a teacher before taking signing up.
Soooo….what would be the particular ‘English accent’ against which all others would be judged? It really isn’t fair to pit non-native speakers with a distinguishable accent against native speakers with one. Fluency and accent are two different concepts.
For example, I’ve been told I speak very clear French, as the French speakers in my country would speak it (by native French speakers). I’m not even ‘fluent’ so how can that be?!
I’ve spoken English my entire life, but I get comments on my accent all the time!
I don’t believe that the quality of a language teacher involves which language that teacher knew first. It depends on the quality of their skills in teaching any language.
In fact, the argument could be made that non-native English speakers could more easily communicate the workings of English grammar to young children, as they themselves have grappled with it in far more depth than adult native speakers. Personally, I know waay more about the specifics of French grammar than English grammar.
So what about all the different accents in America alone? I go to school in Minnesota , and when I return to Montana, people say I’ve picked up the “Minnesota Accent”–they draw out their o’s and the “a” in bag/flag/tag/ sounds like the “a” in bait, rather than in bat. There’s also the Southern accent, the New Jersey accent, and I’m sure a Montana accent. Different areas of the US have different accents in and of themselves. So, I’m guessing if I went down to Arizona and tried out for a job, I’d get rejected because I have a Minnesota accent?
The way I see this thing is that this is just another way to try to get rid of Hispanic. If this won’t work, be sure something else will come later that can be use as a “legal excuse” to close the door to a Hispanic.
I am from Cuba. I watch tv programs in English most times. Lots of times
I take account that all hosts in tv programs or announcers speak English
very differently. In some way it is acceptable that a teacher must not have an accent when teaching kids in Kindergarden; but on teaching kids three or four years old , it is permissible, as I see it. Perfectionism is an ideal, but far from reachng it. I do not know two persons that speak the same
accent. Neither in English nor Spanish.
In The country I come from announcer, hosts, interviewer etc, who work on TV programs must pass a course of pronunciation that ensures, in some way, that most people will be able to understand what he expresses.
Well, if you are talking about accent,people in USA are talking with different accent and sometimes horrible accent. I learn brithis english and when I heard USA english is like a dialect, is horrible specially african american people. Black people speak dialect ..then why you are talking about accent in USA?? please fix your accent first…
ARIZONA…a bunch of imports from northern states acting like the true haters they are..Get real, live and let live idiots.
What bothers me about the Arizona law is that it so clearly profiles Latino/Latina teachers for firing. I am a teacher, bilingual in English and French, with a slight accent in both languages (I’ve spoken both of them for so long that they have “contaminated” each other). However, I suspect my slight accent would not get me fired if I worked in Arizona–someone would probably coo about its cuteness instead.
This kind of disguised racism does not suit the USA, a country that prides itself on its tolerance and respect of individual freedoms and differences. This law reminds me of what happened to my grandparents and older uncles and aunts in France in the early part of the 20th century: they were slapped every time they used their regional dialect in school until they started speaking “correct” French. The clearest result of that policy is that today most French dialects and patois are nearly extinct, as are most Native American languages in this country. I don’t believe the Arizona policy will make Spanish go extinct, but given our ongoing linguistic mass extinction, this additional example of discrimination and intolerance makes me sad and angry.
I agree with Jerry Kenney. How many times is Arizona going to attempt to pass a law that is blatantly racist and ill conceived? The fact that it is even being considered shows the enormous problem with that state’s legislation today. For a country that exploits illegal labor they seem hell bent on attacking their Latino residents just based on an accent or skin color. This is shameful.
Teachers should not be disqualified for their accents provided they have the necessary vocabulary and grammatical sense to speak appropriately. Children will take on the accent primarily of their peers and parents anyway. They do not seem to be unduly affected by the accents of their teachers who tend to change from year to year. The Arizona Board of Education is being unreasonable in this action. Someone from Brooklyn sounds very different from someone from Kentucky sounds very different from someone from Ireland sounds very different from someone from Australia sounds very different from a non-native speaker from South America, etc. English fluency has little to do with regional pronunciation and dialect.
If Arizonans believes they have no accent, just ask any of the million people here who grew up in another part of the country. The lilt of Spanish is wide-spread even among native speakers. A child is more likely to pick up a regional dialect from his peers rather than from a single adult with whom he spends a few hours a day. Adults do the same. Witness the fact that after 15 years in Arizona, very few people I encounter notice I grew up in western New York, where by the way, the accent is atrocious.
According to some state rankings, Arizona is #50 of all U.S. states in education. When you’re #50 on the list, who on earth cares about the impact that an accent has on education of children? Obviously, there are huge issues in the state educational system, and attacking teachers who have accents will not solve a single one of those issues. Who could take the Arizona Board of Education seriously for anything when they are #50 on the list?
More importantly, the above initiatives by the Arizona Board of Education come across as a glaring attack on Latin-American teachers in Arizona. This initiative is nothing more than a continuation of the monsterous ignorance some folks in Arizona have shown in discriminating against Latin Americans through other government initiatives. whenhttp://www.statemaster.com/graph/edu_bes_edu_ind-education-best-educated-index
Preservation of a country’s language is a political, rather than a linguistic, issue, not just in AZ. Therefore “The Hot Word” may not be the proper forum for discussion.
Language and culture of a country go hand in hand. If it is important for America to maintain its identity as an English speaking nation and preserve its culture, it should simply make sure that English, and only English, is its official language; no multilingual exceptions. What other languages people elect to speak at their homes is up to them. However, anybody wanting to live in America should be prepared to learn how to read, write and speak English instead of Denglish (deutsch-englisch), Spenglish (spanish-english) etc.
America has been an immigrants’ Mecca because it has so much to offer. Immigrants coming to her shores desiring those treasures, at a minimum, should be prepared to pay the basic price for their ticket:
speaka-da language and speak-read-write English correctly. Is that too much to ask?!
PS: “Fluency …comes from the Latin word fluentem meaning “to flow.”
Fluency actually comes from Latin: “fluere, fluxi, fluxum” meaning “to flow” and specifically its present participle “fluens, fluentis” = being fluent.
So instead of addressing the shortage of knowledgeable teachers, we’re getting rid of some that could teach children multiple languages?
I love this topic and reading everyone’s comments. So many pros and cons with valid points. I was born and raised in Southern California (San Fernando Valley- Chatsworth to be exact) and my mother was born in England. My husband is Native American and Spanish (Spain) and Philippino. Let me tell you the accents our family carries.
I speak with a “Valley Girl” accent (Oh My God) where everything ends in a question? And an “awch” sound. lol. My mother-in-law speaks Spanish with a Castilian accent rather than a Mexican accent and Mexicans don’t understand her Spanish. My Aunt in law speaks Tagalog natively and speaks English with a heavy accent. My mother’s family all has a British accent and tease us on our English. My teacher growing up spoke German first and English second. I can speak both English and German (probably neither one correctly).
My children are fine and tease everyone on how we all speak. My son explains to us how to properly pronounce everything (He is 12). He states that what we speak in America is American and not English as Mexican is Mexican and not Spanish (because of Grandma). In Southern California, the majority of people speak Spanglish (a combination of Mexican and American?) e.g. We say to a toddler “Come here mijo let me get them mocos from your nose… cochino”. Nowhere in that sentence is proper anything. I have NO idea what school growing up would have been like without accents or what my children would be like without teachers with them. I love culturally diverse communities which is why I LOVE SO CAL!!!!
Perhaps we’d all be better off if someone who spoke proper English would have taught us growing up; however, I know how to use proper grammar and spelling and I use universal etiquette when I am emailing or speaking with work colleagues in other countries. I was able to learn proper grammar and spelling and punctuation growing up with accents all around me, and my children are learning the same. They score top of their class and my son is a GATE student and my daughter gets straight A’s. I know no other way of life, so I don’t know if I’d be better off in a different environment. I don’t wish any other life for myself or my family.
I am a product of a military family and have been exposed to many accents, both foreign and domestic. My accent tends to be a bit neutral with certain words in certain circumstances reflecting my passage through life. I taught English in Korea for one year and when I found myself pronouncing something a bit off from center (such as pie in the southern fashion) then I would correct myself and explain that there is more than one way for a word to sound due to accents/regions.
I tried to show them examples and was told that they could not tell the difference. The more adept at English then the better at discerning the difference in sounds; the more exposure to a variety of accents then the more able to understand others.
Every person is influenced by 100s of sources: family, friends, school, tv, internet, coworkers, books, public, etc. It all makes up the whole of their language. The way people speak today doesn’t mean that that is the way that they will speak tomorrow.
The question is are the teachers good at their job. If they are then they should continue. If not, then they should not. It is the same with every person teaching, no matter the accent.
I teach in a small town in the midwest. In this area, the delightful little coloring sticks made by companies like Crayola are often referred to as “crowns.” When I mention where the crayons are kept, my students can find them quite easily and they do not adopt my manner of pronunciation. I was able to figure out what a “crown” is, they were able to color, and neither the students nor I have changed the way we speak. I think they have an accent. They think I have an accent. I would imagine we are both right. Getting rid of accent altogether seems less important than if our kids can read and do basic math.
While nuances of language are important, I would argue that it is equally as important to learn that the world is made up of many different kinds of people and they don’t do everything exactly the same way. Teachers from different cultures and backgrounds often provide a rich learning environment. As long as the grammar and spelling are taught correctly, and the teacher is not difficult to understand, then small differences in pronunciation or accent should be overlooked in favor of the big picture.
How dare those xenophobes in Arizona. We owe a little something to those teachers.
This is a bit of a rant and since I am not an Arizona resident, I really should not speak but…
If they do this, I must ask, are they planning on sending all the teachers someplace to learn a correct enunciation of words. Several people have pointed out their are regional accents throughout the United States. As a military brat then 20 years in the military myself, I have lived many places and can verify that.
We could easily do what the French do, that is have a government agency that approves all words, enunciation, meanings, and grammar.
This will allow outlawing any usage that violates those prescribed rules with fines and other penalties. Public officials, newscasters, reporters, authors, and others who officially dispense information or make a living from writing would be required to only speak/write the official way. It will have one very nice benefit, we can clean up the language, removing the vulgar (common) words. No one using profanity as they will have to pay a fine or jail for doing so. The state and city may be able to get rid of taxes if they catch enough people and have the fines high enough.
Of course schools, daycare centers, libraries, and other facilities would have to be closed for a few years as the educators and governmental representatives are taught the one and only way to speak. This may help with the divorce rate and child behavior problems. Now those latch key children would have a mommy or a daddy home with them.
Further we can remove such violations from our films. Ah the changes to such great lines as the last one from Gone With the Wind when Rhett Butler will say “I do not care.” so much nicer than “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a …”.
We can also give ourselves a welcome break in the speed of technology change. As scientists, reseachers, and engineers are not professional speakers and wordsmiths, it will be the responsibility of the government to ensure all papers are using the correct words and grammar. Scientific jargon is simply not allowed. A color is a specific wavelength of light not a quantum state. Special text books just for Arizona would need to be written.
And think about those projects to preserve Native American culture and language, we can get rid of ALL of them. In fact probably every Native American that can speak any thing besides the Arizona governors English should probably be taken into custody and placed into internment camps so they do not contaminate others. Heck do it with all the Hispanics too. And the tourists. Oh and any military, they need to eliminate all military installations. And truckers, they come from all over better not let them into the state unless they can prove they will not stop for any reason including fuel, sleep, and food either except under lock and key. Arizona could have its own truckers, the only ones allowed to drive in the state.
Yes, Arizona can become the first and only state in which everyone speaks THE correct United States version of English even if no one in any other state agrees. A shining example for all [of what a place with totalitarian control over language and therefore thoughts and ideas is like].
I’m from the North East of England, in this small area we have about five different accents and if I drive for two hours up the road I hit Scotland – where you can’t distinguish a Scotch accent from a Scandinavian.
Accents make us human and individuals, and it’s simply a regions take on English – nothing more. I for one am sick of hearing this incessant rubbish about purging accents such as in this article; globalization is shit.
Was this ever about the children? Really? Or is this a load of hogwash that belongs in Hogswarts.
This is a country colonized by immigrants who SURPRISING had accents. I wonder what would have happen if “The People” (more commonly known as the Indian the true owners of this soil) decided to not let those immigrants off the ship they sailed on. Where they would have gone?
I wondered if “The People” said to themselves, gee these immigrants speak funny, our young ones won’t understand them. Let’s monitor their accents.
Children absorb they do not classify.
Is the Arizona Board of Education forgetting that they were children or is another shot by the governor of that state to persecute hard working individuals whose only true fault is to pursue that amazing American Dream of whom America purports to offer? Maybe the Arizona Board of Education should be dropped in another country and see how their accent holds up. No doubt they would be asked to leave the country.
We employed an English secretary in our law office. One day the Judge made a passing remark about her accent. She replied with only a touch of hauteur, “I wasn’t aware that I was the one with the accent”.
I think it’s mean to fire a teacher due to his or her accent. It’s very easy for me to recognize who’s on the other end line when speaking on the phone, whether someone is Hispanic, African, Asian, or African-American. They all have a distinct way of pronouncing words. As long as a teacher is understandable, we should not be discriminatory toward someone who’s different from us in one way or another. Although we live in the same country, we speak distinctively from north to south and west to east. Let’s be reasonable here and BE GRATEFUL that your child has a teacher.
To Pam – So sorry you lost the spelling bee. Your teacher should have used “stairs” in a sentence.You shoudn’t have lost the contest because she didn’t use it in a sentence. I always pronounce the word, use it in a sentence, & pronounce it again. But what do I know? I’m just a tutor. Have a great day!
As a speech-language pathologist who works in the public school system, I find it very frustrating to work with classroom teachers who due to their native langauge make many grammar and word pronunciation errors. It is crucial that students receive correct speech and language models and if a teacher, for whatever reason, does not serve as an adequate language model then he or she should not be teaching in our public schools. Accents are acceptable, but strong dialects are not.
I have a heavy New England accent and my children all had it until they went to school, now they kid me! I do believe “Builder” when he said the accent that one picks up in one grade will be adjusted” in the next grade.
However, there are some teachers that know English well but the accent is so bad that comprehension for the student is extremely difficult. I know a group of parents who hired a tutor to teach their children after school the math they were suppose to be learning in a class. This teacher was a nice person and extremely qualified in the subject. And most of the time it’s tough to “get rid of a teacher”.
Also when I visited in Argentina we were told that the top jobs went to people that could speak English extremely well. She spoke English very well but has taken English weekly and still does and she is in her late 50’s.
I think everything should be done to help children in the USA speak English WELL. A second language is a bonus.
I feel for the students. If you have ever been taught by a teacher with a heavy accent, then you know that the heavy accent really effects your ability to learn from them. Some people can hear through accents better than others, but it isn’t worth putting students at a risk of failing the subject just because the teacher cannot speak in a manner that can be easily understood by everyone.
And for those learning English as a second language, they shouldn’t learn to speak accented English, they should learn the form of English that is spoken in their region.
An interesting article, but a deeper issue which is not addressed is that everyone has an accent. The author (or perhaps the Arizona Board of Education) states that teachers who speak with “accents” may not be fluent in English. But this statement does not acknowledge the fact that we all have accents. What I assume the author of this article means is that teachers with a Spanish accent are being considered not fluent in English. This point needs to be clarified.
I am currently a college student who participates in a class that is taught by a professor with a thick Indian accent. From this experience I have learned that accents can indeed be an impediment to learning; however, I think that if my professor were more willing to slow down and repeat things when necessary, his accent would be a non-issue. While accents can be troubling, they are very manageable if handled correctly, and in fact I believe that learning to understand people with different accents is a valuable experience in of itself. As this article points out, fluency and accent are very different things, and I find it disturbing that the Arizona Board of Education is unable to make this distinction. By firing qualified teachers who happen have accents, rather than simply emphasizing that teachers need to spend a little extra time making sure that they are properly understood, the Arizona Board of Education is actually taking away from the education its students.
I find it a little hard to believe that Arizona would try to “even” (to put it some way) the accents for pre-schoolers. Yes their reasons do sound logical but given the mixture of cultures and the already large number of inmigrants speaking english carrying their native-tongue’s accents in the US I think they will have a hard time finding people “suitable” for the position. In the end they will end up widening the scope since they will realize schools will be short-handed if this ruling is strictly implemented.
I am an english teacher overseas and I do realize the importance of modeling the language for students with a correct pronunciation but the truth is that not always can you find personnel with such characteristics.
The New York Times article that this piece references states that teachers are not fired if they are found to have heavy accents. Instead, they are given training. I am not sure if the information about teachers being fired is from another source, but it appears inconsistent with the article.
I am US Citizen but not a US born. I went to college and post graduate school after graduating from high school from my original country. I didn’t know any English then but I went to college struggling with my English and got on the Dean’s List several times. I have lived here for the last 38 years.
I still speak with an accent but my son, who was born here and were forced to talk at home in our native language, has no accent at all when he speaks in English. In fact, he has an accent when he talks in our native language.
I believe this is another excuse for racism. I believe instead of worrying about the teachers having an accent, we should all think about improving the less than standard of education in this Country, as good as is in other developed countries around the world.
I am wondering if a white teacher has a better chance of keeping his/her job than an Spanish speaking individual.
As good Americans you are missing the most important points here and mixing irrelevant issues. (ie. you cannot compare USA with Europe, as in Europe there are many different languages, not just accents).
The main point is the quality of education; for teaching English you would preferably select the teacher who master the language on all its aspects (grammar, phonetics, composition, pronunciation, etc.), and it is applicable to any languages that you would like to teach or learn.
This is not a matter of racism or discrimination, this is a matter of selecting the teacher with the best language skills (in this particular case English Teacher).
For other subjects (Math, Geography, Science, etc) I agreed that for the level of pre-k to 2nd or 3rd grade, the teacher’s language (English) knowledge/domain, should be something to take into consideration.
Also, the concept of bilingual education is misunderstood. Bilingual education means the teaching of a second language (as an extra, as an additional skill) without trying to implement that second language over the primary language in that country and usually, the same applies here, ideally, the second language’ teachers should master all the aspects of that language. (Unfortunately, this is not happening in USA, to teach a language, you need more than simply speak it, you need to get a formal education in linguistics)
Just keep in mind, that if you have teachers that doesn’t master the subject that they are teaching, how Americans would pretend to get a better ranking in Education internationally and/or improve the quality of the education? (by the way, it is not one of the best). Of course, not only the teachers are responsible for it; parents and students play a significant role in the final results, as well.
Conclusion: As long as Americans keep deviating the attention from the main problem, in this particular case giving to the problem political connotation (racism, discrimination, etc), the problem will not be solved. The process of deciding if hiring or not an English teacher will be not how that person looks, the color of the skin, or hair, it will be based on his/her level of knowledge in the language that he/she will teach. (in this particular case English). I am sure, that there are many excellent English teachers who master the language and come from different ethnic backgrounds, therefore, the argument that racism/discrimination is the reason for firing English teachers because his/her accent will be not applicable, the decision for firing or hiring a particular language teacher will be based in the his/her level of proficiency in that language (the accent falls into the pronunciation of the language)
One thing is the different accents from people with English as a second language and another thing is an generation of Americans who did not pronounce their native language properly….
I grew up an Army brat, with parents from the Mid-West. I think that I speak like they do on the nightly national news programs. Everywhere I have lived someone has thought I had an accent from “somewhere else” (but often not where I had actually lived i.e. British). I now live a stone’s throw from Mexico in Brownsville, TX (here Spanish is the predominant language). And I am struggling to learn Spanish as an adult.
A huge part of spoken language is context and anticipation. I don’t actually use this word but let’s say I saw an acquaintance and in salutation said:
Now that is a totally improper contraction of a euphemism, but you understood it didn’t you? Spoken language is much more fluid and incomplete than written language: full of accents, hesitation, repetition (have you ever read a courtroom transcription?), figurative expressions, profanities, tone, and (seeming) non-sequiturs. And that is its’ beauty.
Fluency is the ability to function effectively in everyday life, not the ability to sound native, and exposure surely increases the ability to understand. I think watching ‘Looney Tunes’ (Elmer Fudd: “siwy wabit,” or Porky’s stuttering and stammering) and ‘Sesame Street’ with it’s various voices strengthened my language skills and comprehension.
Yes, all teachers should be fluent, but that is different from speaking homogenous, mundane, perfect, “unaccented” English…which, notably, is a non-existent concept. And it’s not like a brain ever gets “full.”
I believe that things like this are thinly-veiled, ethnocentric, fear-based, discrimination with ulterior motives (than the quality of education). Perhaps it should also be illegal to speak gibberish to an infant.
–What’s your major malfunction Arizona?!
‘If’ the strong accent is a problem in Arizona, I applaud them for trying to fix a problem. The tendency everywhere in this country seems to be to make excuses for everything and maintain the status quo–even when it isn’t working.
I have read the word multiculturalism a few times. Several leaders of countries are on record saying multiculturalism isn’t working. (It doesn’t take a leader to figure this out, I just mentioned it for support). Research has revealed that in the most homogenous communities is where there is most cooperation, participation and several other positive indicators.
I am not advocating segregation; I am saying if we are ever going to get along on this planet the trend needs to be toward being alike rather than different.
I don’t think it is asking too much for the teachers to be able to speak the language at least at the level of the state which is requiring this. And if they are raising the bar–based on our rankings in the world–it may be a good thing.
So talking about accents in other places, may not be relevant to what Arizona is doing. I think accents are impossible to rationally justify–we do have a dictionary. I have been in college classes in groups of students with accents and in some cases every other sentence, even though on the same project, was ‘what did you say’. I don’t view this as an optimum learning environment.
Just to broaden the scope here a little it seems we are in a changed world. The world is ’smaller’ and the time for multi-culture, multi-language and multi-ethics is over. So we may as well start making the adjustments. And anytime we can make something better we need to do so.
We have a detrimental tendency to do what ‘feels good’. We better start doing what ‘is right’ as the future world may not have much to offer our children if we don’t.
If the dog barks, put him in a box. (Boston- that’s what is sounds like to me)
If the dog box, put him in a barks. (if you come from New York)
(New Yawk City)
Gotta love it.
Hmmm…. cashum/calcium, eh!
Fluency in language is a good idea, perhaps. But why and what for!, when language itself evolves to shape, reshape and take shape yet again, practcally daily. Of course, change going on all the time; yes, the world would not end.
Very much enjoyed reading and agreeing with many.
Different, difficult, and thought provoking in some way, while on the other it is immensely interesting article.
(The very last paragraph is well put; however, need to be addressed. A couple of times I myself encountered that and found no choice but to mention the truth–they were CRY FOR HELP owing to THIRD PARTY TRICKERIES to one who is and lives alone–me. In the meantime, having becoming a regular contributor, a couple of times found them not there that were meant to be so. So, something else was/is obviously going on)
Finally, English is not my first language; therefore, many mistakes.
OK, so the AZ Board of Ed confuses ‘fluency’ with ‘accent.’ Their bad. And declares one accent (we all have at least one) superior to at least one other. I suspect the chosen one is considered socially or class superior. Your example ‘lebel’ vs. ‘level’ suggests the inferior pronunciation is working class northern urban African-American. But any African-American with enough education (4 year BS) to get a teaching certificate long since has learned to hide the more extreme signs of their accent for ‘public consumption’ – i. e., in front of white folks. How well does the Board’s delineation of unacceptable ‘accent’ differentiate between American southwestern English and ESL spoken by educated (4 years…) Mexican native speakers? Are teachers of English allowed to use words derived from Mexican Spanish? There’s a lot of them. Can they use the term, “two bits,” which comes from Spanish gold coins that could be broken into 8 pieces? Do the Board’s definitions permit proper Bostonians to teach in AZ? How about Cockneys, or Scots – even from the Scottish lowlands?
If you want your kid to speak their native tongue the way you do, say so. But make sure that ‘the way you do’ is also good for a specific social situation and that you teach that, too. Classroom speech is generally considered suitable for formal talk, or informal, high minded conversation – typical business discussions involving managers. But do you want to teach only this to K-6 kiddies? And not teach the differences in common speech patterns?
Accents are nothing to bother about; by the time I was five I’d been introduced to Californian, Western, South-eastern, New York, Bostonian, Wisconsonite, British, Irish, Scottish, and Spanish accents, and the ONLY trouble that came from it is that now I tend to sound as a great mixture of all of them at once.
I have come across the problem of comprehending language frequently: in English, German and French. Some regional accents were easier to understand–little variation from what I spoke and understood–while it took me weeks to understand those regionalisms which were most distant from what I knew.and thought of as “standard” pronunciation.
It’s still a problem that I have with Quebecois French. While I was in France, I knew an airplane designer who used to come to Quebec for IATA conferences while he helped design the Concorde. Though he insisted on my speaking French, he much preferred to speak his somewhat awkward English whenever he had to come to Canada. That is how much trouble he had with the Quebecois.
I would say that “fluent” would be any speaker whom you may ask to explain or repeat words that you can’t understand immediately and who can help you understand what they mean. This also presupposes a somewhat wider vocabulary which contributes to fluency. Anybody who can express what they mean in a longer conversation is, in my view, fluent in a language, though they might not be fluent in all subjects. I definitely do not consider myself fluent in either Spanish or Russian. I have not really used Russian since I first learned it in the 1960s. I’m a little better in Spanish, which I used on holidays in Mexico and the Dominican Republic in the last dozen years or so.
I also applaud Arizona for the efforts at integration being made there.
However, I do hope that we will not have a “one world” in everything. It’s multi-culturalism that makes the world so interesting. And as we have seen here already, language is an important part of how we see our world.
I don’t care if Arizona just happens to border Mexico. To choose ONE blanket “foreign language” and force all students to learn it, and not to force the immigrants to learn the language of this land they are living in is…. RACIST. You all know it is not just about being “bilingual”. It is about SPANISH. Spanish has now claimed the place where those immigrants done have to BOTHER learning our language, WE are FORCED to learn THEIRS…. in OUR country. Uh….. what makes them BETTER than French speaking immigrants, or Russian refugees, etc., etc. Any time you make one group of people superior to another, by virtue of their country of origin, this is a form of RACISM.
You want messed up? I was a voice major in college, and had to learn to sing (properly) in 4 other languages – German, French, Italian, and Latin. And my “Diction for the Singer” class was taught by the head of the vocal department – a little Korean man with an accent so thick we all were frowning just to translate his English, much less put any faith in how he enunciated in the other languages. Hilarious !
That’s really, really racist. I mean seriously, it’s just an accent. You don’t need to fire someone because of it. That just doesn’t make any sense! Well yeah, it will make English a little harder to learn, but kids will have different teachers every school year! It won’t take long for them to see that their teacher has an accent. There are other people in the world, you know! It’s not just their teacher.
I’ve made my point.
Yeah, they definitely mean dialect, not accent. Agree completely with Polyglot. Mexican/Indian teachers speaking too quickly in all the wrong breaths, using incomprehensibly incorrect grammar and pronunciation. It’s a HUGE problem all over the United States (and Europe as well). In most cases, it has NOTHING to do with bilingual education and EVERYTHING to do with the fact that a professor transferred from India will work for cheaper than a professor hired from within the United States. Accents are interesting and CHARMING; trying to take in an improperly localized dialect and a challenging educational concept at the same time is NOT. Something along the lines of a professor from Germany saying things like “ve” instead of “we” but having otherwise perfect English is about a fair limit in my book. Feigning political correctness is not worth our youth struggling through or FAILING classes.
How silly! Using the lebel/level definition (or many many others) could easily differentiate a midwesterner from a Bostonian—-so which one of them is not “fluent”? The definition of fluency does not go to pronunciation, nor should it. I know many un-understandable englishmen and many supremely fluent and eloquent foreigners. Atavism be damned. Everybody will speak the same way or else, by god!
It’s not even required by law to learn English in America in the first place, nor will 99.9% of political candidates admit they feel it should be because if they disgruntle those not … “fluent” … they’re going to lose a gigantic chunk of their potential voters’ support. Then this happens? Seriously? Like there isn’t a shortage of teachers already. Who would want to be one? Not I! My goodness.
Let’s take the kids away from their parents with accents next… The parents are a bad influence, clearly.
Fortunately, this will never go through. They aren’t going to want to put up with the protestors. Not even to mention the discrimination issues that would arise from such interpretable criteria.
I have met for example Indians who can speak, and especially WRITE far better English than Brits. Save for their accent, they’re definitely more proficient than some Brits.
Just because the Brit speaks with the queen’s accent, does that mean they are better qualified as English teachers?
Accents are natural part of spoken languages. It is important to realize that no accent is better than another. It should also be stressed that accents are not a speech or language disorder.
The term ‘accent’ describes the combination of pitch, stresses and rhythm of someone’s speech, as well as how they pronounce all their vowels and consonants.
An accent is the way you speak.An accent can often reveal a person’s cultural background and should be considered only as a difference in how one pronounces words within a shared community.
Neutralaccent refers “An Accent the World Understands”.
In elementary school, I had an oral quiz in English class. The teacher said each word and then we wrote it down. When the teacher said “aunt”, she pronounced it like the word “ant” so I wrote “ant” on my paper. It was the only word I “misspelled” on that test. Too young (and too shy) to go up to her and explain the misunderstanding, I left the mark as it was. Maybe if I had spoken up, she would have seen the error in her ways. Who knows? That teacher could still be asking kids to spell homophones. :/
This is the stupidest thing I`ve ever heard, I can`t believe that anyone would “disqualify” a teacher just because they have an accent, that`s insane.
I am from Canada, Toronto and it`s sometimes difficult for me to understand what some southern Americans say, I remember once I met this girl from Tennessee and she had a very strong accent, it was hard do understand what she said and her native language was English, so I believe that these teachers they`re talking about are way much more easy to understand than she was.
That reminds of my little brother`s teacher when he was in 2nd grade, she was Canadian but she didn`t have, let`s put it like this, the best grammar. My brother was using “seen” and “done” for exemple as the past form of “see” and “do”, he`d go like: I done this, I seen that, etc. My mom was correcting him all the time and once I went to pick him up at school and had a chat with his teacher and realized that she spoke like that, needless to say anything else.
I`ve gotta agree that when it comes to teaching English a native speaker would be better, however, if the subject being taught is Math or Science for exemple I don`t believe accent is a problem at all.
COME ON ARIZONA, what are you real intentions? Get a life.
My boyfriend has the weirdest pronunciation of certain words, presumably left over from the slight speech difficulty he had as a child (r’s and w’s killed him). For instance, he says “pronounciation” instead of “pronunciation,” “aigs” instead of “eggs” (Same with legs), and if he says “for” too much, it comes out as “forwer.” Would that be an impediment to him teaching if he decided that’s what he wanted to do? I don’t personally think so, and in the specific context of an accent, he does not have a foreign accent, he just has odd pronunciation. If we’re nitpicking over how someone says the words, that is a different issue to accents.
My stepdad is English, thus he speaks British-English (or the real English, as he calls it). He’s not unintelligible either, but if he was Irish or Scottish, I’d probably say otherwise. =D
I agree with one of the comments about- why not enroll them in an accent reduction program? Many certified accent trainers (like myself) provide services online and I’m sure there are providers within the area as well.
makes sense … non fluent people only got the jobs because of the change in education policy … now its changed they lose their jobs … no one complianed when people who werent fluent were given jobs
I’m sure my comment will upset many. However, we are Americans here. Our universal language is English! If you lived in Mexico, you would be required to speak Spanish! I feel that if you want to be an American you should learn proper English. Yes, it’s good to be bilingual. I think all of us have an accent regardless of where we came from. However, if you’re teaching young children English, your enunciation and pronunciation of words and the language should be precise. Parents should also be teaching their children properly! You should not say “lebels” when the word is “levels”. This is very confusing to young minds and they will end up saying it wrong and spelling it wrong. My husband is dyslexic and has a very hard time spelling words. He spells them like they sound and that is usually wrong. I believe we should all speak clearly so that others can understand us. That is very important. If you pronounce the word incorrectly, it can be confusing and sometimes lead to the wrong understanding of what was actually said. As adults we can usually figure it out. However, down here in the South there are many people who do not speak well at all! Some of them have lived here all their lives! I’m very thankful Ebonics were NOT adopted as a new language! It sounds like AZ is trying to produce the best speaking teachers they can for their classrooms. I agree with them.
Looks like they’re going to have to fire all their teachers because it’s impossible not to have an accent.
I wonder if my speech impediment would hinder me from teaching in AZ?
Quite some time ago, I had an old aunt who, in the days of wringer washers and hang-up clotheslines, “warshed her clothes and then wrenched them out.” She came from a small town named Wiarton, which we pronounced “wire-tun.” She somehow swallowed that down and gagged it back up as “wawr-ton.” I’ve never heard anyone else actually pronounce either of them that way, although I did see someone above mention “warsh.”
Looking into dictionary.com, here is an excerpt related to the word “accent”:
Regional American accents can be tough to decipher, especially for foreigners.
The researchers found that listeners were less likely to believe speakers with foreign accent s.
Italians tend to accent the penultimate syllable and then buy a vowel.
Instead of stressing on real academic competencies or teaching abilities, not to mention respect and cultural understanding, some individuals living in the “high places” – maybe not intentionally – try to insinuate a form of linguistic pre-eminence in our society. Let’s not forget that we are ALL equal and imperfect humans beings. (Ref. Acts 17:26).
As a polyglot, I enjoy deciphering a language unknown to me as much as listening to a variety of accents within the same language. It makes me smile, thinking of Babel Tower!!
I don’t think people should freak out over this thing but it might affect a little. People can develop a requirement for teachers with accents to go to speech lessons or something. Or, even easier, the teacher could have a computer that says the correct pronunciations.
One more try.
People keep saying we all have accents. I don’t think this is relevant for a couple reasons. One, this is specifically about Arizona, so whatever is normal for Arizona is the basis for speaking correctly in this instance. Two, the bottom line, what most seem to overlook is we have dictionaries. From what I am hearing from most people it would seem dictionaries are not used or respected.
If you use a dictionary and you know what a consonant and a vowel sounds like and you make those sounds as you form words–you are speaking correctly–no matter where you are. If you are on the east coast and you drop an ‘r’ and say ca when you should say car, or you say lar when you should say law–you aren’t speaking correctly. And it doesn’t matter how many people do it.
Unless dictionaries in the US are different why not consider the pronunciation given to be correct? The alternative is to admit the dictionary is a suitable reference and it gives adequate information on how to speak correctly–but we all want to speak wrong.
I know people are trying to put their unique spin on this, talking about languages vs dialects vs accent, etc, but without some serious definitions this turns into a lot of semantics… doesn’t it?
Maybe I just don’t understand what these discussions are for. I thought it was to try to get to a rational, logical truth as much as possible given the conditions. But, perhaps it is just more fun to prattle on for days about what each person experienced in their life and how it didn’t hurt them. But I don’t know how anyone can know what didn’t hurt them.
By the way, this exact lack of rational thinking about problems and solutions is the reason this country has slid backwards for the last half century.
Face it, there are a lot of problems to fix. And if we can’t look at something as simple as expecting teachers to speak correctly around the children who are learning from them then we are just hopeless; and we deserve to watch the country just crumble around us.
This is ludicrous! Preposterous! (Is there such a word as postposterous?)
EVERYONE has an accent. Will they then disqualify all teachers? What about teachers from England, Australia, New Zealand? Ireland and Scotland? What about the Caribbean islands on which English is the primary language? Belize?
Who gets to decide who has or doesn’t have an accent, and who judges whether THAT person has an accent?
I’m Hispanic and am fluent in English and Spanish. When my Chinese friend came over to my house one day, he didn’t try speaking Mandarin in my household; that would have been disrespectful. Why not the same for a nation? While the literacy rate is higher than other decades, it is still fairly low for a nation that is considered not a 3rd world country. Part of this is the notion that it is acceptable to come here and not learn English. I grew up in a town where 1/4 of the kids were in ESL for Spanish, 1/4 were in regular English classes and spoke it well, 1/4 were in regular English classes and did not enunciate the differences between axe and ask properly, and then 1/4 were in ESL for Hindi (my town had a high Indian population). How can we teach our kids the proper way to speak if when they leave the home for school they are just found in a sea of languages creating their own versions of English with none of them correct.
And it is l-e-v-e-l not l-e-b-e-l. That teacher in my eyes should not teach, especially if it is a course like reading, English, expository writing,etc. If it were biology, I’d be forgiving on it as some words are still debated on how to pronounce on a collegiate level.
I took a physics class in college that was taught by a Korean woman “fluent” in English, but spoken with an accent. I nearly failed because I couldn’t understand her – I had to do what no college student likes to do, I read the book.
But to be fair to the professor, she was completely capable to teach the course. She obviously knew the topic better than me (still does).
Growing up in Florida, I grew accustomed to Hispanic accents, as well as Southern accents and others that filtered in. We need to be familiar with them.
That being said, I’m glad I don’t have to make the unpopular decisions that the Arizona BOE has to.
…just one word comes to my mind when I heard about this: “RACISM”
…Hey Brenda don’t call yourself “American” and this goes to all the stupid people from USA who don’t know anything about geography, since AMERICA is the whole continent from Alaska to La Patagonia in Argentina not only your country, so instead of being criticizing and being so racist to people go and learn some geography!!!!!!!!!!
While you are correct that America refers to both continents, North and South, it is also a correct term used to refer to a citizen of the United States of America. What else should we call ourselves? “America” is in the official name of our country, so it stands to reason that we call ourselves “Americans”. People from France are French. People from Britain are British. People from China are Chinese. People from Switzerland are Swiss. People from Japan are Japanese. And people from the United States of America are American.
There are times when accents interfere with day-to-day activities. For example, a customer entered my shop a few weeks ago, looked over my selection of honey products, and inquired to my husband if we had royal jelly. However, my husband thought she was asking for “lawyer” jelly. After asking her a few times to repeat herself and still not understanding, he called to me and I was fortunately able to interpret.
Yes, accents can pose problems. Arizona has a reasonable argument on that. I may not agree with their recent immigration tactics, but in this case their concerns are somewhat justified. If a student cannot understand what is being spoken, then the student cannot successfully learn the material. If it were otherwise, we wouldn’t need teachers at all.
Several distinct issues are wrongly grouped together here.
First of all, it is misleading to speak of “English” as though there is one proper way to speak (both grammar and pronunciation), and to imply that every other way of speaking is an “accent” or a “lack of fluency.”
English is an international language with many legitimate varieties, some of which are not even mutually intelligible. They are not wrong, and the speakers may be highly educated and “fluent” native speakers, and yet they it not be appropriate for them to serve as teachers in the context of a different variety of English.
So the issue of foreign (or regional) varieties of English is not the situation being discussed in the situation mentioned here. However, the issue of appropriateness, since a teacher (whether native speaker of some variety of English, or someone who learned English as a second or third language) must be understood to be effective.
Secondly, “fluency” means different things to different people. For some, it is the rate of speech and the lack of hesitancy and inappropriate pauses. For others, it means a lack of grammatical or vocabulary-choice errors. For others, it refers to pronunciation. Or does it refer to comprehensibility?
As a language learning consultant, I have been trained in using the ACTFL OPI (oral proficiency interview) to measure spoken proficiency level. The reality is, for someone learning a language, there will be at least some “patterns of error” until they reach the very highest level. And pronunciation is one of the last areas to be completely native.
The question is: Do the errors create a problem in understanding? Are they so distracting (or even incomprehensible) that the students cannot learn?
If so, then the state would be justified in disqualifying a teacher. But to simply have arbitrary standards of “fluency” held up as the measuring stick will not be helpful.
Because there are other skills involved in teaching, as well. A teacher who is “less fluent” might still be a better, more empathetic, more energetic and well-liked, more affirming teacher.
I won’t dispute that “fluent” comes from the Latin verb meaning “to flow”. However, that verb is “fluere”, not “fluentem”. “Fluentem” is accusative singular form of “fluens” which is the present participle of “fluere”, and it means “flowing”.
well im mexican, and i pretty much speak quite fluently four different languages, spanish, english, french, and german… i dont see a regular person learing more than 2 languages at the most.
[...] or a Virginian as they do from some non-native English speakers who speak with an accent. Source: http://hotword.dictionary.com/fluency/ Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. « [...]
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i been speaking english for 19 years living in a house where German is the only language spoke. I understand it but i dont know how to speak it, i find that weird weird weird. :/ i cant even say a sentence. but my parents know german and understand english but could hardly speak it.
I don’t necessarily agree with saying that a teacher with an accent cannot teach, I mean, they don’t just speak, they do write and if they are fluent in English, hopefully they spell and write correctly.
I do think it’s quite funny when tv shows have English subtitles for people that have heavy accents, yet are speaking English. HAHAHA.
One pet peeve of mine is when English speaking people mispronounce common words such as; “I aksed him” instead of “asked” or “expresso” when they should be saying “espresso”, but that may not be related to this topic.
Accent is a main factor of language proficiency. I think the author has mistaken ‘native accent’ for ‘foreign accent’. It’s to my view is not proper to compare a British accent to a German (for example) accent of English. And to be fluent you need to speak a language with no foreign accent. And then ‘fluency’ isn’t a synonym for ‘full language proficiency’ which stands for the term ‘native’s level’. To speak like a native means to not just be fully understood, but also to be pleasant at the way you sound, so to be culturally accepted.
To conclude, I’d say ‘fluency’ is a term to describe a high level of proficiency that a foreigner can obtain learning a language. And off course it uncludes a proper-sounding accent to harmonize the perception.
I do think it’s quite funny when tv shows have English subtitles for people that have heavy accents, yet are speaking English. HAHAHA.
I had a wonderful lady as my English professor in college, but for half a semester I was left wondering if “sinnets” was a word I had never heard. Turns out, she was saying “sentence”. Also, I was teased mercilessly for the year and a half I lived in Texas (I’m from Wisconsin – big difference!) for my long o and long a sounds. I had a guy tell me that “bag” was not spelled b-e-g. I countered that if it was, it would be beg not “b-ay-g”. Oy …
Hey, You Adam, because it’s your new name… as I can know it from your 5th octobre 2011 post.
I LOVE that comment!
My friend had an Argentinian Spanish teacher at his old school and now in Spanish class he talks with a different accent from everyone else, because he picked up her accent xD our teacher was really confused at first whenever he said anything.
What about a perfectly “American” teacher who happened to have a lisp? Will he/she be fired under the new law?
In Texas I once worked with a Bostonian who (famously among her friends) told a waiter in a restaurant that she needed “a f…” . Of course she was asking for a fork. Her accent didn’t come across very well down south. Would she be considered to be “corrupting” the Arizona kids’ language?
Maybe they should restrict teacher recruiting to people who grew up within 100 miles of the school. God forbid that their kids learn from a teacher who drives their cah to school instead of their car, or writes with a pin instead of a pen. I suppose that it would infringe upon their apparently monolithic but delicate culture to have their tykes learn to understand those horrid Bostonians, Carolinians or Texans. Maybe their kids all settle within 100 miles of the family home place and are never exposed to fluent english-speakers who sound any different than the guy next door.
After spending 6 years in western Pennsylvania where the words ‘collar,’ ‘color,’ and ‘caller’ sounded identical and caused me no end of trouble, I moved to New England where ‘khaki,’ ‘cocky,’ and ‘car key’ are indistinguishable. It’s those pesky vowels. And then there’s that southern ‘pin/pen’ problem: ‘independent’ is pronounced ‘endepindent.’
I am a Canadian who speaks 6 languages. English (Most Fluent), French, Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, Tamil. I used to speak Bengal as well, but lost it due to many years of disuse.
The primary fact to remember is that there is not even one individual in the world who does not have an accent.
The second but equally important fact to remember is that we need to preserve and maintain every language in its most perfect condition, to the best of our abilities as possible. But in doing so, we must walk a fine line between preserving the purity/perfection of any language and not engaging in any kind of discrimination based on a person’s racial/linguistic origin.
It is impossible to get rid of accent completely (100%) for most individuals. However, it can be minimized to the point that even with the presence of an accent the person still can learn to pronounce a word correctly.
Pronouncing the word “Level” as “LeBel” is not merely an issue to accent, it is in fact WRONG PRONUNCIATION and THAT SHOULD NOT BE ACCEPTED; in any teacher at all levels, especially for primary school teachers (up to grade 5).
If the medium of instruction of an educational institution is English/French/Spanish or any other language; then ALL teachers (of any/every subject) must have CORRECT PRONUNCIATION of that language, whether or not they have an accent. If an institution provides the students the facility to learn second and third languages; then those languages must be taught by teachers who speak fluently and correctly both the primary language of the institution (medium of instruction used for all other subjects such as math, sciences etc.) and the second/third language they are teaching the students. This is because, such teachers would be able to help the students identify the difference between the primary language and the second/third language with special attention to the similarities and differences between the pronunciation and the structure of the grammar to a child who is learning more than the primary language of the institution (medium of instruction).
If the School Boards would clearly define that
1. An accent is universally present in every individual on the face of the earth and hence is inevitable; however, if the accent is heavy to the point that it amounts to WRONG PRONUNCIATION (based on the Best Dictionary of a particular language),THEN it is NOT ACCEPTABLE.
2. Hence a person with a heavy accent (poor ability to pronounce correctly the primary language of instruction of a particular institution) would NOT qualify to teach in that school.
3. Fluency in reading, writing, speaking (with correct pronunciation) of the primary language of instruction of a particular school is an ABSOLUTE/ESSENTIAL qualification to be a teacher of ANY SUBJECT in that school. And
4. For the teachers of second/third/fourth languages in a school it is essential that they have fluency in reading, writing, speaking (with correct pronunciation) of the second/third/fourth language as the case may be, as an ESSENTIAL part of QUALIFICATION to be a teacher of that particular language; IN ADDITION to Fluency in reading, writing, speaking (with correct pronunciation) of the Primary Language of instruction of a particular school.
This strict and limiting criterion for qualifying teachers in schools, is essential to PRESERVE, IMPROVE and MAINTAIN the Linguistic and Cultural Heritage of every people-group on earth. Such policy would enrich every language, which in turn would enrich and maintain the richness of every culture, because language is the backbone of every culture.
If you’re fluent, you know the words to speak, it doesn’t matter so much how they sound to others, unless context makes you mistake one for another.
All American teachers should be required to learn to writ and speak English fluently before teaching students in American class rooms. America is primarily an English speaking country.
Pronouncing “lebels” instead of “levels” is a serious infraction in an English-speaking classroom. Also, I very much appreciate listening to network TV and hearing the cultured and highly educated news broadcasters speaking in a refined way.
It just makes listening to the news so much easier when highly educated people speak without a lot of dialect or brogue. Now, it would be different if you were listening to the BBC news, we would expect them to have a heavy British accent.
But in America, it’s just too hard on the ears to listen to an Eastern Indian or Spanish or German accent. That’s why it’s very important and proper English pronunciation be taught to children at all age levels, grade school through college. Only in language classes (German, French, or Italian) would we want to ever hear all those foreign guttural sounds.
I completely agree with the previous post made by “Marianne” that the amount of hotlinked words is excessive. It’s seemed very unnecessary to hotlink what looks to be at least a quarter of the article when to search for a word definition the cut/paste option is easily accessible. It’s almost insulting to think how few words the site finds the necessity to hotlink for our apparent limited understanding. A smidge depressing really how they assume we will need to look up so many words to understand the article and contexts therein. I agree Marianne, it’s very distracting. Other than that I have no complaints.
I think you made it very clear that fluency and accent are two different things yet each influence the other.
For example someone with a neutral accent may not be very fluent but fluent enough to be understood.On the other hand someone who is fluent enough but has a strong mother tongue influence and also unable to pronounce the words correctly can make it very difficult to comprehend.
What really matters at the end of the day is communication – the very reason for which languages evolved.
Nonetheless, I think teachers need to have certain level of fluency and an understandable accent to be able to impart to students/kids.
You think bilingualism is a problem? I am South African and we have 11 different languages. It creates many problems with understanding and integration among cultures and races alike, especially after being exacerbated and exploited by Apartheid. I speak 3 languages, English, German and Afrikaans fluently. However i do still struggle a little with Afrikaans pronunciation. It is quite difficult to say the least. But when I try to speak Zulu or Xhosa (which have their roots in Africa) I get seriously unstuck, despite having seriously tried hard. It’s near impossible and like I said, creates barriers between different population groups, which in the shadow of Apartheid, desperately need to be broken down.
Accent should have nothing to do with it. The big issue is whether or not the speakers (whether instructors or peers or parents or … whomever) observe proper rules of English grammar and word selection/vocabulary. I don’t mind struggling to understand someone’s pronunciation, but when the basic sentence doesn’t make any sense, I am not happy at all. My experience has shown that, the stronger the accent, the worse the grammar and the worse the word selection. I work closely with a person of Polish descent who considers himself to be linguistically without equal – which is a complete joke! Although I know he is highly intelligent, he’s not taken the time to learn English grammar. He does know the words – but has no clue how to put them together. Not only is he incapable of orally communicating properly, he likewise pens some of the worst nonsense I’ve ever encountered in emails and other written communications. But, if he can’t force his mouth and tongue around the words, that’s not something he can probably fix. And sometimes, with some people, it can be quite charming and entertaining, in fact. But he – and everyone else who is challenged to learn another language – CAN and MUST learn and practice proper grammar and proper vocabulary if they’re going to teach or model the English language. As an aside, Arizona pulls some real doozies, don’t they? I’m glad I don’t live in that constitutionally-challenged state.
Whoops! Sorry – accidentally posted the preceding remarks with the wrong article. Guess I need more training in the grammar of technology.
When I was in college, I had any number of professors / teachers with accents. Fluency was seldom an issue, though grammar could be.
The problem arose in their ability to convey the material with comprehension, whether in speaking, or in writing. Both require comprehendible grammar. Not an issue? Come test time it was an issue, especially when the grades reflected the lack of comprehension. Add this to an arrogant teacher, and the problem had no resolution short of avoiding the class in the first place.
There are standard words and pronunciations for the English language. Educated people should know these and continue making use of the standard, otherwise called a dictionary.
I really don’t know What is Arizona board of eduacation thinking??? Are they drunk??? I’m a bilingualism and I’m also have an accent in English but i also have a daughter whose speak English perfectly with no accent at all, so can Arizona board of education explain this to me before they are fire teacher who’s an accent!! I feel that is unfair for them!!
Very interesting perspectives that Arizona has, but what about teachers that have a speech impediment. Under federal laws, people cannot be discriminated against in the work place because of a speech impediment. I had a teacher in 8th grade that was difficult to understand, and under these guidelines might have lost his job. My classmates and I eventually learned to understand him 90% of the time, and he was very okay with us asking him to repeat something. I’m not sure if AZ should be allowed to terminate a teacher solely based on their accent, but I’m sure they would find a way around it if this ever became a lawsuit.
Judge Deborah (et alia) – please be advised that there is no such thing as a British accent. The United Kingdom consists of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the inhabitants speak in HUNDREDS of varying accents; some of these are incomprehensible to others living only fifty miles away!
In all the preceding discussion on accents/dialects/fluency, the term “British accent” is the one that is the most grating.