Standard American/British Pronunciation in China

<b>Forum for ideas on how to teach pronunciation </b>

Moderators: Dimitris, maneki neko2, Lorikeet, Enrico Palazzo, superpeach, cecil2, Mr. Kalgukshi2

Post Reply
Posts: 3
Joined: Fri Apr 13, 2007 2:36 am
Location: Beijing, China

Standard American/British Pronunciation in China

Post by nancy0911 » Thu Apr 19, 2007 4:44 am

Hi fellows,
For a very long time, our Chinese students are demanded to master the standard American or British prounciation. I remember when I was in the college, many students perfered American pronunciation and they spent much time on it. However, with the developing of sociolinguistics, more people suggest that we Chinese should have our own feature on the pronunciation of English like that in Singapore. After all, it is in China. Why must we seek the standard pronunciation? What are your opinions? Any ideas are highly appreciated!


Posts: 1
Joined: Wed Apr 18, 2007 11:00 am
Location: UK

Post by jameso » Thu Apr 19, 2007 5:27 pm

Hi its an interesting topic. Check out the guardian website. They have a really interesting article on it. ... 24,00.html

My own personal opinion (for what its worth) is that we cannot seal any language in a bell jar. However, for teaching purposes we must stay with a standard form of pronunciation. If a language diverges to the point where people cannot communicate effectively then it ceases to be a common language. While it is a good idea for individual cultures to place their own "spin" on the language they use, communication is the key. Forms of pronunciation will always vary (try listening to a glaswegian) but these impact not only on communication but also on peceptions of the speaker. I am a psychology graduate and in my first year we did an experiment. Split the class in two and place them in different rooms. We then listened to a man talking about a Mercedes. One had a Yorkshire accent, one spoke with RP, but the same speech was used. In the first example the class believed the speaker was a mechanic. In the second group they believed he owned a car. If this doesnt demonstrate the impact of pronunciation, I'm not sure what does. Thats enough of my opinions.

Posts: 3
Joined: Fri Apr 13, 2007 2:36 am
Location: Beijing, China

re- jameso

Post by nancy0911 » Fri Apr 27, 2007 3:34 am

Dear jameso,
Thanks very much for you opinions. I feel you have to some extent misunderstood my ideas. I mean that we who take English as a second or foreign language need not to master the standard pronunciation just like a native speaker, but the precondition is that there is no trouble in communication. Many sociolinguists claim that that is our sociolinguistic right. However, I really agree with you that the ESL/EFL teachers should try best to have a standard pronunciation. After all, they are the imitating objects of students.


Posts: 11
Joined: Mon Apr 30, 2007 1:45 am
Location: Philippines

Reverse the Situation

Post by jedimasterbooboo » Thu May 03, 2007 4:35 am

So reverse the situation, and think of me, an American teacher learning some Chinese. The tapes I'm using to learn Chinese highlight very specific pronunciation rules that I do well to follow. I practice, and I'm actually able to get the tones right after listening to a good tape of modeled Chinese phrases.

So, why am I doing this? Is it my right to pronounce Chinese any way it comes out? I'm a native speaker of English. Should we have an American version of Chinese? Would you understand it?

Jameso made some good points in my opinion.

Now, the fact is, that people all over the world learning English will speak with their regional accents. It's no problem. Accents are one thing. Changing the way that letters are sounded and mixing them up with their native language doesn't help anyone. Example: here in the Philippines if English speakers are mixing up the P's and F's, it's just wrong.

Sometimes they say, "They are priendly priendly feofle." Well, this may have some regional charm, but it's wrong.

Each region will have their own challenges in pronouncing unfamiliar sounds and so the result is a particular brand of English for the region, it's inevitable.

Because of this inevitability, we want to (me included) accept these regional differences. There is definitely such thing as Konglish, Chinglish, Spanglish, Taglish, Singlish. They are interesting to learn about and have to be accepted to a point.

But, they should all begin by learning correct pronunciation and we can see where that takes us (my opinion).

I guess your original post begs the question,
How can we teach a different pronunciation? Pronunciation standards vary a little, but not much.

Posts: 92
Joined: Mon Feb 02, 2004 6:45 am
Location: China

Post by Machjo » Fri Jun 29, 2007 1:51 pm

But how do we teach correct pronunciation when there is no official standard?

In Greenbaum's "Oxford English Grammar", quite descriptivist I must say, dii, zii, and thii are all recorded as pronunciations of 'the', the only mention being its regionality without suggesting one is better than another.

A more prescriptivist grammar might suggest that only RP is acceptable, all else being wrong.

So it would seem that any teacher can argue his point by choosing his book!

So which book is right? Now one could argue that there can be language discrimination based on accent. I've read of experiments in the US relating to black vs white accents with kindergarten students. Yes, in kindergarten the stereotypes are already set! With such an argument, do we argue that blacks ought to learn to speak with a wite accent, or that whites ought to learn to accept the black accent? The argument goes both ways, as for Chiense accents too.

Interestingly enough, some foreigners learning Arabic will choose to go for... wait for this... a Persian accent! There is usually religious motivation for this. To choose to learn Arabic with a Persian accent is usually religiously moticated, and would be roughly equivalent to a foreign Anglican wanting to learn RP to sound like the queen (head of the Curch of England), or a foreign Mormon wanting to go for a Utah accent.

So before we talk of a 'correct' pronunciation', we first need to define that.

I know many scholars in the past have in fact promoted the establishment of an English Academy, but the general population, preferring a world of regional Englishes rather than a universal standard, have generally rejected it, and so far they've gotten their way.

When I teach English, since Oxford dicrtionaries are most accessible and they use RP, I teach RP. Bear in mind though that that is a personally adopted standard and not one that has any official stamp of approval by any academy. As long as no official academy exists, English is in for a free-for-all.

Nothing we can do about it.

Your book or mine? :wink:

Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Dec 27, 2008 4:29 pm
Location: Canada, China

Post by Halapo » Sun Apr 11, 2010 1:35 pm

The example from Singapore and my own from Japan, where there is a "Japanese-way-of-English" or "Sing-lish", are often to difficult for native speakers to understand.

So why bother making a language that native speakers from the two original contributing languages can not understand?

Another example of "flavored English" is from Hong Kong. Outside of Hong Kong, its nearly impossible to understand their "Konger-English". But so many English speakers in Hong Kong claim to be fluent in English. In my own opinion this is because they have accepted that their way of English is correct, and that trying to sound American or British is not necessary. Again, what good is claiming you speak English when your English is only understood by people who speak the same native language as you?

Teaching in China, I often hear "Ching-lish" and I understand it. My family back home would not understand it. It is useful for communication between people who speak both original languages, but it is not useful when speaking to a native speaker. In fact in most cases it only makes your own English seem worse ( or Chinese, if you are like me and have to go the other way).

I will end on a different note. People will create more and more Ching-lish, Sing-lish, etc... It can't be stopped, but it will start to go the other way too. Eng-nese is becoming just as common. Right now the Chinese government has to make rules for naming new babies in China, because parents are getting more and more creative with names, and importing foreign characters and sounds.

I don't think a Chinese teacher of Chinese will be teaching that in school. Just like I wont be teaching Ching-lish in my class's.

Posts: 3031
Joined: Tue Oct 26, 2004 6:57 pm
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

Post by fluffyhamster » Tue Apr 13, 2010 10:15 am

Interesting thread (that I somehow missed before!).

IMHO, teachers and certainly students should aim for "perfection" (especially during basic, beginner-level pronunciation exercises - RP minimal pairs etc), but of course everyone can and will settle for somewhat less (i.e. simply being understood sufficiently) in actual communication.

One thing most people never do though is occasionally have a pronunciation "refresher", which is a shame, because it can really help, especially if one isn't yet living and breathing the language (i.e. completely immersed in it) every day.

Posts: 11
Joined: Sun Nov 29, 2009 9:51 pm
Location: Antigua, Guatemala

Post by Antiguated » Mon Jun 28, 2010 7:57 pm

I was just thinking about this tonight actually. I'm pretty new so excuse my lack of theory, but I did some listening to fairly standard UK and US accents with my class today and we had a discussion about the differences.

We both agreed that the US accent enunciates syllables better and also doesn't swallow vowels, use a schwa for so many things.

I don't think the US accent is superior all things have their ups and downs, but I just had a WTF moment about how I can teach pron and speaking.:idea:

I feel bad about getting them to imitate British speech when they're not really hungry for it, will often be living in India, the US, Aus etc. and TBH how many foreign people do you ever hear that have mastered an accent.

So the question is what there a more 'neutral' way of doing these things?

What things should I correct and drill and what should I let pass?

:?: :?:

Posts: 26
Joined: Thu Aug 12, 2010 4:15 pm
Location: Madrid, Spain

Post by danielwelsch » Sun Dec 05, 2010 7:07 pm

The way I look at it is this:

I speak American English. I didn't graduate Yale or anything, but I don't think any legitimate English speaker would be able to argue with my comprehensibility. I make some concessions to British English, mostly by pronouncing a hard "t" instead of a "d" for example in "water."

I teach my students to pronounce things exactly like I pronounce things. They probably end up absorbing 80%, which makes them comprehensible. It would be hard to say that they have American accents, though.

If I didn't insist, they would probably be semi- or incomprehensible. They would be speaking with all their regional flavor intact, which means as soon as they left their region, nobody would understand any of the English they've paid perfectly good money to learn.

I think when people learn English, it's not to speak to other members of their communities. It's to speak to people outside their community, which means the most important thing is comprehensibility, not worrying about which accent is the "most proper."


Post Reply