The Politics of Pronunciation

Accent is our identity, an oral fingerprint containing all sorts of information about our life.

Do you have an accent?

Helen Ashton began her talk with this question to the audience – very few said yes.

Collins in collaboration with English Partnerships department organised a talk on ‘The Politics of Pronunciation’ by dialect coach, Helen Ashton at the British Council in New Delhi on Wednesday 2 April 2014. The event was live streamed; and audiences in our other offices in Chandigarh, Hyderabad and Bengaluru watched the proceedings.

In her welcome address to the audience and viewers of the live webcast, Alison Barrett, Director English for Education Systems, British Council South Asia spoke about British Council and Collins’ shared vision to support teachers in their development.

Dr Elaine Higgleton, International Publisher, Collins Learning talked about the role of Collins in the field of education. Since 200 years Collins has been publishing dictionaries, atlases, school course books and has worked extensively with partners across the world. Through this talk Collins wanted to discuss a key issue faced by teachers: What pronunciation should we be teaching our students?

Also present at the event were senior management officials from Collins; Mr. Colin Hughes, Managing Director, Collins Learning, Mr. Krishna Naroor, Managing Director, Collins India and Mr. P.M. Sukumar, Chief Executive Officer, HarperCollins Publishers India.

Helen believes that accents reflect our identities, and no one way of speaking is inherently better than another. However, this doesn’t mean that pronunciation teaching should be abandoned altogether, rather it should be flexible. Voice is physical and is a result of the muscle habits that we develop over a course of time. Helen made the audience breathe, yawn, play with their tongue, do an Elvis lip and blurt out a trill, to name a few – all part of muscular exercises important in pronunciation teaching.

She mainly discussed Received Pronunciation (RP) which is said to be the ‘standard’ in spoken English. Pronunciation is one of the major aspects of language and with the language constantly evolving, RP is changing too. For instance, a study has revealed that even the Queen’s accent has changed over the years.

In English curriculum, pronunciation plays a key role and majority of the teachers have always hesitated to teach their students as they themselves aren’t aware of the correct pronunciation. To overcome this barrier, Helen presented key concepts and techniques that are useful for teaching various pronunciation models and can be tailored to students’ individual goals.

As she progressed through the talk she used different accents: Scottish, British and American to name a few.

To sum up the session, ‘Accent is how we pronounce words when we speak so EVERYBODY has an accent’. She concluded the event with the same question she had asked in the beginning Do you have an accent?

A resounding yes!

The audiences across our four offices comprised teachers, professors, principals, students, publishers, teacher educators and representatives for other educational institutions.

The Q&A session was opened out to all cities via Twitter. The talk helped the audience understand how they could incorporate these easy-to-use techniques into their teaching of pronunciation in a way that was practical and effective and created a huge impact on teaching and learning. The success of this event has prompted the roll out of similar talks for the English teaching and education sector.

More photographs of the event can be viewed here.

Helen Ashton trained at The Central School of Speech and Drama, graduating with Distinction from the MA in Voice. She specialises in speech and accent work, which she teaches at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), in London. She has coached actors in many different accents for Stage and Screen appearances.

Helen is co-author of the pronunciation guide Collins’ Work On Your Accent which was published in 2012, and teaches English pronunciation to speakers of all languages. Helen also holds an MA with First Class Honours in History from The University of Edinburgh.

Share via email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>