Do you have an accent? – a lesson plan

Have you ever had people comment on your accent?

Sometimes, these comments can be very positive: oh, you have such a lovely accent.

But sometimes, they can also be rather negative.

And the truth is that we all have certain subconscious biases towards and against certain accents. We think of some as posh, while others might be uncouth. Some are funny, others sexy. Some sound highly educated, while others do not.

This issue is certainly not limited to ‘non-native speaker’ accents, but as a ‘non-native speaker’ myself, and a language learner myself, I can tell you that it can sometimes be difficult to come to grips with your accent.

Should I hide it?

Should I be proud of it?

Why do people judge me by it and not listen to what I have to say?

Bearing this in mind, I think it’s vital to bring this issue to students’ attention. In particular, because having a foreign accent might be a problem for some learners. Something some might be uneasy about, or maybe even slightly ashamed of. Some might want to get rid of it all together.

But I personally think that accents are great. They make English the beautifully varied lingua franca that it is.

And, there is absolutely no evidence that having a standard ‘native speaker’ accent will make you any easier to understand in international contexts.

So I thought I’d prepare a short lesson plan based on a video that Andy Barbiero shared with me on FB today (thanks, Andy!).

Lead-in:

Discuss these questions with the person next to you:

  • How do you feel about your accent in English?
  • Do people ever notice it or comment on it? If so, how?
  • To what extent do YOU judge people by their accents?
  • What stereotypes do you have about certain accents?

Watching 1 (00 – 00:41):

Watch the first part of the video:

  • What is your reaction to what the speaker says? Why?
  • Have you ever had similar situations? What happened?

Accentism:

In the next part of the video, the speaker will talk about accentism:

  • What do you think it might be?
  • How might it be related to the other -isms, such as sexism or racism?

Watching 2 (00:41 – 1:30):

Watch the video to check. Then discuss:

  • To what extent is accentism a form of discrimination?
  • How does it compare to the other forms of discrimination (e.g. ageism, sexism, racism)?
  • Can (and should) something be done in order to protect people from this prejudice? Why (not)?

Hiding your accent:

The speaker will now talk about his friend Nas, who is from the Middle East, and who has worked very hard to hide his accent. Discuss:

  • Have you ever tried hiding your accent? Why (not)? Do you know anyone who has?
  • Why might some people want to completely get rid of their accent?

Watching 3 (1:30 – 2:25):

  • What is your reaction to the video?
  • Do you agree that people shouldn’t spend time trying to reduce their accent? Why (not)?

Why not hide your accent:

The speaker will now give their reasons why you shouldn’t hide your accent:

  • Make a list of possible reasons with the person next to you
  • He will also make an analogy between accents and music taste. What do you think might he say about it?

Watching 4 (2:25 – end):

Check your answers from above.

Discussion and reflection:

Having watched the video, discuss with the person next to you:

  • What are your thoughts about accentism? To what extent is it a real prejudice? Should measures be taken to stop it? How?
  • How do you now feel about your own accent? Would you like to get rid of it? Why (not)?
  • How can you avoid judging other English users by their accents?

Follow-up:

Spend the next few days listening to different accents. Note down:

  • Which accent was it?
  • What was your initial reaction to the accent?
  • How could you avoid stereotyping that person by their accent?

Share your ideas with your classmates in the next class.


Did you enjoy this lesson plan?

Would you like to see more lesson plans like this one?

Would you like to learn how to promote equality, tackle native speakerism and teach English for global communication?

TEFL Equity Academy will soon be opening its members’ area. If you would like to be notified when it opens and get access to dozens of on-line courses for English teachers, then pop your name and email below to be notified.

6 thoughts on “Do you have an accent? – a lesson plan

  1. TaniaRina Perry says:

    I really enjoyed this video and the lesson plan. I am in school now learning how to be an English teacher in a country other than my place of birth – and I do not yet speak the native language well. The information in this blog will be most helpful.

    My main comment is in response to “And, there is absolutely no evidence that having a standard ‘native speaker’ accent will make you any easier to understand in international contexts.”
    As a native Californian, I can attest that native English speakers have issues understanding accents of other native English speakers from different regions of the same country. Same goes for Londoners of other Londoners!

    Accents are not just an issue internationally nor between native and non-native speakers.

    • Marek - TEFL Equity Advocates & Academy says:

      Thanks for your comment and really glad to hear you enjoyed the video and lesson plan! 🙂
      Where are you studying?
      Very good point! I was referring to a very interesting study conducted by Smith and Rafqizad (see the link for more details) in which the researchers asked over 1300 people from 11 countries to judge the intelligibility of 9 different speakers. Interestingly, the ‘native speaker’ was the second to least intelligible, despite the fact that he spoke with a standard accent and despite all other speakers being ‘non-native’.

      • TaniaRina Perry says:

        I am studying at an academic college and observing at a high school (8th & 11th grades), both in Jerusalem.

        But what exactly is a standard accent? Even the U.S. Midwest speakers (who are considered to be accentless) have an accent. My grade-school best friend’s parents from Kansas, co-workers from Missouri, and also my family from western Illinois all say ‘warsh’ for ‘wash’ and ‘greaze’ for ‘grease’.

        The native English speakers in our program hail from England, South Africa, and various parts of the U.S. (not counting two Israelis who grew up bi-lingual). The other student from Southern California doesn’t have the same accent as I do since she did not grow up there during the ’80’s (‘Valspeak’ – Valley Girl).

        I can also understand some of the non-native English speakers better due to their clear enunciation, volume, or lack of speech impediment. Were any of those taken into consideration for the research? Oh, and speaker speed – I’ve had several New Yorkers tell me to slow down!

  2. Paul says:

    I too enjoyed the video and feel the message is important. My California students are community college non-credit ESL students looking to improve their English skills for work/life reasons and in some cases to eventually move into regular ESL credit classes that can lead to regular college classes/programs. I try to tell them what you present here in my own words but I think your video would do a much better job. My worry is that the typical student level in my class would have trouble following all of the video presentation. Any chance there is a transcript to the video I can use as a handout?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.