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.
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!).
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?
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?
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.
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