Published 25th January 2016

WHICH VARIETY OF ENGLISH SHOULD I TEACH?

We are surely at the point where we can agree that no one variety of English is superior to another, but the question still remains: which one do we teach?

Research has shown that we use our language to show our identity, so how we pronounce certain words will give clues as to where we come from. This shows us that which English we teach will have a profound effect on our learners, as they will then be identified with that group. Interestingly, while there are obvious vocabulary choices which we can choose to teach or not to teach, there are likely certain pronunciation effects which we pass on to our learners unaware.

Does it matter?

The basic aim of learning English is to be able to communicate in English with other speakers. As long as you can speak a variety of English, you should be understood by other speakers, regardless of which English they speak. Historically, the British variety of Received Pronunciation – otherwise known as BBC English – has been the preferred variety to teach, but this has since fallen out of favour and seen to be too rigid and old-fashioned.

Having said that, it was considered the “best” variety since it provides very clear pronunciation, and speakers of RP are, by and large, highly intelligible. So while this may be what our learners are aiming for, if you speak a little differently, don’t let that bother you. The general rule of thumb is, teach the most common choice of vocabulary – barbecue rather than braai – but if there is an item which is equally in use – sidewalk or pavement – use both, but make your learners aware of the difference in use.

In terms of pronunciation, we want to aim for the clearest pronunciation, so if this is not you, you might need to make a plan. Just remember, you are a model for your students and they will say what you say and how you say it.

The fact of the matter is, there are many different varieties of English and you can never know which your learners will be exposed to. All you can do is teach them the most understood version of English you know and they will figure out the rest with experience.