Published 18th August 2017

Last Updated on

If you have experience teaching EFL learners, you may have noticed that some learners will pick up a neutral accent quite quickly – in other words, it’ll be difficult to identify where they’re from – while others will keep a very strong native-language accent regardless of the amount of pronunciation work they do. This is even common in more advanced students.

What gives?

Well you may be relieved to hear it’s not a failure on the part of the teacher!

Instead, there are a lot of variables which relate to the learner which will determine how strong their accent is.

Firstly, the age of learning. The younger you learn a language, the more likely you are to develop a native accent. This is known as the Critical Period Hypothesis.

Then, length of exposure. The longer you are exposed to the language, the more likely you are to exhibit native pronunciation – though this obviously differs from learner to learner.

On the other hand, accents are a part of a person’s identity and this may play a part in maintaining a so-called foreign accent. Some learners may feel that losing their accent would feel like they are losing their identity in a sense, so they will continue to speak English with an accent.

Basically taken altogether what this means is that while some students may never lose their accent when speaking English because they only started learning the language when they were an adult, some others may never lose their accent simply because they don’t want to.

To be sure, if a student wants to reduce their accent, there are a number of techniques and pronunciation activities they can do to accomplish this, though it is possible they may never reach their target. Plus there are activities for specific language pronunciation difficulties learners from different language backgrounds can do to eliminate any particular issues which may cause incomprehension or misunderstanding.

However, the focus should never be on speaking with an accent of a native-speaker. Because, really, what is that? The focus instead should be on making sure our learners speak clearly enough to be understood when they are communicating in English, and if they want to do this while asserting their nationality, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t.