In the past, many learners of English aimed to have native-speaker pronunciation. The ideal was to speak something called received pronunciation (similar to the way they speak on the BBC news). However, nowadays more and more people are realizing that this is not necessary.
There is a new understanding of what it means to have good pronunciation. This is ‘comfortable intelligibility’. That means that the person listening to you should be able to understand you easily and that your pronunciation shouldn’t create problems for them as they try to understand you.
The good news from this is that you don’t have to lose your accent completely. You can still be a (insert your nationality here)-speaker of English as long as the other person doesn’t have to strain to understand you. Your accent is part of your identity. Would you ever want to pass for being English, American, Canadian, Australian, Scottish, Welsh, Irish or South African? Probably not.
This is an approach to pronunciation that the IELTS follows. Read the following selection of descriptors from the public bands for the IELTS speaking.
- Band 9 – is effortless to understand
- Band 8 – is easy to understand throughout; L1 accent has minimal effect on intelligibility
- Band 6 – can generally be understood throughout, though mispronunciation of individual words or sounds reduces clarity at times
- Band 4 – mispronunciations are frequent and cause some difficulty for the listener
- Band 2 – speech is often unintelligible
The focus here isn’t on speaking like a native speaker. The key is intelligibility. But don’t just take our word for it. Don’t just take IELTS’s word for it. How about hearing Sofia Vergara say it?
“I know that I have an accent, but people understand me just fine.” (Sofia Vergara)