Masaryk University Faculty of Arts

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The spread of use of the English language as a lingua franca among speakers of different native language has many implications on the character of the language, its speakers, and the learners. An alternative approach towards a less native-speaker oriented norms for language instruction is proposed by various researchers. The implementation of ELF orientation in ELT in the Czech Republic is connected to three areas. Both English learners and users are not aware of the heterogeneous character of the language with many World English varieties. They are also not aware of the implications this has on ELT, most of them are influenced by the standard language ideology connected to the stress of native-accent acquisition. Negative prejudices towards foreign accents are common, especially relating to the lack of professionality and trustworthiness of the speakers.

Various studies have shown a correlation between the non-native accent familiarity and its tolerance. While many learners believe a non-native accent is undeniably connected to incomprehensibility, research has shown that many other linguistic and non-linguistic factors are involved in the listeners’ perceptions and it is strongly connected to their judgements. The proposed methods of intervention include exposure to non-native and World English varieties in the classroom, raising the learners’ background knowledge about the complexity of the English language and their multicultural awareness, and a focus on a more realistic international intelligibility with features of foreign accent.

The purpose of this study was to determine whether the proposed orientation towards a more global representation of the language would meet the English language learners’ objectives in the Czech Republic regarding their accent. The research investigated the EFL learners’ attitudes towards ten varieties of English accent, towards non-native accents in general, and their views of standard pronunciation models.

6.1Discussion of Results

The following results have been reached based on the analysis of data collected by a questionnaire. The results are ordered in sections according to the research questions.

  1. To what extent do learners in the Czech Republic use English as a Lingua Franca?

The research has shown that the learners use English mainly in interactions with other non-native speakers. The most common nationalities with whom they communicate are German, Polish, Italian, Spanish, Austrian, and also Czech. They use English when traveling, and also with their hobbies. A frequent use of English connected to hobbies was especially found for the learners around the age 20-29. A large portion of learners use English at work. The fact that English is used as a Lingua Franca is well illustrated by the fact that it is largely employed in the communication with Germans, French, Spanish, because although those languages are taught at schools in the Czech Republic, the learners prefer to use one universal language shared by both of the speakers. Less than a third of all communication in English among the learners is with a native speaker.

    1. How important is for the learners to understand English spoken with differing English accents?

Based on the findings, the learners engage in a wide variety of communicative situations where English is used with speakers of various linguacultural backgrounds. In order to communicate effectively, the learners need to be able to understand not only the standard native speaker English varieties, but also other varieties. The learners generally agree that exposure to other accents, including non-native accents, should be a part of the language instruction.

    1. How does an unfamiliarity of an accent effect its intelligibility?

The results signal that familiarity rather affects the learners’ comprehension of an accent. The Czech, Dutch, and Louisiana speakers’ accents were rated as highest in terms of understandability. The Dutch accent is similar to a German accent, which is very familiar to the learners, as they indicated in the question exploring their common interactions with other speakers. They are also familiar with the North American accents, as these form a part of the language teaching material, as well as due to media and popular culture. The Vietnamese speakers’ accent was the most difficult to understand. The accent is not very familiar to the learners, also because of the relative distance of the two native languages. There are also other factors largely affecting the ability to understand, as was noted previously. Familiarity, however, is one of the crucial factors.

  1. How does the standard language ideology affect the learners’ attitudes towards accents?

Although many learners expressed their affiliation towards native speaker standards, overall, the learners are not strongly convinced that everyone should try to sound like a native speaker, and they don’t feel having a native-like accent is very important. Some comments indicated a shift from reliance on native models towards an ‘accented international intelligibility’.

The following sub-questions were part of the research focused on the evaluation of the individual non-native accents:

Are non-native accents perceived with negative prejudices towards their speakers?

Are learners less critical towards non-native accents which are more familiar to them?

How do attitudes towards non-native speakers’ accents differ from attitudes towards non-standard native speakers’ accents?

Which is the preferred accent in terms of “trustworthiness” and in terms of “likability”?

The learners rather think that they are taken more seriously and treated more as an equal if they speak English with a native-like accent, although the belief is not strong. They believe professionalism and prestige are connected to a native-like accent. As the results of their judgements towards other speakers indicate, they tended to assign higher degree of trustworthiness to those speakers whose accents were more pleasant to them. It can then be concluded that there are some prejudices related to non-native accents. However, a less familiar native-speakers’ accent (Welsh) proved to affect the trustworthiness as well. This would indicate that learners are generally less negatively prejudiced towards accents which are more familiar to them. Although, that is not the case of the Czech-accented speaker, who was rated as somewhat less trustworthy, although his accent is very familiar. The results vary in each group of age; while Scottish and Dutch accents were rated the highest in terms of ‘trustworthiness’ and ‘likability’ by the learners in the age 15-19, it was a Russian and French speaker’s accent for learners in the age 20-29. The Louisiana, Dutch, and Scottish speakers’ accents got the highest rating in terms of ‘trustworthiness’, the Russian and Dutch speakers did in terms of ‘likability’ by the learners in the age 30 and higher. Although the French speaker’s accent is rather bold, it was rated higher than other slightly less expressive accents. We can therefore conclude that the negative prejudices are connected to a number of factors, likeability of the accent and familiarity form only a small part in the overall very subjective evaluation of the non-native English speakers’ accents. The tone of the voice, pitch, gender of the speaker, a personal affiliation towards some sound features and other variables need to be considered when determining the listeners’ attitudes.

  1. How might learners respond to the introduction of multiple accents in the classroom based on their attitudes?

According to the learners’ responses, they don’t have a strong preference for the native speakers’ models. They believe an accent is an important part of the speaker’s identity, and that learners should be familiarized with all kinds of accents during their education. Although not all the learners believe such a practice is beneficial, the majority believes they would only gain from such practice. The learners in the age 20-29 expressed a higher degree of acceptance towards the introduction of non-native accents in the classroom. This could point to a changing attitude towards native standards among the younger generation, who are likely to be more aware of the character of the English language as a tool for the international communication and business, a language of the media and of the popular culture. The classroom focus on the multiple accents and highlighting their validity in the international contexts could increase the learners’ confidence when speaking (with both native and non-native speakers), and their insecurity due to their foreign accent. A part of such practice would have to be a focus on multicultural awareness to prevent further support of the common prejudices.

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