It’s quite staggering to read the number of people who speak English - 1.35 billion people worldwide (either natively - approx. 378 million or as a second language - approx. 743 million) (Statista, 2021). Considering there are nearly 8 billion people, that’s a hefty number of people.
English is the language of the internet - 54% of content is in English (interestingly Russian is a distant second with a meagre 6%) (Lemongrad,2021). More than 50% of the world’s technical and scientific work is in English. There’s a strong argument to have English in your inventory. You might need/want it for your personal life, work life or both.
Whatever the reason, you will have come across the notion that your pronunciation might be important. But, why?!
While there is just the one language that we will consider - English. There are a multitude of accents and dialects. According to LingoHut, there are 160 distinct English dialects in the world Knetemann, J. (2018). That’s quite a few of variations of our shared language, with a great potential to communicate - and, of course, miscommunicate.
This is where pronunciation matters. When using this lingua franca, we want to avoid miscommunication. I want you to understand me and you want me to understand you, right?
Beyond the words that we use, how we say them can affect our intelligibility and credibility.
There’s a lot of focus among teachers to talk about the correct pronunciation of individual words and comical minimal pairs. But, pronunciation runs much deeper than saying ‘ship’ instead of ‘sheep’. Or, the ever-hilarious - ‘shit’ and ‘sheet’.
Frankly, mispronouncing those words is very unlikely to lead to any misunderstandings. Yes, it may provoke a giggle from others and a feeling of embarrassment for the speaker, but saying to the receptionist at the hotel that you “…need a new shit on the bed”, isn’t going to cause a problem. You will still be understood in the context and get your linen changed.
However, pronunciation does matter when it leads to a communication breakdown. In 2008, a dropped ‘h’ got former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in trouble after he was mistakingly quoted in Israeli media as saying “I honestly don’t believe that it will give any immunity to Iran ... because you will eat them before”. Kouchner was quoted by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper as saying in an interview about the possibility of Tehran gaining a nuclear weapon (Reuters, 2008).
The French Foreign Ministry later said that Koucher had said ‘hit’ -- meaning carrying out a surgical pre-emptive strike -- rather than ‘eat’.
An unfortunate case of ‘h-dropping’ and misunderstanding long and short English vowel sounds - but a worthy example of when pronunciation might matter.
Living at this time, in such an international environment is incredible. The mix of cultures, languages and accents really does create the most wonderful melting pot. And even if there is a different accent from your own, the context is usually enough to understand one another.
Unfortunately, (and I really mean it - I find this next point absolutely awful), it’s not as clear-cut as just being understood and comfortable with how you sound. There is an abundance of issues for non-native speakers of English, no matter how
The reasons we speak English vary from person to person and we therefore have different goals.
In this blog, we are going to assess the ongoing features of pronunciations beyond the pure sounds, suprasegmental features of English and minimal pairs. We will also continually explore how our pronunciation affects our intelligibility, our identity and our credibility (and what to do about that). We will look at different accents, dialects, phenomena and oddities of pronunciation and language.
From time to time, we will host pronunciation workshops online and in Moscow to give first-hand knowledge and tips that will help not only ESL teachers, but also learners - no matter where you’re from.
For now, I’d love to know why you are learning English and if you have any personal goals for pronunciation?
If you’re interested in being the first to know about our posts, workshops and other tantalising titbits, pop your details below.
Hi! We are Dan and Alex - we are ESL teachers from London and Moscow. Those things attached to us are the kids...I really hope you can join us for the journey. We are extremely open-minded people who don’t profess to know it all. However, we are people who constantly strive to read and learn more. Your voice matters, we want to hear your views.
Most spoken languages in the world | Statista (2021). Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/266808/the-most-spoken-languages-worldwide/ (Accessed: 11 June 2021).
English Language Statistics - an Exhaustive List | Lemon Grad (2018). Available at: https://lemongrad.com/english-language-statistics/#:~:text=There%20are%20378%20million%20native,second%20language)%20in%20the%20world. (Accessed: 11 June 2021).
Knetemann, J. (2018) So How Many English Accents Are There In The World? The Number May Surprise You » Lingohut Blog, Lingohut Blog. Available at: https://www.lingohut.com/blog/so-how-many-english-accents-are-there-in-the-world-the-number-may-surprise-you/#:~:text=Specifically%2C%20there%20are%20160%20distinct,array%20of%20foreign%20English%20accents. (Accessed: 11 June 2021).
Staff, R. (2021) Dropped "h" causes trouble for France's Kouchner, U.S.. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE4941IO20081005 (Accessed: 11 June 2021).
Lev-Ari, Shiri and B. Keysar. “Why don't we believe non-native speakers? The influence of accent on credibility.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46 (2010): 1093-1096.