Speaking with an accent
When learning a new language, our mother tongue undoubtedly exerts an influence over our pronunciation, which is perceived by native speakers as a foreign accent. The divergent pronunciation might be due to segmental errors (i.e. errors related to individual sounds), as well as incorrect suprasegmental patterns (for example, errors related to intonation or rhythm), or a combination of the two. While most learners aspire to a native or native-like pronunciation, achieving this after a certain age is very difficult, if not impossible. Most professionals agree that the goal is, rather, intelligibility and comprehensibility in the target language, that is, a quality of speech that can easily be understood.
Intelligibility involves the following pronunciation features:
- Segmental pronunciation Pronouncing a sound correctly in a given position in the word and making it sufficiently different from other sounds. See Week 2 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] for more details on positional variants (allophones) of contrastive segments (phonemes).
- Stress Placing the stress on the right syllable and realising the vowel accordingly, e.g. amo [ˈamo] (first person singular of the present tense) vs. amó [aˈmo] (first person singular of the past tense). See Week 3.
- Intonation Realising appropriate rise and fall in melody throughout the utterance. In some cases, this is the only way to distinguish the intention of the speaker in Spanish, e.g. a question differs from a declaration by using a different melodic pattern; Pepe viene mañana vs.¿Pepe viene mañana? See Week 3.
- Fluency Pronouncing syllables and phrases with appropriate rhythm and speed without too much hesitation and too many silent pauses. Disfluent speech might discourage interactivity and thus hinder communication.
In sum, oral intelligibility requires exposure to target language speech, focused instruction, and a good deal of practice.
Ideas for exercises
Using drama and theatre in the classroom allows students to experiment with the spoken word. This might involve using more emphatic language, playing with tone of voice, getting used to their own voice in Spanish, practicing pronunciation with the help of gestures and body language. At beginner levels, you can use very simple texts and a lot of movement.