Learning British UK Accent (RP): Accent Training: It’s Not Just What You Say, But How You Say It

Accent Training: It’s Not Just What You Say, But How You Say It

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It’s easy to see how the language we speak can influence our perspective.  For example, the Chinese word for ‘tragedy’ conveys not just a sense of disaster, but also the idea of opportunity.  In other words, good can occur out of bad situations.  While many people in the West may agree, this particular view is not implicit by definition.

In this month’s issue of Scientific American, Lera Boroditsky takes the connection between language and thinking one step further.  In her article, How Language Shapes Thought, Boroditsky gives numerous examples where the words we use not only affects what we think, but how we think.  In other words, word choice determines the way we process information.  That’s new…and her examples are nothing short of fascinating!

For example, an experiment was conducted whereby people from a variety of language backgrounds were asked to find their way out of an unfamiliar building.  Which language speakers did the best?  An Aboriginal community in Australia who speak a language called Kuuk Thaayorre.  Rather than using spatial terms like ‘left’ and ‘right’, they talk in terms of absolute cardinal directions; “the pen is southwest of the paper” or “Sue is sitting north of John” for example.  Boroditzky cites that speakers of Kuuk Thaayorre ability to keep track of spatial locations are “better than scientists thought humans ever could.” 

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As it turns out, language use seems to affect nearly every area of cognition, from spatial recognition to memory to color identification to the ability to learn mathematics.  We used to believe that thinking shapes language.  But cross-linguistic differences clearly demonstrate that language shapes thinking.  What does this mean for the adult learner?  How we process and use new information depends on what, and how, we speak.

This has a profound impact on ‘best practices’ for ESL speakers and students of English pronunciation.  As we know, a simple ‘listen and repeat’ methodology doesn’t work.   And while requiring students to look at visual cues is important, this is merely a piece of accent training.  Verbal explanations of what to do with the tongue, teeth, lips, and jaw are what completes the picture.  Why?  Because as socio-linguists tell us: “there may not be a lot of adult human thinking where language does not play a role.” 

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