Tackling the “Accent Problem”

In the NY Times article, Smoothing the Path from Foreign Lips to American Earsjournalist Richard Perez-Pena discussed how American Universities are dealing with the many students and professors who come to attend schools with little to no English speaking skills. Even the students and professors who do speak English are evaluated and put into classes that work on breaking down the English language sounds and easing the ability for American ears to understand foreign lips. The programs discussed in the article remind me of the Intensive English program that exists here at CSU (it is called something different now). Though I agree that it is important for travelers , students, and educators to learn how to communicate effectively in the English speaking world when they choose to be in it just the same as English speakers should learn how to communicate effectively when they go abroad, the article did make me think a little deeper on the subject. 

“At American universities, one in every six graduate students hails from another country — about 300,000 of them, almost half from China and India, according to the Institute of International Education.” One in every six graduate students is from another country. These students may or may not have had English classes and even if they did, there is a good chance that they were taught to read and write- not speak. For these students, programs such as our own Intensive English program or the ones in this article are a requirement that is to be completed before entering regular classes or teaching class. This raises a couple of questions. The biggest concerning when an accent becomes intelligible. The article goes on to describe different softwares that are available to help these students learn and reinforce the grammar and phonetic structure of English, but it never really goes into what “intelligible” or “comfortable for American ears” means. Do these students and educators need to completely eradicate their accents? No, that would be silly. I think that the goal is to create a smooth flow of communication between teacher and student, colleague and colleague, community member and community member. 

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