On General American: learners’ views


Katarzyna Janicka


The paper aims at reporting the study on the pronunciation standard known as General American (GenAm) among Polish learners of English. Taking learners’ views into consideration should help the author answer the query whether we should follow the GenAm pronunciation standard in teaching pronunciation to L2 learners.


Pronunciation is of importance for students as one of the practical skills of second language learning (Waniek-Klimczak 1999: 374). Students give various aims of learning pronunciation, one of them being the desire to sound native-like. Teaching and learning pronunciation, we rely on a particular pronunciation standard. It is undisputed that students must have a pronunciation model to work towards. However, the choice of a pronunciation standard seems to be quite difficult.  Apart from different aims that we want to achieve through pronunciation, we need to remember that English has become a world lingua franca. People use it as a medium of communication and they are not native speakers of that language. Moreover, standards that are used in EFL teaching are both praised and criticized. Most commonly, teachers rely on Received Pronunciation (RP) or General American. At some point in time, Estuary English (EE) was supported as a new standard for foreigners. The most recent proposal is that of Lingua Franca Core (LFC) (Jenkins 2001). RP was recognized as the most suitable for foreigners to learn, as: “it is most thoroughly described (…)” (Hughes and Trudgill 1979), “widely understood” (Jones 1950: 4), and most socially acceptable (Wakelin 1972: 153). GenAm scores low when compared to RP along these lines. Its weaknesses are highlighted: definition, codification problems for EFL purposes, and prestige. The GenAm “problems” led the author to investigate 3 groups of students to answer the following research questions.


Firstly, what is the perceptual image of GenAm on a segmental level and is there a correlation in the perception among the 3 groups studied. There are problems in defining American phonetic values so it may be possible to arrive at students’ codification of GenAm.


Secondly, which pronunciation standard is easier: RP or GenAm and is there a correlation among the 3 groups, and especially between those studying RP and GenAm. The question is motivated by the studies of  Jasone Cenoz and M. Luisa Garcia Lecumberri (1999) who found that the British accents including RP, present less difficulty than GenAm for Spanish and Basque students learning English. Similar findings were given by Waniek-Klimczak (1999) for Polish learners.


Thirdly, what are the most salient features of GenAm? Zeungler (1988) found American English /r/ to be the most salient feature of an American accent for native speakers of Mexican English. Is it the same for Polish students and for the 3 groups studied?


Finally, do we find the salient features of GenAm in the LFC? The LFC does incorporate the features of GenAm. The LFC main goal is to simplify the learning task so if one assumes that saliency in perception entails ease of production, these salient features should be present in the LFC.