To teach the phonology of international English or not to teach


Smiljana Komar (Ljubljana)


The paper presents some pedagogical considerations regarding the plausibility of teaching standard English pronunciation as opposed to the alternative Lingua Franca Core to future teachers of English. In addition, it daringly suggests the contribution of Slovene speakers to the Lingua Franca Core.


The main pedagogical assumption is that when it comes to teaching of English pronunciation, one has to bear in mind who the learners are and adapt the curriculum to their needs. The spectrum of phonological, phonetic and prosodic features that a teacher may want to teach largely depends on the learners' age and their purpose of learning English. An elementary school English teacher in Slovenia, whose pupils start learning English at the age of 9, should be allowed to teach standard English thus giving the learners the possibility to master the accepted English pronunciation. An ESP teacher, on the contrary, may want to make pronunciation allowances for the fact that the learners are either too old to master pronunciation successfully or will use English only for a very specific purpose and in a restricted interaction. For the latter, Lingua Franca Phonological Core may be useful and appropriate.


There is, however, one important linguistic consideration related to the Lingua Franca Core as proposed by J. Jenkins in The Phonology of English as an International Language (2000). At this stage of research into the pronunciation of international English, Jenkins' proposal of the Lingua Franca Phonological Core should be regarded as an early attempt to describe the pronunciation features of the non-native speakers' talk and to pinpoint those phonological, phonetic and prosodic features which inhibit mutual inteligibility. It should by no means be regarded as the ultimate objective for the teaching of pronunciation.


If the purpose of the Lingua Franca Phonological Core is supposed to ease the learning of English pronunciation, let us see what it can offer to a native speaker of Slovene. A brief look at the most typical pronunciation errors of Slovene speakers shows that most of the suggestions what to teach on the segmental level can be applied to Slovene learners. Teachers may overlook the pronunciation of the dental fricatives and the dark /l/ allophone. They should, however, insist on the aspiration of voiceless plosives in syllable-initial accented prevocalic positions, as well as on maintaining the vowel quality and quantity.


The description of the phonological core of English as an international language is pre-mature at this stage. It will only be possible when a large corpus of recorded data is acquired and when the phonological research in various languages is complete. Nonetheless, we would like to add another important phonological feature to the existing phonological core which is typical of Slovene speakers and which may produce a number of homophones thus causing possible misunderstandings. The feature we have in mind is the replacement of final voiced obstruents by their voiceless counterparts which combined with the neutralization of /e/ and /Q/ vowels can turn the following 4 distinct English words: bat, bad, bet, bed into one homophone /bet/.