Themes > insurance >Letters to the editor
Letters to the editor

Do write to us with your views about the English language and any questions you may have.

Dear Sir,

I first studied English at secondary school thirty years ago. I am now on a refresher course as I have changed job and need to use English in my work. My school teacher taught me to pronounce English in a certain way. For example, "hat" to rhyme with "let" and "cap" to rhyme with "step". However, my current teacher pronounces such words (for instance, map, tap, cat and sat) in a rather flat way which emphasizes the "a" sound of the word. When she says the word "bath", the sound is flat and seems closer to "fat" rather than "heart" (which is how I was taught to say it). I am concerned to speak English as correctly as possible. Should I follow my new teacher's style of pronunciation?

Yours faithfully,

Erhard Becker

The editor's reply

Native British English speakers have different accents, depending on the region they come from and their educational background. From the way she says the word "bath", I think that your present teacher comes from the North of England.

Your first teacher was probably concerned to teach you the form of spoken British English called "Received Pronunciation" (RP). People sometimes call this "The Queen's English" or "Oxford English". Received Pronunciation is regionally neutral. Native speakers used to strive to speak RP as it denoted a certain social standing and a good educational background. However, over the last few decades, there has been a shift in social attitudes with a growing acceptance of, and pride in, regional accents. Received Pronunciation itself continues to exist but has been influenced by the social changes. The flat vowel sound you mentioned in your letter, for example, the flat /æ/ has come from the North of England.

Your aim is to be intelligible when speaking English. If you are happier using the pronunciation you were first taught, then continue to do so, but be aware that you could sound a little old-fashioned.

I suggest you discuss with your teacher how to avoid picking up too strong a regional accent. Ask her to teach you the standard pronunciation of any new word she teaches you. Any good dictionary, for example the "Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary", will also provide you with guidance on how to pronounce words. Listening to a range of English audio cassettes will familiarise you with up-to-date spoken British English.


© Linguarama International, Alton UK, 1992 - 2000. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photographic, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of Linguarama International.

You may download any issue of POSTSCRIPT for personal (non-commercial) use and may distribute it to friends and work colleagues provided that the above conditions are extended to all users and that no commercial use is made of the material.