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