Saturday, July 31, 2021

What about accent?


Stephen Krashen & Nooshan Ashtari


1.     Assumption -  accent improvement by hard work and study, conscious learning (Hammond: 51% agree that hard working and intelligent people can always succeed in eliminating foreign accent).

a.     The research: conditions difficult to meet

1.     Know the rule: e.g. comb, combing, combination – what’s the rule?

2.     Focus on form

3.     Time to retrieve & apply the rule

b.    Little research on effect of instruction for “spontaneous conversation” – 

c.     Most effective for “monitored production of specific features (Saito and Plonsky). No clear evidence it works in real conversation

d.    (Some) evidence for improvement without instruction: weak effect 

2.     The club membership hypothesis – instruction,  amount of exposure not the crucial factors

Sub - hypothesis 1: Accent marks belonging to a group

Sub – hypothesis 2: Accent acquired rapidly and well for all ages. LAD never shut off

Sub – hypothesis 3: We do not perform in all the accents we have acquired, because we don’t feel like full members of the group.

Fisher, 1958: typical boys: model boys

Typical: dominating, mischief, more aggressive: short form (goin’, comin’)

Model: thoughtful, considerate: full form (going, coming) 

Typical: shorter form 55% of the time

Model: shorter form: 3% of the time

CAN the model boys use the short form?  (YES, sub-hypothesis 2). 

Do they? (N0, sub-hypothesis 3)

3.     The OUTPUT filter – prevents us from using what we have acquired. (Discomfort)

4.     Examples

a.     1965: A conversation with Gerald Mosback in Addis Ababa. (filter down)

b.    My French falls apart: Univ. of Ottawa (filter up)

c.     I impress my daughter with my French in a Paris coffee shop. (filter down)

5.     Can classes help? Even if class improved accent? The problem lies elsewhere

a.     Rubin: evaluation of ACCENT-FREE English, picture 1 = “typical American looking”. Picture 2, not. Subjects thought picture 2 had an accent! Judgement based on picture, not the accent

b.    Ashtari (2020): Who is the native speaker? Non-NS with American accent selected over native speaker of Indian English. Effect on hiring? 

c.     How this impacts language acquirers.

Ashtari (2014): intermediate, advanced university ESL students: when talking to native speakers, what they say is grammatically correct but NS say they don’t understand, ask them to repeat. 

1)    Less willingness to talk to NS

2)    Prefer other speakers of ESL

d.    Is it their accent?

1)    Probably not. (personal experience)

2)    Problem in mind of native speakers

e.     Are there pedagogical implications of these hypotheses? Help people drop the output filter? Possible for actors (method acting?), occasionally for jokes, to solidify relationships. 

Otherwise: Painful, awkward. (Experience on a train in London.)


Talking to a potential client: Why SK didn’t get the job.

Talking to a civilian on the phone who has experienced this. 

-       P., born in UK, in US for several decades, NO British accent

-       Understood our ability to drop output filter under certain conditions, eg with family 

-       We have a spectrum of accents inside us, but we either consciously or subconsciously decide which one we use based on our environment and people we interact with and how they react to us… 


The LAD never shuts off. 





Ashtari, N. (2014). Non-native speech and feedback: The relationship between non-native speakers’ production and    native speakers’ reaction. The International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 9(2), 9-17. (

Fisher, J. 1958. Social Influences on the Choice of a Linguistic Variant. Word 14: 47-56.



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