Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Accented teachers may be better for English language learners

The Washington Post

A new study on how well students learn second languages from teachers with accents suggests that Arizona may be making a mistake by trying to remove heavily accented Hispanic teachers from classrooms filled with Hispanics trying to learn English.

School districts in Arizona are under orders from the state Department of Education to remove teachers who speak English with a very heavy accent (and/or whose speech is ungrammatical) from classrooms with students who are learning to speak English. Officials say they want students who don’t know much English to have teachers who can best model how to speak the language.

I wrote the other day about the difficulties in determining just how deep an accent has to be to be considered a problem, but here’s another side of the issue.

According to a new research study conducted in Israel, students learn a second language better from a teacher who speaks in the same accent as they do.

The study, published in the Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, said that students learning from a teacher with the same accent have an easier time understanding the material. They don’t have to spend time trying to understand the English in a different accent.

According to one of the report’s co-authors, Psychology Professor Zohar Eviatar, the concentration a student would have to summon to understand English in a different accent is considerably greater than if the student were a native English speaker.

In Arizona, that would mean that Hispanic kids studying English would learn better from teachers with Spanish accents.

The research, conducted at the University of Haifa, has implications not just for second language acquisition, but for how well students learn new subjects, Eviatar said.

The study was performed by researchers from different backgrounds. Dr. Raphiq Ibrahim is an Israeli Arab with an Arabic accent; Dr. Mark Leikin hails from the former Soviet Union and speaks with a Russian accent; Eviatar is a fluently bilingual Hebrew-English speaker. The team was both personally and professionally curious to know more about the accent effect.

Full text of this article available online at:

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 135 countries. Get your FREE E-book, “If you Want to Teach English Abroad, Here's What You Need to Know" by requesting the title at: Need a blogger or copywriter to promote your school, institution, service or business or an experienced writer and vibrant SEO content for your website, blog or newsletter? Then E-mail me for further information.


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Keyla Hendrik said...

I don't know exactly how accent influence students ability in learning English but I really agree that if they want to learn English as a second language, they must learn it at different accents. There are many ways to improve our accent. Thank you

Dave said...

Accents do not affect anyone. In Puerto Rico, I had professors who were from different places in Latin America- one from Salamanca, Spain- and I never lost my Puerto Rican accent. I had English teachers teach me with their particular accents- Midwest, Southern, Eastern- Again, this did not affect the language learning process. The bottom line is that politicos need to take out their political views off the education of our children. DC, PR