Good pronunciation: Intelligibility or Impact?
Is it necessary to sound like a native English speaker?
Most English teachers seem to consider good pronunciation as being intelligible. They view intelligibility as the ultimate goal of learning pronunciation. “If I can understand you, and you can understand me, then your pronunciation is good enough”. It has somehow been agreed upon in this industry that to be understood is just “good enough” because to expect more of non-native speakers of English is simply unrealistic and impractical. Well, allow me to say: That is nonsense.
To be understood should be your very first goal as a foreign language learner. It is absurd to study the grammar and vocabulary of the language without mastering its sound system. The thought of someone learning how to compose a phrase or sentence the sounds of which he is physically unable to produce is plain ridiculous. Therefore, speech intelligibility should not be set as the ultimate goal of pronunciation but rather a mandatory requirement to be met by all English learners. While achieving intelligibility is one of the goals of studying pronunciation, it should not be regarded as a benchmark of an English learner’s pronunciation.
So what do we look at as a measure of good pronunciation? In my opinion, impact. Is your pronunciation good enough to have an impact on those you are speaking with. What does that mean? What that means is instead of asking whether we can understand your pronunciation, ask if you sound confident, persuasive, friendly, charming, elegant, passionate, firm, analytical or logical. Your pronunciation should be good enough to evoke certain feelings in those you communicate with in English, and not just clear enough for them to understand the meaning of the words you are saying.
I can understand most English learners even the ones with a weak vocabulary and wrong grammar. With little more effort, I can even understand the ones deemed “unintelligible” as I, like most other human beings, have enough life experience and world knowledge to work out what someone is trying to say to me. Does that mean that such learners have good pronunciation just because I CAN understand them? Of course not. What English learners should be aiming for then is pronunciation that is competent enough to impact the listeners. Ask yourself what you can do with English other than just be understood.
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